Antique trunks, also called traveling chests, were originally used as luggage for extended trips by stagecoach, train, or steamship. Today, given the weight limitations on airplanes and the new, lightweight wheeled luggage available, most people use these old trunks as furniture—chests for storing things like blankets, linens, papers, and other memorabilia.
Antique chests, unlike trunks, were always designed for storage and were never intended for travel. The earliest examples commonly found today are from the Victorian Era. Generally the interior box is made of a wood like pine and then lined with materials intended to protect and decorate. Early Victorian trunks are upholstered, much like the furniture of the time, with studded hide or leather. Later, trunks were covered with paper, canvas, or plain or embossed tin. They were typically reinforced with hardwood slats and metal hardware, and locked with a key.
Most trunks fall into two categories: domed and flat-top. Domed trunks have high arched lids that range from camel-back to hump-back to barrel-top varieties. Flat-top trunks, or steamer trunks, were designed to makes these pieces of luggage easier to store on steamboats or trains. What people think of as steamer trunks today were once called “packers”—the even smaller “cabin trunks” or “true steamer trunks” were the most practical pieces for ship or train travel.
Other types of trunks include monitor-tops, barrel-staves, and bevel-tops. Jenny Lind trunks get their name from a Swedish singer who toured America with P.T. Barnum, carrying just such a trunk. Only made between 1855 and 1865, these trunks have a keyhole shape when looked at from the side.
Saratoga was the name used by many manufacturers for their top-of-the-line trunks. These trunks are known for their serious hardware and complex compartments and trays inside. Large wardrobe trunks are meant to be stood on one end when opened. Inside, one side has drawers while the other is a void so the traveler has a place to hang clothes. Some of these are equipped with interior straps to hold shoes, briefcases, curtains, vanity mirrors, and makeup cases.
Wall trunks have special hinges so that, when open, it can stand flat against the wall. Dresser trunks, also called pyramid trunks, are a particularly coveted form of wall trunk. Perhaps the most desired kind of trunks of all, though, are the ones covered in thin oak slats, placed side-by-side. These were extremely prestigious trunks, made in dome-top, flat-top, and bevel-top styles.
Well-known malletiers (trunk makers) include Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Moynat, Haskell Brothers, M. M. Secor, Leatheroid, Clinton, Hartmann, Oshkosh, Molloy, Truesdale, and Taylor. La Malle Bernard and Seward Trunk Company are still making trunks while Shwayder Trunk Company of Denver, Colorado, became the luggage firm Samsonite.
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Where have all the steamer trunks gone?Independent Online, August 29th
writer-person who is a classy traveller dashing off to some exotic location!” No, my suitcase proclaims, “I'm a roller bag that needs training wheels.” I can't do this anymore. Someone tell me, where can you buy a steamer trunk these days...Read more
Gadgets galore plus all the comforts of homeBoston Globe, August 28th
I'm usually hauling around a suitcase the size of a large steamer trunk. But a genius from Australia devised Scrubba, a polyether bag with a built-in, flexible rubber washboard that allows me to pack (slightly) lighter. Put in your clothes, fill the...Read more
Author chronicles Iran escapeLos Altos Town Crier, August 27th
Sitting next to a steamer trunk end table in her Mountain View townhouse, Azadeh Tabazadeh, former NASA Ames research scientist and Stanford University professor, describes her harrowing escape as a teen from the madness of close-minded mullahs...Read more
Liberation song: Daughter of Holocaust survivors performs WWII love songsBrooklyn Daily, August 26th
Brooklyn-bound: While she was still a baby, Cypkin's family carried this steamer trunk — emblazoned with their destination — from a displaced-persons camp in Germany to their new home in Brooklyn. Enlarge this image. Photo by Steve Solomonson...Read more
Rare Book Colection Full of Hidden Treasureskentonbee, August 25th
the Gutenberg Bible from the library's rare book collection, which will be part of an upcoming exhibition. Photos by Mary Best The missing half was discovered in a steamer trunk by Gluck's granddaughter and, thanks to the help of lawyers, was brought...Read more
Rare Book collection full of hidden treasuresWest Seneca Bee, August 25th
The missing half was discovered in a steamer trunk by Gluck's granddaughter and, thanks to the help of lawyers, was brought to the library instead of being auctioned off. The trunk is also on display in the room. In addition to the Mark Twain Room, the...Read more
Amazing porches of KC for parties, breakfast and sleepingKansas City Star, August 22nd
of drawers can be used to store bug spray, candles and other porch supplies in upper drawers while plants can peek from the lower drawers. A steamer trunk can serve as a coffee table. A basket of throw blankets is nice for having drinks on crisp...Read more
For Sale: Humphrey Bogart's Monogrammed Steamer TrunkJaunted, March 26th
The Hartmann "Turn Table" steamer trunk is monogrammed with HDB, Bogart's initials. It was probably made and acquired sometime in the early 20th century as train travel was picking up around the country. Indeed, that's around the time when Hartmann, ...Read more