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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The guestbook: Sign here, pleaseLewiston Sun Journal, February 1st
Guests could sign an old steamer trunk, for example, and the couple could finish it by decoupaging it with postcards from their honeymoon travels. When selecting a piece of furniture to serve as the guestbook, couples need to make sure there is plenty...Read more
6 weekend events in BC's Lower Mainland, January 30-February 1CBC.ca, January 30th
This play has one of the most intriguing plots we've ever heard — a library book turns up, 113 years overdue, sending a Dutch librarian on a globe-spanning journey with a steamer trunk full of clues, a tape recorder and a whole lot of questions. The...Read more
Louis Vuitton's Rodeo Drive renovation a mix of classic and coolLos Angeles Times, January 30th
the color, the hardware, the tag color and the like – from swatch books and samples shelved neatly in nearby steamer trunk lined in purple suede. The bags, which are made in Louis Vuitton's oldest atelier, have a turnaround time of six months to a...Read more
THEATER REVIEW | Minnesota Opera's "The Elixir of Love" has body, pipesTwin Cities Daily Planet, January 27th
Another such decision left Dulcamara's steamer trunk onstage for most of the opera, in the town square – a convenient place to sit, to be sure, but somewhat odd. These were slight distractions amidst the pleasant, rustic backdrop of Marcus Dillard's set...Read more
10 handy hacks for emergency situationsTreehugger, January 22nd
Before my mom sent me a steamer-trunk-sized emergency kit suitable for fending off a herd of zombies and other assorted apocalypses, my survival supplies consisted of a jar of instant coffee, a box of shelf-stable organic milk and a can of Sterno. I...Read more
Theater review: ACT's 'John & Jen' sweet and poignantAsheville Citizen-Times, January 14th
There is no set per se, though a couple of wooden chests storing props and a large antique leather steamer trunk/casket serve to secure the site. The show is a musical, with lilting tunes that allow the actors to demonstrate well-trained voices. The...Read more
Baffert energized by contendersESPN, January 5th
Baffert also, by the way, has twice won the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup, and he has a steamer trunk that's chock-full of bibelots and honors, including three Eclipse Awards and four national titles. In other words, as the new year...Read more
Cabinet's use is unclear to many collectorsYoungstown Vindicator, January 3rd
I found it in an old steamer trunk in my grandmother's attic. I'm over 80 years old, so I think the plate was made about 1800. The back of the plate reads “Ride of Paul Revere Apr. 18, 1775. Staffordshire, England,” and it's marked “RM CO.” in a...Read more