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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First round is the best roundESPN (blog), April 15th
We were dressing for one of those Wednesday afternoon shinny matches when I happened to notice a large blue steamer trunk in the corner. I thought I'd seen it before. It looked like the trunk that held the Stanley Cup. The team was putting on some...Read more
Saturn, here we comeOrillia Packet & Times, April 14th
Mary needs two suitcases and a steamer trunk to go away overnight, and that's travelling light. All I take is a change of underwear and often leave it in the driveway beside the car. I just borrow hers. Her shampoo and conditioner for a 17-year journey...Read more
Not a good idea: Tweeting threats to airlinesBoston Herald, April 14th
There are a few things you should never do while traveling: Don't mess around in the security line, don't try to carry-on that steamer trunk and don't get into a land war with your flight attendant. Let's add another one: Never Tweet a threat to an...Read more
Home office gets tucked under basement stairsQuad City Times, April 13th
Furnishings include a desk from Target, a computer, two monitors, a phone and a wood steamer trunk that belonged to her great-great grandmother on her mother's side. Look closely and you'll see the words "Johanna Johanson, New Britain, Connecticut, ...Read more
'Rio 2' is a repetitive larkGazette.Net: Maryland Community News Online, April 11th
The script, credited to Don Rhymer, Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks and Yoni Brenner, overpacks its complications by roughly a steamer trunk's worth. Blu must prove his mettle to his father-in-law; fend off a potential romantic interference from Roberto...Read more
Documentary celebrates nanny's drive to make artSFGate, April 10th
By the time documentary maker Charlie Siskel signed on to co-direct "Finding Vivian Maier," there were already plenty of intriguing entry points to the story. Two years earlier, Chicagoan John Maloof had discovered a steamer trunk full of stunning...Read more
Discovering Inspiration in a Trunk Full of LettersHuffington Post, April 8th
Years ago, I discovered a trove of letters in my backyard. I had just become the owner of a broken-down old house and when I went to clear out the weed-choked yard, I found a steamer trunk, hidden away in a rotting garden shed. When I opened the trunk, ...Read more
Building Bed BeltsCustom Classic Trucks Magazine, March 21st
We stumbled upon this Yoo Poong Enterprises aluminum clad steamer trunk in a local antique mall and for the princely sum of $65 it was ours. The entire interior was wood and it had delaminated, so restoration of the inside was in order. We did that...Read more