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.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Buffalo Architecture and History

Buffalo Architecture and History

Chuck LaChiusa's wonderful guide to the architecture and history of Buffalo, NY, also happens to host an impressive… [read review or visit site]

Chipstone

Chipstone

This beautiful site showcases the collection of Stanley and Polly Stone of Fox Point, Wisconsin, consisting of earl… [read review or visit site]

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

This huge online database from the Speed Art Museum is a rich trove of beautiful photos and reference information o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Recent News: Trunks

Source: Google News

Author Jamie Ford on the Real Place That Inspired Bestseller 'Hotel on the ...
Huffington Post, May 28th

But I did bring a little sketchbook and I made little notes, little pictures that I could remember. So if I said in the book that there was a steamer trunk with the name Shimizu painted on it, that's because there really was a steamer trunk with that...Read more

Every NYC flea market you need to visit this summer
amNY, May 28th

Or perhaps you're in the market for a vintage steamer trunk to add to your storage options. The warmer months in NYC offer great opportuntities to shop outside for everything you didn't know you needed, have always wanted or are eager to gift to...Read more

As I Was Saying: A Heff by any other nickname
KeepMEcurrent.com, May 28th

Joe Foster, hastily threw together a banner, and gathered for a photo in the stairwell. I believe that banner is in a steamer trunk in my attic. I'm thinking with a little bit of editing, it could be recycled. Dana Pearson is a writer and musician...Read more

Letters home from World War I color story of early aviation for Denver woman
The Denver Post, May 24th

Marie Solzan sorts through a portion of her World War I-era letters, photographs and other memorabilia, most from her great-uncle M.E. Carter Jr., a U.S. Air Serviceman, that she found stored in a steamer trunk in her grandmother's attic. (Andy Cross...Read more

Read: Some things in life actually do require some help
The Daily News Journal, May 23rd

The mattress also has the weight of a steamer trunk and isn't easy to grab a hold of. After waiting too long to make "the turn," with the mattress developing an image of me in the very center, I decided to take it upon myself to follow the instructions...Read more

UNDER GROUND
Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 22nd

Katka's steamer trunk was heavy. She had fastened a leather strap on one end, which enabled her to drag the burdensome chest when she could no longer manage to carry it. As for Paul, he had only a small suitcase that seemed weightless under his large ...Read more

The beauty of international relations
Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 18th

Nail, mother of four, is taking her only daughter, Mary Alex, 22, on the trip, scheduled for the second week in June. It'll be Nail's second to trip to Russia. She visited St. Petersburg in 2009. If she had a steamer trunk, it'd barely have any label...Read more

For Sale: Humphrey Bogart's Monogrammed Steamer Trunk
Jaunted, 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