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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A Lifetime of AccumulationMother Earth News, June 29th
There was a steamer trunk with some of the women's clothing that had taken the journey with a past generation, first addition books that had been beloved through generations, and collections like the oil lamps that had made her living room so cozy...Read more
2016 Scion iM ReviewAutoGuide.com, June 28th
Perhaps the iM's greatest strength is the content you get for the price you pay; it offers more bang for your buck than a steamer trunk of shotgun shells purchased at the Salvation Army on blue-tag day. And thanks to Scion's mono-spec philosophy there...Read more
"Blossoms at Butterworth" visitors dodge some rainQuad-Cities Online, June 28th
Sunday's unique (and free) garden party featured performances by the Bix Memorial Youth Jazz Band, and outside Deere-Wiman, a display of antique cars including a 1919 Velie utility car with a steamer trunk owned by Charles Deere Velie in back...Read more
POINT OF VIEW: Enforce existing rules for carry-on bag sizesPalm Beach Post, June 26th
I see backpacks the size of a steamer trunk being stuffed into the overhead bins. I see passengers with several carry-on bags that make it look like the people are going on a two-week vacation. And then there is “me,” who has checked his big suitcase...Read more
More is more in decor of "Small Cool" Philly penthousePhilly.com, June 25th
For example, in the bedroom, they arranged a steamer trunk that belonged to Protevi's great-aunt beneath a nearly invisible Lucite side table Schwiegeraht picked up at a mall store. For Schwiegeraht, 48, who works as a property manager for a family in ...Read more
Cody Ransom wants chance to make more memories in big leaguesSacramento Bee (blog), June 19th
Ransom, who has hit 215 minor-league home runs, took his talents to Japan, where he played for the Saitama Seibu Lions – another sticker to slap on his baseball steamer trunk. No stop was more memorable than New York, where Ransom did what no man ...Read more
What do you bet that Cary Grant's roller bag never wobbledWashington Post (blog), June 16th
The Santa Fe, N.M. airport looks like it hasn't changed much in about 70 years, which is to say, it's charming, everything scaled down to human dimensions, almost like a small-town bus station. The architecture is Western, with exposed beams, tile...Read more
This Trunk Fits An Entire Apartment Inside (Plus A Bike!)Co.Design, June 9th
Think of it as the steamer trunk of the 21st century. Just as the high-society flappers and dandies of the 1920s would pack up all of their belongings into massive trunks as they skipped between American and European cities, the Travelbox is a way to...Read more