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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Vintage is nothing new to these two Grade 7 'pickers'The Province, November 26th
Her most prized possession is an old steamer trunk that she bought for $10 at a garage sale. It came with a passenger's log for the owner's trip from Montreal. “I like it, how it's really antique-ish and the mystery of it,” she said. She's most proud...Read more
Tibet's Lost Films: Watch Never-Before-Seen FootageTIME, November 25th
Say, in the bottom of a steamer trunk in the dead of night. That is where the Tenzin Phuntsog found 16 films, some of which hadn't been seen in nearly 50 years. Using his own money and learning from friends along the way, Phuntsog restored and...Read more
2014 Annual Ladies Christmas Brunch Slated for December 6Catalina Island News (press release), November 24th
Tickets are $5 and are available from Sue Cheek (310-510-9680), Judy Hibbs (310-510-1264) or at Steamer Trunk Wednesdays and Thursdays. There are many very challenging aspects to a time of family gatherings (or not gathering), many temperaments ...Read more
Historic Union Square Hotel Completes RenovationMeetings Focus (press release) (blog), November 24th
"The custom steamer trunk front desk is a wink at the traveling adventure of Mark Twain full of inspiring writings from along his journey," said Anthony Laurino, interior designer. Spacious deluxe rooms feature premium linens, bathrobes, Keurig Coffee...Read more
Special offers part of thrill of Black Friday Record Store Day eventNews Sentinel, November 24th
The offending photo was quickly replaced with a much tamer photo showing four weary Beatles standing around a steamer trunk. While a good number of the offending covers were destroyed, to save costs, a large number of the butcher covers were simply ...Read more
Thanksgiving snows not the normTroy Daily News, November 23rd
Several of those buffalo robes were stored in huge steamer trunk which sat in the corner of her cozy living room. They were incredible — dark, thick hair, beautiful edge stitching, finished with red wool blanket material on the backside. Heavy, too...Read more
'Treasure everything you've got'Sentinel-Standard, November 21st
Ferris had "heirlooms" from her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, like an old wooden steamer trunk with antique photos, she said. Those things can't be replaced, even if they had insurance. But as Ferris and Yaw sift through the remains of...Read more
Stunning steamer trunkWaterloo Record, November 21st
A This bears all the signs of being a custom-made steamer trunk. Most of these were made between 1850 and 1900, and yours has an Arts and Crafts look suggesting it was made in the latter part of this period. The ship marks it as a steamer trunk, but is...Read more