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    

Large Vintage Trunk Chest Elm 8 Elm Bands Rustic Chic Coffee Table Storage BoxAntique Pine Trunk, Rustic Coffee Table, Victorian Blanket Box, Vintage Pine Box19thc Antique Civil War Era Jenny Lind Chest Primitive Iron Banded Travel TrunkRare 1920's Louis Vuitton Lv Monogram 3/4 Size Travel Steamer TrunkLouis Vuitton Cabin TrunkAntique 19thc Pre Civil War Era Flat Top Trunk Early Primitive Wood Ship ChestAntique 19th C Salesmans Sample ? Miniature Trunk W/tray Doll Or What ?? Wood 19th Century Cherry Sugar Chest Salesman Sample Blanket Trunk Kentucky AntiqueAntique Lot Of 20 Ornate Hollow Open Barrel Skeleton Keys Trunk Chest Locks OldAuthentic Antique Louis Vuitton Large Travel Steamer Trunk Chest On WheelsAntique Chinese Red Lacquer Gilt Leather Storage Travel Trunk Coffee Table Box 1Antique Half TrunkAntique 19thc Pre Civil War Old Nantucket Octagon Leather Travel Case Trunk BagRayee Canvas Covered Dress Trunk Louis Vuitton 1870-1888Antique Oshkosh The Chief Cabin Trunk & Tray Steamer Coffee Table Luggage 1930's* Primitive Antique Style Doll * Folk Art * Trunk Doll *Rare Antique Dome Trunk Wood Oak Matchboard SlatsMid Century Modern 1960's Steampunk Trunk Chest Table Base Industrial MetalAntique Paper Covered Wooden Dome Top Doll Trunk.Huge Lot Of 257 Vintage Cash Register Padlock Trunk Chest Cabinet Door Keys Large Original Antique Cast Iron Jail Treasure Chest Trunk Lock Key N/rRare Antique Louis Vuitton Steamer Trunk 1800'sAntique Refinished Steamer TrunkPair Of Old Antique Vintage Cast Iron Industrial Trunk Chest Lift Handles PullsOld Antique Vintage Doll Chest Clothes Travel Trunk 19thc Antique Civil War Era Horstmann Uniform Chest Primitive Travel Trunk4 Antique Industrial Furniture / Steamer Trunk Caster Wheels ~ Vintage Parts Antique Wood Machinist Tool Box Chest Carpenter Trunk Storage Primitive CabinetWonderful Early 19th Century Antique Trunk W/ Sunburst Design & Large Brass TackVintage Mid Century Pirates Treasure Chest Jewelry Box Trunk White Finish18 Pc Chinese Brass Hardware 4 Chest Trunk Box Latch Corner Pull Handle PlateLot Of 47 Vintage Eagle Lock Co Padlock Trunk Chest Cabinet Door Safe Keys OldVintage Automobile Luggage TrunkAntique Wood Humpback Trunk Steamer (pat. March 1880, See Desciption)Lot Of 52 Vintage Master Lock Co Padlock Trunk Chest Cabinet Door Safe Keys Old5 Antique All Different Steamer Trunk Keys KeysVintage Wicker Chest Trunk -white Wicker With Hinge 30 X 14 X 12 12 Small Trunk Casters, Etc. Primitive Buckles Belt Harness Tack Luggage Trunk Farm Bell AntiqueBeautiful Old Trunk With Iron Scroll Top Huge Vtg. Antique Steampunk Suitcase / Steamer Trunk W/linen Shelf /home DecorVintage Hardware-travel Trunk Lock Assembly Sorry No Key

Recent News: Trunks

Source: Google News

Woog's World / Westporter's tribute to letter writing, a fading rite of human ...
Westport News, April 20th

The idea began in the late 1990s. Sankovitch was the new owner of an old house. Clearing the yard, she found a steamer trunk filled with hundreds of handwritten letters. Most were from someone named James to his mother. They spanned several decades, ...Read more

Auction Systems Auctioneers & Appraisers, Inc. to Host Marathon Auction in ...
PR Newswire (press release), April 18th

Thomas Kinkade "The Valley of Peace" offset lithograph numbered 2964 / 3850, Vintage wingback style armchair, The Wahl Trunk Company vintage steamer trunk, Panasonic six-speaker surround sound system, Staffordshire Liberty Blue Ironstone china, ...Read more

Sam the Record Man is still spinning – far from Toronto
The Globe and Mail, April 18th

5, 1961, its sprawling interior “organized with all the finesse of a steamer trunk packed by somebody given five minutes' notice to leave the country,” as Toronto Star writer Gerald Levitch put it in 1979. But that wasn't big enough for Sam's. Jason...Read more

First round is the best round
ABC News, April 17th

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 come
Orillia 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

'Rio 2' is a repetitive lark
Gazette.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

Discovering Inspiration in a Trunk Full of Letters
Huffington 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 Belts
Custom 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