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
Kentucky Online Arts Resource
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Trunks
Source: Google News
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
Julianne Moore: Style shrinksThe Independent, November 22nd
Rebecca: Honey, I shrunk the steamer trunk! Miniaturised to perfection, with added leaded window effect for good measure. Mike: No wonder her arms look so toned if she's lugging that around all evening. The tights. Rebecca: Just looking at patterned, ...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
Crabs That FlyPalisades Hudson Financial Group, November 19th
Fees for checked baggage particularly annoy me because they encourage travelers to drag anything smaller than a steamer trunk into the cabin, where I often end up helping an undersized woman hoist her oversized bag into the overhead compartment...Read more
Turn back time with steampunk jewelrySan Antonio Express-News, November 18th
timepieces as small as ladies wristwatches to as large as grandfather clocks, scouring real estate sales and craft shops alike for vintage and contemporary clock pieces as well as vacuum tubes, rhinestones and, her personal favorite, antique...Read more
From circus to scholar: Professor once left 'em laughing under the Big TopUnion College, November 14th
His time as a professional clown, though, remains locked in a steamer trunk where it all began, at his parents' home in D.C.. “Being a clown is a lot more complicated than people think,” he said. “It's a lot harder than people think, and it's a lot...Read more
Bill Weld's opportunity in a Charlie Baker administrationBoston Globe, November 13th
His passion springs from boyhood days, when he traveled from New York to Middlesex School in Concord and had to lug a steamer trunk to North Station from South Station (which was recently rechristened the Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center)...Read more