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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Recent News: Trunks

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If Wishes Were Horses, My Old Kentucky Home
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Ham's collection of a dozen books fit neatly on one shelf in an old black steamer trunk he had found at the Bird Road flea market by Tropical Park, and he could still get the rest of his clothes in the duffel bag he'd left home with. When they felt...Read more

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Marc Deliz is making magic in Rochelle Park. Deliz and his wife, Tania Castro, have been restoring and decorating their 1910 Victorian in the Rochelle Heights-Rochelle Park Historical District of New Rochelle, one of the first planned suburbs in the...Read more

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“I opened every steamer trunk, every suitcase, and every box, many of which had layers of dirt or grime that distorted the original color of items,” he wrote in an investigatory report. “The only room left unexplored was one that appeared to be...Read more

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Here he was, all (a listed) 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, trying to stand his ground and turn a double play pivot as Pablo Sandoval, a moving steamer trunk at 5-11 and (a listed) 255 pounds bore down on him. At the last moment, Sandoval hit the deck in what...Read more

Decorating: American Country, July 2nd

Add some fashion and function to your country décor with this Safavieh Stagecoach Steamer Trunk. A blanket motif, leather accents and brass rivets add Southwestern flair to this large storage cube (17 1/2 inches in each dimension) which can double as...Read more

For Sale: Humphrey Bogart's Monogrammed Steamer Trunk
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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