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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Treasure hidden 60 years ago is family's greatest giftDetroit Free Press, December 20th
The keepsakes from that old steamer trunk are better than any ornately wrapped knickknack for our family this holiday season. They are the most enduring of all gifts — the kind that speak to the heart, to a family's legacy, to the kind of people we...Read more
Holiday music will be played Sunday in Keachi ChurchShreveport Times, December 18th
For a new take on an old steamer trunk, she painted it a pearlized white and added legs. “It can be a coffee table, but also has plenty of storage space,” Vanicka said. Furniture prices: $150 to $400. ... If you are out and about and want a quick “to...Read more
The allure of charm braceletsTelegraph.co.uk, December 18th
Louis Vuitton offers the trendiest of charm bracelets, including shrunken versions of the brand's best-selling handbags and even a miniature steamer trunk in white gold and diamonds. I particularly like Asprey's very British Woodland charm bracelet...Read more
The funny similarities between Charlie Chaplin and Bob HopeChicago Reader, December 17th
As a physical comedian, Hope had his moments—check out his rubber-legged walk after he's released from a steamer trunk in The Ghost Breakers (1940)—but the key to his success was his verbal wit. He came of age in vaudeville when the old tradition of ...Read more
Is String Theory About to Unravel?Smithsonian, December 17th
In October 1984 I arrived at Oxford University, trailing a large steamer trunk containing a couple of changes of clothing and about five dozen textbooks. I had a freshly minted bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard, and I was raring to launch into...Read more
CARVED JADEITE NECKLACE LEADS GROGAN'S INAUGURAL BOSTON ...ArtfixDaily, December 16th
BOSTON, MA: Grogan & Company's inaugural auction in their new Boston location drew standing room only crowds from both down the street and across the country. On Sunday, December 14th, Vice President and Gallery Director, Lucy P. Grogan, took the ...Read more
'Downton Abbey' fashion at Winterthur (VIDEO)Delco News Network, December 14th
Visitors can also see Mrs. Du Pont's alligator leather-covered lady's maid travel case, with gold-plated jars, vials and tools. There's also Mr. Du Pont's steamer trunk. “We hope this exhibit will pick the public's interest in places like Winterthur...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