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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Letters home from World War I color story of early aviation for Denver womanThe Denver Post, May 24th
Marie Solzan sorts through a portion of her World War I-era letters, photographs and other memorabilia, most from her great-uncle M.E. Carter Jr., a U.S. Air Serviceman, that she found stored in a steamer trunk in her grandmother's attic. (Andy Cross...Read more
Read: Some things in life actually do require some helpThe Daily News Journal, May 23rd
The mattress also has the weight of a steamer trunk and isn't easy to grab a hold of. After waiting too long to make "the turn," with the mattress developing an image of me in the very center, I decided to take it upon myself to follow the instructions...Read more
The look of leather in home decorOttawa Citizen, May 20th
This reproduction antique steamer trunk has been re-designed for the 21st century. Made from cigar coloured leather with a solid wood frame and 3,000 brass nails, it offers a desktop, multiple drawers, a bookcase and places to hide all your cables...Read more
The beauty of international relationsJackson Clarion Ledger, May 18th
Nail, mother of four, is taking her only daughter, Mary Alex, 22, on the trip, scheduled for the second week in June. It'll be Nail's second to trip to Russia. She visited St. Petersburg in 2009. If she had a steamer trunk, it'd barely have any label...Read more
A RelationshipInside Higher Ed (blog), May 17th
Summer after graduation, 207 girls all dressed in formal white dresses holding a dozen red roses on the stage of the Eastman (Kodak) Theater Auditorium in downtown Rochester, Valerie prepared to go to college at New Paltz while I filled a steamer trunk...Read more
Starbucks not liable in NC police officer's coffee-spill caseCharlotte Observer, May 11th
The reason for the worldwide interest: Kohr's case had a steamer trunk full of complications. Kohr had Crohn's disease. He'd managed it for more than a decade. But he did so on a steady diet of steroids. His doctor said the coffee injury aggravated it...Read more
Dana MaurielloFast Company, May 11th
I use Post-its on the inside of a vintage steamer trunk at home to keep track of my personal projects and dreams. The toughest thing for me to keep track of is all of the activities that I want to do, so I created Make Today Awesome for that...Read more
For Sale: Humphrey Bogart's Monogrammed Steamer TrunkJaunted, March 26th
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