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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5 Worst Visitors People in Miami Receive in the WinterMiami.com, February 8th
Often a relative or a close childhood friend, these guests buy the cheapest one-way ticket possible and arrive with a suitcase the size of first-class steamer trunk. This guest has recently undergone some serious changes in life - a divorce, job loss...Read more
10 First-Class Epistolary NovelsPaste Magazine, February 3rd
Imagine chancing across a steamer trunk filled with memorabilia from a dream life: foiled romances, college at Vassar, friendship with young poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay and a trip to Paris in the company of royalty. Your wish is Preston's command...Read more
Brad Cloepfil and Clyfford Still Museum make case for design in DenverThe Denver Post, January 30th
And inside of that are wooden display boxes, suspended by the frames, that hold the objects. With drawers that open and close and hinge, they are meant to look like suitcases; as if they might fold up, steamer trunk-style, so everything can be carted...Read more
California town for sale for $5 million — PHOTOSLas Vegas Review-Journal, January 29th
The lobby walls are lined with historical photos. It features fans and wood beams across the ceiling, a steamer trunk and antique cabinets filled with artifacts. There is no TV but a collection of books and a comfortably worn tufted leather couch to...Read more
What's It Worth: Steamer trunk, spill vasesRichmond Times-Dispatch, December 26th
I would like details about the trunk, such as when and where it was made, the type of lock, etc. What kind of antiques specialist repairs and reconditions old trunks, and where do I find them? — R.Y.. ANSWER: The coolest thing about this old steamer...Read more
What's It Worth: Credenzas and steamer trunkRichmond Times-Dispatch, November 21st
Can I assume that this trunk was handed down and brought over on a ship for an early settlement like Jamestown? — S.D.. ANSWER: Your steamer trunk was manufactured in the 1920s. They were called steamer trunks because travelers used them aboard ...Read more
Magic in Yiayia's Steamer TrunkHuffington Post (blog), October 12th
You see, inside Yiayia's steamer trunk, the one she brought with her when she arrived in the United States for the first time over a century ago, were the most enchanted things. When I was a girl, we never bought Halloween costumes. We'd just open the...Read more
Chivas Regal targets traveling gentlemen via $12K steamer trunkLuxury Daily, September 21st
Inspired by a passion for travel that defines both brands, the Chivas 12 “Made for Gentlemen” collectibles have been handcrafted by Globe-Trotter and will be displayed in its London storefront beginning on Oct. 5. The largest of the collectibles, a...Read more