Antique Trunk History 2018-03-02T10:12:35-07:00

Antique Trunk History

There is little known about antique trunk history when compared to most antiques. There were many manufactures and types of trunks being made in there heyday. Each craftsman had his own ideas, dreams and thoughts on how to craft his products. This article is meant to provide general information and the background of trunk manufacturing in the United States.


Early Man

From the time of man people have needed to carry their belongings on there travels. The most common item to be brought with them was water. Early man cured animal bladders in order to store water for there travels. People remained trapped where they lived due to the lack of  effective transportation. The invention of the wheel would fuel the ability to move over land like never seen before in history.


Wheels Turn Into Wagons

Picture of a stage coachThe eastern United States grew and the wheel has been long perfected by. Horse drawn wagons allowed for supplies and people to be moved with relative ease. As people have the ability to travel they need to take things with them and the US trunk manufacturing industry is born.  These trunks of this time period (prior to 1870) were small, sometimes covered with animal hide and iron banding. There was not a lot of room for large trunks on stagecoaches and most people still did not travel more than 30 miles from their home.




The Iron Horse

Steam engine picture - Depics steamer trunk history By 1870 railroads crossed the entire United States from east to west and rapid transportation was now available. The Civil War had been over for five years and the south was rebuilding. Trunk manufacturing is growing just as fast as railroads.  People are moving comfortably and rapidly in Pullman passenger cars down the rails faster than ever imagined. People now had the ability to travel in style and to take a large amounts of possessions with them.





The Heyday Of Trunks

The Heyday of trunks was from about 1870 to 1920. There were hundreds of  trunk manufactures, if not thousands at any given time in the United  States. This time period is called the Victorian era. Architecture design grew from simple to ornate and beautiful as did trunks and most Victorian era products.

Many trunk hardware manufactures, trunk manufactures and distributors sprang up all over America during this era. No exact number of trunk manufactures is known and identifying many trunks as to there manufacturer is nearly impossible without a makers label.

Many styles and sizes of trunks would appear over this 30 year period. Some trunks were very ornately decorated and very expensive while others were basic in design and made to be cheap as possible. This can be noted when looking through trunk catalogs

The most expensive trunks were called “Saratoga trunks.”  Saratoga trunks were large in size and the best in quality. They were named after the city of Saratoga Springs, NY which was a popular vacation area for the very wealthy. The city was known for its mineral springs and high end hotels (Picture 1) and entertainment. City Hall can be seen in picture #2.

Saratoga Springs, Ny Hotel - PictureSaratoga springs, NY Town hall - Picture










Types of Trunks


Flat top trunkFlat Top Trunks

Flat top trunks are as there name implies, flat on top. It is not uncommon to see leather straps that wrap around the entire trunk. Some flat top trunks will not be completely flat on top and have a slight arch to them. Many of these trunks were also covered in a waterproofed cloth, canvas or duck cloth.




Metal steamer trunkDome Top Trunks

Many other names are used to describe this style of trunk including round top, humpback, camel back and barrel top trunks. This style of trunk was often covered in embossed tin, plain tin, crystallized tin and waterproofed paper .





Martin Maier Oak SLat TrunkSlat Trunks

Slat trunks are characterized by the large amount of wooden slats used in the construction of the trunk. This is a very strong construction method and is also visually appealing to many people. The example in the picture was crafted by Martin Maier of Detroit, MI.





Other types of trunks include Barrel Stave, Jenny Lind, Wall Trunks, Hat Trunks and Steamer Trunks.

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