A Brief History of the Luggage Trunk and How to Restore Them

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When thinking about the history of luggage, you have to know the authentic history of the “trunk,” the granddaddy of the modern piece of luggage, It is also known as a traveling chest, which is a large cuboid container for holding clothes and other personal belongings. It’s typically about 1.5meters wide, and 0.5 meters each deep and high, or about 25″ to 40″ wide, 14″ to 28″ high, and 14″ to 24″ deep. They were most commonly used for extended periods away from home, such as for boarding school or long trips abroad. The trunks although, have been around for thousands of years in China and elsewhere, and the most common styles seen and referred to today date from the late 18th Century to the early 20th, then replaced in the market for the lighter more convenient roll luggage bag.

There are many, many styles of trunks such as Saratogas, Jenny Linds, Monitors, (or Flat-tops) Barrel-Staves, Bevel-tops, Wardrobes, Steamers, Dome-tops, Barrell-tops, Wall Trunks, and even full Dresser trunks. These differing styles often only lasted for a decade or two as well, and – along with the hardware – can be extremely helpful in dating an unmarked trunk. But with the history of the granddaddy luggage “trunk” there has been a recent popularity to find and restore these classics of travel and luggage. Most recently these pieces of luggage have been used as authentic furniture for adding character to homes or as child storage boxes, these older trunks can be found in many antique shops in your local city. With the advent rise if the trunks popularity is also an awakened awareness of restoring these pieces of treasure.

Although, current restoration techniques for trunks are generally limited to either “wood-based”, (where the central metal sheets or canvas is removed, exposing the underlying pine box, which is then stained in some fashion) “metal based”, (where even plain metal panels are left intact) and the almost unheard-of “original” (a true restoration to what it was, including interior wallpaper or otherwise.) Interiors for these may include the original paper being stripped out and replaced with modern or original-style wallpaper, padded or unpadded fabrics, sanding/staining the interior, lining the entire trunk with strips of cedar, or even simple paint. Uninformed restorations will often shred or damage the trunk even beyond the greatest professionals ability to repair, and so you should not attempt to restore your own trunk without research. Also there are times when leaving a trunk intact and original – regardless of its current condition and physical appearance – is the correct action to take.

So the next time you decide on shopping for a piece of luggage [ remember the history and trials and fame of the granddaddy of all modern pieces of luggage the “Trunk”. Because of its legacy and history we can appreciate the convenience of our current pieces we use on a daily basis when we travel, work, exercise, carry our children and just live. Thank you “trunk.”

write by ROGER CHINN

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