|Antique Trunk History and Styles
Including: Antique Steamer Trunks, Antique Wall Trunks, Wardrobe Trunks, Dresser Trunks, Antique Doll Trunks, Automobile Trunks,
and the Oak Slatted Excelsior Trunk.
Other styles are included on the previous page.
In dating the various styles, it should be noted that many changes occurred within a relatively short time after about 1850. There were
several transitional periods where elements of one style could be found on examples of another, primarily dealing with the buttons and
wood slats. Also, examples of a particular style do exist outside the ranges given. Sometimes dating these particular trunks requires some
experience and there are even producers of trunks today although we see no effort to hide that fact. With 1000's of trunk makers worldwide
during the 1800's through early 1900's, some locations were ahead of others and there was an era of remakes in the first quarter of the
1900's which are themselves approaching antique. The ranges given should provide general insight as to the initial popular era of the style.
While some refer to all antique trunks as steamer trunks (of which I am sometimes guilty to better bring a visual image the era of trunks) I
believe the correct form of trunk for this name is much like the flat top trunk, only shorter to fit under the beds or seating in the berthing
areas of steam ships and steam locomotives of the era. Some refer to them as cabin trunks for this reason and also because ship labels
existed that read "Cabin - Hold" and people could check to have the trunk sent to their cabin or to the main storage hold. As space was an
issue, this size often was the one sent to the cabin. Most are around 12"- 13" high and were either canvas or metal covered. Most examples
of the metal covered are more towards the 1900's and later
Although their are variations over time and manufacturer, each is made with either special hinges or hinge placement allowing the trunk to
be opened near flush against the wall. Some of the manufacturers include Druguid, Clinton, Miller and M.M. Secor although there were a
few others. This style was and remains quite popular.
Basically a traveling chest of drawers. Most have to be stood up on one end and then it opens in half although many variations exist. If they
could conceive a design, they tried it. Once opened, there is usually drawers on one side and a place to hang clothes on the other. Some
came with detachable brief or make-up cases, ironing boards, mirrors, shoe holders, tie downs, about everything short of the kitchen sink.
They are normally quite large and very heavy although some smaller variations exist which lean more toward the steamer trunk size. If you
do not recognize the outer covering as cloth canvas, we strongly recommend you do not attempt to remove it. Especially the coverings that
feel sort of rubbery and often black. It is a miserable failure in life you do not want.
Sometimes referred to as Theater Trunks (not sure why) or Pyramidal Trunks due to their shape. While they basically look like a slatted flat
top trunk, the lock is found on the front towards the bottom and the hinges are on the top rather than the back. Most likely influenced by the
wall trunks as well as the wardrobe trunks, they are characterized by a lid that opens up almost the entire front half of the trunk revealing
large drawers for storage. The lids stand straight up, some in excess of 54". You can find mirrors on the inside of many and most
examples are fairly large in size although I have run across a small child sized one
1850 - Present
Most examples recognized as doll trunks we see today are after 1850 although they predate that time. Just about every design of the larger
trunks were replicated in the smaller doll trunks. As such, the name does not so much describe a unique construction style but rather a
size. Most are around 12" - 18" long. Early examples of certain styles in exceptional original condition are prized, as they should be.
1910 - 1950
One would perhaps have to call this style of trunk a success. The development of Henry Fords Model T would ultimately have a profound
effect on the evolution of the trunk. The early automobiles and even later small sport or touring vehicles were not made with any significant
storage space outside the vehicles seating area and instead equipped with a rack or slot for which a trunk could be secured. To
accommodate, a new style emerged built to fit on or in these areas. Some were built specifically for a particular vehicle while others
became more generic and were equipped with numerous snaps and straps so they could be secured in various configurations depending
on the vehicle. The styles and intended purposes of these automobile trunks varied from essentially those built as a form of luggage to
hold personal items to others meant to store tools which were often needed for roadside emergencies. Their forms differ greatly and
incorporate both old and new designs.
|Oak Slatted or Excelsior Trunk
Often referred to as an Excelsior Trunk due to their patent of the design. There were however a few more makers of this particular style.
While the basic structure relates to the dome top family, I believe the outer wood slatted exterior places it in a class by itself. They are
quite rare and come in a variety of styles and sizes with the slatted exterior remaining constant on each. While researching the origins of
this style, I find second hand reference that they were originally made in New Jersey and that may be so. However, I have been unable to
verify that but do find that there was an Excelsior Trunk Works in Halifax, England and a early thumbnail photo of that factory is below. It
later grew into one of England's largest trunk producers.
**Note - There are locks stamped Excelsior Lock Works, Newark, N.J starting around 1887. These were sold by a fronting company Excelsior Hardware
Company actually owned by C.A. Erickson Company in Bridgeport. They later moved to Stamford and then incorporated around 1910.
I find no relationship between the Excelsior lock manufacturer and the Excelsior trunk.
|Excelsior Trunk Works
|Other antique styles are included on the previous page.