ttic Series: Trunks

January 28, 2015 - Michele Woodburn

Not All Trunks are on Elephants!

Greetings Royal Friends and Followers,

A frequent discovery in many estates are old trunks. This item is a wealth of possibilities, and creates excitement whenever it is uncovered. First because of the trunk itself. Every branch of the military used trunks or footlockers. Most are old steamer trunks.  Basically a steamer trunk is a suitcase. Yes, folks, we really did travel this way! They can have flat tops, or rounded tops called a camel back. The trunk could be made of wood, metal or leather, and may sometimes be covered in fabric. They are usually bound with wood for structural integrity (baggage handlers have changed very little over time), and may have metal corners. Most have straps around them of cloth or leather that fasten in the front. The trunk itself will have a lock on the front, and the straps may lock. If you find a trunk with straps, locks and corners intact, you have an exciting find. If you are really lucky, and the original owner of the trunk was a traveler, there may be stickers on the trunk from past destinations. These should be carefully protected! Some have amazing graphics and may represent geographic destinations, hotels, railroad lines or shipping lines. Sometimes the trunk will have been embellished or have a brand name printed on it. The current holy grail of trunks is Louis Vuitton, especially one with the signature fabric covering.

Now, to open the trunk! Is it locked? Do you have the key? If it is locked and you don’t have the key, try to locate the key. Sometimes, as with skeleton locks, you may find a key that will work. If not, you may want to contact a locksmith. You may need to evaluate the trunk’s overall condition and aesthetic value to justify the expense. These are old locks, and really not that difficult to pick, so you may choose to try it yourself. Just be aware, that if the lock is damaged, it does reduce the value of the trunk.

The inside of the trunk may be lined with fabric or paper. Many times paper linings were replaced with old wallpaper or even photos or magazine pictures. These are all very desirable. Most trunks had a top tray, some more than one. Some had inside boxes or compartments for writing instruments, valuables, collars and cuffs, or hats. Again, the more intact the interior, the better it is.

Some climates and locations are more conducive to proper storage, and we all know that the attic really isn’t one of them. Temperature changes and extremes are very hard on most things. If you are in a warm climate, often the trunk may become dry or brittle. If you are in a more temperate climate, you may need to deal with mildew. What if you open the trunk and it smells of mildew? Are there stains visible from mildew?  I usually try to let it air out a few days in a bright location out of direct sunlight. I have used lavender, baking soda, and powdered vanilla to remove odor. Powdered vanilla (not extract) can be a little difficult to find, but lavender and baking soda are both readily available.  If the trunk is badly mildewed, but the exterior is in good condition, you may want to sacrifice the old lining. Remember, replacing the lining is actually a time honored tradition!

Now that you have the trunk open, you have all the fun of going through the treasures stored inside! Many will contain vintage clothing or photographs, business papers, old coins or currency, military records and clothing, tools, toys, books, jewelry, or whatever the original owner held to be of value. One trunk we opened contained a McFarland desk lamp from the 1920’s. Let me know what you found!

Old trunks can be used as very attractive storage! If the top of the trunk is flat, it is possible to use it as a coffee table. I have seen an example where the owner had a piece of glass cut to size and placed that on silicone dots to make a truly flat surface, and used the space beneath the glass like a collector’s table. This particular person collected postcards, and changed the selection displayed under the glass with the seasons or holidays. If the trunk is in really poor condition, it may still be salvageable. My first toy box was my Dad’s old army footlocker that my mom painted, upholstered, and put plywood cutouts on the sides and back of Mistress Mary and her garden. We hung our clothes for the next day from Mistress Mary’s watering can. You may have ideas or examples to share. Let me know! I love seeing what you’ve done!

One of the most chock full sites I’ve ever found for information and pictures is Legacy Trunks. Give it a look see.

Ta Ta for now,

Her Stupendous Majesty, Queen Michele