Dad’s and My Trunk Article

Here is the article Dad and I wrote in 2006:
 
Types of trunks
By Anna Worden and Floyd Worden
 
            Many of us want to use trunks during our living history events for various reasons, storage, transportation, furniture, scenario enhancement and interpretation. There are many situations where the use of a trunk is appropriate. Trunks were used for short-term travel and relocation as well as home storage. Multiple diaries and journals refer to getting trunks ready or having trunks searched during the war. If we choose to include a trunk for whichever reason, there are several factors to consider when choosing which trunk to use. In the two decades prior to the Civil War trunks made by individuals and by companies creating a variety of trunks available. Trunks could be completely made in a factory with machine parts, made by hand with some machine made parts or occasionally still made entirely by hand. While some trunks were very basic, others were made for specific purposes or for a specific market. Advertisers listed trunks for ladies and trunks for gentlemen. They also make some distinction between these and packing and traveling trunks. Large trunks were made to harness to a carriage, often by a harness maker. Smaller trunks were made easy to handle for stage travel. Specialized trunks were also made for a variety of purposes.
 
 
 
Before and during the Civil War
 

This is a Post-CW Trunk based on the lock. Just an example of a flat top.

This is a Post-CW Trunk based on the lock. Just an example of a flat top.

Flat top trunks were popular for many decades prior to the Civil War then again from 1870 to 1920. The frame of these trunks is most often wood, though some patents suggest a metal frame in addition to the wood. The wood is most often covered with canvas, oiled canvas and eventually paper and metal. In pre-war trunks, the trunk body is supported with wood slats, metal trim and metal or leather hardware. Some later trunks are covered with sheet metal.  The basic frame and support structure of the flat top trunk is applied to most round and dome top trunks. Some flat tops developed into dresser, wall or desk trunks.

 

Round top 1864

Round top trunk circa 1864. This trunk is covered with “Western Squares” paper patented in 1864. The trunk body is constructed from wood, supported by iron stripes at the edges and lid lip. Narrower straps are mimicked in the decorative paper studded with buttons. Lock pairs are less common than a single lock.

Round top trunks have lids that are rounded front to back and not rounded on the sides. The rounded shape can be rather shallow, almost undetectable from a distance or very deep. The slats on the top of the lid can run end to end or be curved and run front to back. If the slats run front to back, they are bent to the shape of the lid. The front, back and side slats can run horizontally or vertically. The slats of a round top trunk are often wider than flat top trunks. These trunks are most often covered in a combination of leather, metal and canvas. Additional compartmentalized storage is created in the round top (see below.)

 

Dome top trunk

Shallow dome top trunk circa 1854 – 1875. There is a patent identification located on the lock plate marked May 1854. This trunk is labeled inside “From W. R. Drakeford, Manufacture of and Dealer in Harness, Saddles, Bridles, Whips, Trunks, Blankets and every description of Horse Furnishing Goods, 132 Canisteo St., Cor. Park, Hornellsville, N.Y. Canvas Trunk Covers Made to Order.” The wooden stave on the lid runs side to side. It would have been hand bent/shaped for the lid. This trunk retains a pair of buckles and part of their leather straps.

Dome top trunks curve front to back and side to side. They are also called Humpback and camelback trunks. The domes can be very shallow or very high and deep. The basic body of the trunk is constructed in the same way a flat or round top trunk is. The difference, of course, is the lid. The lid slats bend with the shape of the lid whether they run from side to side or front to back. These slats would have been bent by hand. Dome trunks are covered with paper, plain or embossed tin, leather or a combination of these.

                       
Stage Coach Trunks or travel trunks became popular a few decades prior to the Civil War as travel by train or train increased. These trunks were most often wider than their height, such as 28 inches wide, 15 inches tall and 16 inches deep. Fully packed these trunks could be lifted atop a stage for travel.
 

Jenny Lind Trunk

Jenny Lind trunk, circa 1850-1870. Constructed from 14 pine boards. Ends and lid lip secured by iron straps. May or may not have been covered with leather. (Found with layers of green paint.) This trunk used to have leather straps, handles (replaced) and lock cover. 27.5”wide by 16” deep by 13” high.

Jenny Lind Trunks were a popular form of travel trunk from about 1850 to 1870. These trunks were named after the popular Swedish singer Jenny Lind the “Swedish Nightingale”. Jenny Lind trunks are easy to identify by their shape. Looking from the end, the trunk outline resembles a  keyhole, bread loaf or hour-glass. They were most often made of pine boards then covered in leather and bound with metal bands around ends and edges. Straps often wrapped from back to front, buckling in the front. The metal bands were studded with brass buttons. Size varied for these trunks, each being fairly easy to carry due to their width to height dimensions.

 
Leather Trunks are wood base trunks covered in leather. There were many types of leather-covered trunks made through the 1800s (and prior). Sadly, these trunks often suffer great damage to the leather over time. Advertisements list trunks made with rawhide, sole leather and hide. Some leather trunks are very early and vary in size. These are completely covered in leather. Decorative and identifying marks were added with studs or “buttons”. As time progressed into the 1800s, leather or hardware was added to the exterior. Smaller trunks would have handles on the top instead of or in addition to the side handles. Shapes include flat and dome tops. On flat tops, edges at front and back could be curved. Some leather-covered trunks are called “immigrant trunks” though immigrants used not all trunks of this style, nor did immigrants solely use leather-covered trunks.
 
New and variant designs show up all through the United States patents and advertisements. There were new ideas to make a trunk more useful, more accessible, more secure or safer. You can find trunks that dual as beds, desks, or dressers. One commonly adopted variation was the half trunk. Half trunks are those that are roughly half the width of a regular trunk so that from above the shape would b almost square. These trunks were advantageous for 1850’s train travel for women because a few days clothing could fit inside with a space for a bonnet at the top.  
 
 
Post War
 
Saratoga trunks were very large trunks most frequently having a dome top.  Most secondary sources list Saratoga trunks becoming popular in the 1870s when the New York resort of the same name was popular. But, in the Columbus Enquirer, the Trunk Depot lists Saratoga trunks in their advertisement. This was in 1860.
 
Steamer trunks were intended to stay with the owner while on a ship voyage while larger luggage was stored away. These were most popular from 1890 through1910. They were usually about half the height of a 19th C. Flat top trunk.
           
Wardrobe trunks were often the same shape as a steamer trunk, but it opened when standing on end. The bottom, top or both was designed to hang clothing within. Some had drawers opposite the hanging section. These trunks would not have been practical for the dress of the
 
 
Basic anatomy
 
Slats are the wooden strips that support the trunk body. They can run vertically or horizontally on the bottom and front to back or side to side on the lid. Wood slats range from 1.5 inches to 4 inches wide. Later wood slats were replaced by metal ones.
 
Slat clamps or caps are the metal pieces that connect the wooden slats to the sides of the trunk or each other. They serve to strengthen the connections primarily. As trunks became more decorative, the hardware became more decorative.
 
Corner supports or caps are the metal, sometimes leather, pieces located on or very near the corners of the trunk. Supports and caps hold corners tightly together and serve to aid in the movement of the trunk. Most pre-war supports are “L” shaped. Three sided caps begin to appear toward the end of the 1850s or the beginning of the 1860s. The first patent using a three sided cap is dated ______.
 
Latches/draw-bolts/catches also called hasps.  These, normally in pairs on the front of the trunk, secure the lid closed.
 

locks1

Clockwise from top left. Images 1 & 2 are the lock from the shallow round top. The right shows the lock closed while the right shows the open keyhole. Image 3 is the lock from a Crocodile patterned Dome top trunk, circa 1850 to 1875. Note the handle above the lock in a different material. Image 4 is a flush mount lock from a specialty trunk made by Taylor Trunk Works circa 1868-1900. Image 5 is a handmade lock with latch, plate and pivoting keyhole cover. Image 6 is a lock from the Jenny Lind trunk Circa 1840-1860. Note this lock is internal. The leather cover is gone. You can see parts of the leather where it attached to the wood. The iron strap on the lid over the lock is bent.

Locks secure the trunk. There are several locks you may see on a trunk. Hasp locks swing down from the lid and secure to the body of the trunk. Chest locks have a panel built into the body and lid with locking mechanism hidden inside the closure.

 

Hinges1

Examples of hinges – Left to right – Two square hinges from hand made box/trunk and a Jenny Lind trunk. A combination hinge from a box. Three variations of triangular, gate style hinges.

Hinges enable the lid to open and close. Hinges come in variations of two basic styles, a rectangular hinge and a triangular hinge.

 

Caster patents

Three United States Patents for improvements in casters for trunks. The 1856 patent combines a caster with a threes sided trunk corner cap. The 1863 and 1855 patents are meant to help enable a trunk to be moved flat or upright.

Casters allow a trunk to roll when moved. Not all trunks have casters. Pre-war patents are shown for roller and ball castors.

 

types of handles

Top left – Handle from flat top Likely trunk, 1844-1870. Leather handle sewn at the edges and encased completely in hardware. Top right – Handle from post-war Taylor field desk trunk. The hardware is patented – Taylor Trunk Works Chicago patent Oct 23, 1883. Center – All leather handle. A single strip of leather secured directly to wood by nails. Lower left – Handle from round top trunk, circa 1840-1870. Note similarity to handle on the Likely trunk. Lower right – Handle from a round top trunk, circa 1840-1870.

Handles  Some handles were hand wrought iron attached directly to the trunk sides. Other handles were leather attached to the trunk with metal end caps or brackets. These metal pieces could be hand-wrought, punched or cast. As designs progressed, handle irons became more decorative and could serve a dual purpose as a catch.  The leather handles were created from layers of thick hide sewn together. Some trunk handles have designs pressed into the leather.

           
Leather straps help secure the lid closed. Straps usually run back to front or around the belly of the trunk. They are buckled in the front.
           
Exterior decoration Most coverings are placed directly on the wood under the wooded slats. The most common exterior was a simple plain canvas or oiled canvas. Decorative paper mimicking wood or leather designs is delicate. Several secondary sources list paper consider “Western Squares” a post 1870s covering but there are a couple 1860’s patents for similar papers and trunks with definitive 1850’s hardware with similar paper. Leather hide and sole leather covered trunks in whole or part. Plain and embossed tin was also used to cover trunks. Some trunks are divided into three sections on the front, top and back. The end sections match, while the center section frequently off sets the ends. This is seen frequently on dome or round top trunks.
 
Trays, inserts and compartments Trunks could have one or multiple trays in the lower portion and compartments in the lid. Trays could be simple or have compartments with separate lids or smaller trays. Compartments in the lids could be lidded, or have trays or drawers. Lid compartments or tray lids could have decorative portraits or scenes.
 
Lining Prior to the 1800s many trunks were not lined. Newspaper was used in the late 1700s and early 1800s in many trunks. In the early 1800s “some newsprint was embellished with decorative dots that were stamped onto the paper with wooden stamps and ink. This gave the impression of a polka dot pattern from a distance.” (Brettuns Village Trunks, outline of trunk chronology.) In the early 1800s printed-paper began being used to line trunks starting with simple patterns in dull colors. They were lined with paper through the late 1800s as cloth began being used.
 
Trunk covers Some household manuals and a few advertisements mention canvas covers for trunks. These covers would protect the trunk and contents from dust and some damage caused while moving. Other covers were patented with the intent of protecting the trunk from damage, breakage or water during travel. I have not yet seen these unique patents actually produced.
 
Closing thoughts:
Choosing a trunk for living history. While there are several reenacting situations where using a trunk is appropriate, not every trunk is appropriate. Anyone of us can wander through an antique shop, flea market or village yardsale and find a fabulous trunk. But, how do you determine if this fabulous trunk is suitable for reenacting? The first step is determining if this is the type of trunk you will need. Are you traveling by train or storing clothing during an event? If you are traveling during the event, you will want to be able to move the trunk easily. Consider a small flat top trunk or a travel trunk or a Jenny Lind trunk. If you are stationary during an event a slightly larger trunk may be useful. Consider a dome or curve top trunk if space is not an issue. If you need the trunk to serve as a functional piece of furniture, consider a flat top trunk. The second step is determining the age of the trunk. Looking at the hardware on the trunk can help determine age. Locks and end-caps can give a good idea of the date of a trunk. Most trunk restorers consider the popular machine made brass locks post Civil War. The three-sided end-caps began around mid-1850. The third step is considering location. Is this a trunk that you would have had in the region you are depicting? This is a minor question considering how frequently trunks moved around the country, and even across the ocean. If you are looking at a carriage trunk hand-made in Hornell, NY, you may not want it for an event in Alabama.
 
Using a trunk for living history. Just like there are things to consider in choosing a trunk there are things to consider in using a trunk. While it is very tempting to use a beautiful trunk you find at an auction, antique shop, flea market or yard sale, remember the trunk is an antique. Most likely the trunk does not appear as it did in 1855 or 1860. It is important to consider the discrepancy of appearance between now and then. Beyond the impression is the integrity of the trunk. This antique is 130 to 150 years old with weakened wood, hardware and handles. You need to take good care of the trunk. My general rules for my trunks include – never moving it by the handles, never packing it full or heavy, never putting it where it might get damp or wet and never storing anything heavy on top. I also prefer a trunk I can move myself and that fits in the back seat of my car. (The trunk of a car is a dangerous place for your trunk and your back.) It is possible to find a trunk that has reached the end of its days and restore it to be useful. This is worth considering in order to avoid damaging a nice trunk at an event.
 

 

 

Recommended ReadingGeneral

  • United States Patent Office – The Patent Office site contains hundreds of trunk and trunk related patents.
  • Advertisements for trunks and trunk related items in newspapers, books and magazines can be interesting. I highly suggest the Library of Congress American Memory site and Vicki Bett’s Newspaper Research, 1861-1865.  (http://www.uttyler.edu/vbetts)
  •  The Library of Congress website also contains catalogs for trunks:Homans, I. Smith A Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation.  New York: Harper & brothers, 1859. http://name.umdl.umich.edu/AEU0236.0001.001
    • “Conrad Becker Importer and Maker of Harness, Saddlery, Trunks and Satchels” –This catalog lists trunks including ladies dress trunks, toy trunks, veneer trunks, packing trunks, steamers, sole leather and Saratoga, with prices ranging from $.75 to $62.00.
    • Price List of H.W. Roundtree &Bro., Wholesale Manufactures of all Kinds of Trunks, Traveling Bags, Satchels &ct. – This catalog included descriptions and a chart of trunk sizes, options and prices.
  • Federal and State Censuses list trunk makers with harness makers, trunk manufacturers are sometimes listed separately. The Census may give number of makers, number of establishments, number of employees, production value, production rates and county distribution. Each state has a different format. These are the sites for the Federal and New York Censuses:

Trunk production

  •    New York (State). Secretary’s Office. Hough, Franklin Benjamin. Census of the State of New York, for 1865. Albany: Printed by C. Van Benthuysen, 1867. http://name.umdl.umich.edu/AFP3830.0001.001
  • The State Register: Comprising Historical and Statistical Account of Louisiana. Baton Rouge: T. B. R. Hatch, 1855. – State and local accounts like this may list local trunk makers or manufactures. This lists 38 trunk makers registered in Louisiana (p 133.)
  • Tucker, George. Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth in Fifty Years. New York: Press of Hunt’s Merchants Magazine, 1856.
TravelingRemember if you were traveling by stage, train, ship or at time carriage, your trunk would contain items you would not have easy access to. The items you would need during your transportation or during a night over would be carried in a bag or smaller luggage of some sort. Trunks were packed well and not easily unpacked on a whim.

  • Carter, St. Leger Landon. “Modern Traveling” Southern Literary Messenger. November, 1836. pp 733-735.
  • Porter, Horace. Railway Passenger Travel, 1825-1880. Scotia, NY: American Review, 1888. – I suggest caution in reading this post-war publication, which gives an idea of how some viewed rail-way travel.
  • Redfield, Issac. The Law of the Railways: Embracing Corporations, Eminent Domain, Contracts, Common Carriers of Goods and Passangers. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1867.
  •  Swayze, J. C.. Hill & Swayze’s Confederate States Rail-Road and Steam-Boat Guide.  Hill & Swayze, 1862. – Available at Documenting the American South. Contains advise for transporting and checking baggage, including trunks.
  • Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850
  • Beecher, Catharine.  Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1874.
  • Beecher, Henry Ward. Motherly Talks with Young Housekeepers.  NY: J.B. Ford, 1873.  Beecher describes how to care for trunks.
  • Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. 1861. Beeton describes how to pack a trunk.
  • Hart, A. The House Book
  • Leslie, Eliza. The Behaviour Book. Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1853.
  • Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery or a Manual of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and Hart, 1840.
  • “The Linen Closet” Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia. July 1855. This article describes how to store lines including storing them in a trunk.
  • Brettuns Village Trunks. http://www.brettunsvillage.com. This site contains an ongoing list of trunk makers that is very useful in locating where a labeled trunk may have been from.
  • Ettinger, Roseanne. Trunks, Traveling Bags, and Satchels. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. 1998. This contains late 1800’s trunk advertisements.
  • Gulshan, Helenka. Vintage Luggage. Willson. 2003. This book contains some beautiful trunk and non-trunk options as well as some useful history.
  • Labuda, Martin and Maryann Labuda. Price and Identification guide to Antique Trunks and How to Repair, Decorate, Restore Antique Trunks. Cleveland: 1968. These short booklets contain some nice black and white photographs with brief, general descriptions.
  • Morse, Pat and Linda Edelstein. Antique Trunks: Identification and Price Guide. Iola, Wisconson: Krause Publications. 2003. This book contains color photographs arranged chronologically as the authors see the trunks.
  • Treasured Chests. http://www.oldtrunks.com. Nicely organized website with trunks arranged by type.

 

House-keeping, including packing

  • Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850
  • Beecher, Catharine.  Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1874.
  • Beecher, Henry Ward. Motherly Talks with Young Housekeepers.  NY: J.B. Ford, 1873.  Beecher describes how to care for trunks.
  • Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. 1861. Beeton describes how to pack a trunk.
  • Hart, A. The House Book
  • Leslie, Eliza. The Behaviour Book. Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1853.
  • Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery or a Manual of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and Hart, 1840.
  • “The Linen Closet” Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia. July 1855. This article describes how to store lines including storing them in a trunk. 

 

General Secondary Sources

  • Brettuns Village Trunks. http://www.brettunsvillage.com. This site contains an ongoing list of trunk makers that is very useful in locating where a labeled trunk may have been from.
  • Ettinger, Roseanne. Trunks, Traveling Bags, and Satchels. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. 1998. This contains late 1800’s trunk advertisements.
  • Gulshan, Helenka. Vintage Luggage. Willson. 2003. This book contains some beautiful trunk and non-trunk options as well as some useful history.
  • Labuda, Martin and Maryann Labuda. Price and Identification guide to Antique Trunks and How to Repair, Decorate, Restore Antique Trunks. Cleveland: 1968. These short booklets contain some nice black and white photographs with brief, general descriptions.
  • Morse, Pat and Linda Edelstein. Antique Trunks: Identification and Price Guide. Iola, Wisconson: Krause Publications. 2003. This book contains color photographs arranged chronologically as the authors see the trunks.
  • Treasured Chests. http://www.oldtrunks.com. Nicely organized website with trunks arranged by type. 

 

 

 

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Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Ann amazing article. I never knew there was so much to know about trunks. Thank you, Anna, and thank you Dad, for bringing it to us.


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