Unpacking What is a Steamer Trunk: Its History, Uses, Styles, & Modern Appeal
150 Years Ago, You Probably Would Have Owned One
Imagine you were a distinguished gentleman or poised lady from the early 1900s. [Yes, you were likely wearing either a suit and tie or a fur coat and fancy hat. You know back in those kinds of days].
In preparation for traveling, you carefully selected your finest clothing, your hats, and your other personal belongings.
Where did you store all these important items? In none other than… a steamer trunk.
Steamer trunks are fascinating and stunning pieces of traveling, history-filled boxes.
In fact, did you know how steamer trunks played an important role in the history of the Titanic? Or do you know which steamer trunk’s manufacturer is still going strong over 150 years later?
Get Ready to Unpack this Historic Trunk!
Whatever the reason leading you to wonder, “What is a steamer trunk?” Get ready to completely unpack this trunk with its following definition, history, fascinating facts, tips for finding keepers, and much more!
So, What Exactly is a Steamer Trunk?
Imagine this next scene. With your freshly packed steamer trunk safely stowed away in the back of a Renault Type CB Coupe Deville, you head off to the dock to board a ship for your trip across the Atlantic. As you approach the dock, your mouth drops open in awe at the sight of your ticket across the ocean.
The ship you are about to board [along with your steamer trunk] is none other than the majestic, steam-powered Titanic.
So, what exactly is a steamer trunk?
A steamer trunk is a square or domed shaped storage box used for packing clothing and other personal belongings for travel. The box got coined with the name steamer trunk thanks to its use aboard steam powered ships.
Yes, steam powered ships like the Titanic, RMS Carpathia, RMS Queen Elizabeth, and SS Bremen. However, the first steamer trunks were more likely to be aboard the 1870 RMS Oceanic.
These first steamer trunks were probably no larger than 14 inches tall due to luggage regulations aboard the steam ships. So unfortunately, in the early days of the steamer trunk, unless you were wealthy, most people were limited to packing one or two clothing sets and any other important items that could fit inside the small box.
Often people were migrating across the country or to America and that was all they could bring along.
However, these steamer trunks grew over time and became more intricate and much larger in size and storage capability.
Now back to your imagination.
It is likely that the steamer trunk you used to pack your clothing and personal belongings, was 2 or 3 times the size with small compartments and drawers for luxury items such as jewelry or watches.
Now let’s dig a little deeper into fascinating history of the steamer trunk.
A Brief, Yet Intriguing History of this “Cabin Trunk”
Trunks may be well over a thousand years old. However, steamer trunks took over the luggage scene around the late 19th century (1870s). Only about 150 years ago.
It was around this time that traveling exploded as railroads and steam-powered boats provided easier and more affordable options for travel.
Steamer trunks popularity lasted for about 55 years until finally losing the luggage spotlight in the early 20th century (1920s). Yeah, modern luggage, otherwise known as the suitcase, became a lighter traveling companion.
The first manufactures of these cabin trunks [a nickname earned from traveling on boats😊] crafted these boxes out of wood, such as pine. Some steamer trunks could weigh up to 100 pounds alone!
They were often covered with animal hide, plain or decorative tin, paper, canvas, and held together with a variety of hardware or wood slats.
These Traveling Trunks Kept Moving “Full Steam Ahead!”
From such humble beginnings, these trunks continued “full steam ahead” until they were crafted with more than just wood and paper, but expensive cloth materials, leathers, aluminum, and fancy hardware.
Do you recognize the name or brand, Louis Vuitton?
He was one among many steamer trunk manufactures spread across Europe and America back in the late 18th century. However, Louis Vuitton remains one of the few original manufactures still going strong today. Among others still in business today are Seward Trunk, Rhino Trunk & Case, and C & C Footlockers.
Check out the super fascinating and short history of this luxury Louis Vuitton brand of steamer trunks. Plus, in the process learn more about the use and history of steamer trunks and their progression with the technological advancements of travel.
Steamer Trunks Still Hold a Sacred Space in Many Hearts & Homes
While the modern-day suitcase is often what you see pulled behind frantic legs in the airports and train stations across the world today, just remember that the steamer trunk once held this esteemed position.
Nowadays, antique steamer trunks are a highly sought-after find in thrift stores or antique shops. You will often find these “resting travelers” adorning the center of a living room or set in the corner of a dining room or bedroom.
While they may have retired from traveling the world, steamer trunks still hold a prized space in homes all over the globe. Their history still making waves which will only grow stronger as time progresses.
In fact, check out the following fascinating fact about the steamer trunk that you probably did not know.
A Fascinating Steamer Trunk Fact You Probably Did Not Know
Let’s go back to our imaginary scene. Your steamer trunk has been delivered to your first-class room aboard the awe-inspiring Titanic. Finally, you crossed the plank and have boarded the floating wonder yourself.
Fast forward. Less than a week later, the unthinkable happened. The Wonder of the steam-powered ship world hit an iceberg. The unsinkable ship began to sink. Thankfully, you were lucky enough to board a lifeboat.
However, your steamer trunk full of your clothing, personal belongings, and important documents and letters, remained aboard the ship as it slipped underneath the icy still North Atlantic Ocean.
How A Steamer Trunk Preserved History!
Which brings us to the fascinating fact you probably did not know.
FACT: Steamer trunks were recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic and documents were found intact inside their oxygen starved compartments.
Are not steamer trunks extremely cool pieces of historical luggage?
Let’s move on to look at some of steamer trunk’s styles from the past and present!
Popular Styles of the Past & Present
You may have heard the saying, “Some things never change.”
Well, in the case of steamer trunk’s styles, the popular styles of the past stuck, and usually can be found as antiques, second hand, or sold brand new.
Steamer trunks styles were often distinguished by the shape of their tops and exterior touches. The following are the top 2 most popular styles of the past and the present.
1. Dome Top
The dome top style is the most attractive style of steamer trunks. These trunks were heavier sometimes weighing 100 pounds alone.
This style offered 3 main advantages.
- Its domed top allowed for extra storage space.
- Also, during travel on open carriages, the curved top helped keep rain from pooling, thus helping prevent water damage. Plus, the fact that these domed shaped trunks could not be stacked, forced porters to store them at the ends or at the top of the piles of trunks instead of underneath them all. This helped keep them from damage.
- Lastly, the dome style steamer trunk offered a unique and elegant appeal with its curved top and embossed tin commonly added to the exterior of these trunks.
In a nutshell, the purpose of the dome style was for its beauty and to prevent damage during travel.
Often when looking for antique steamer trunks, the dome top style is not the most common antique, but often the most popular choice of buyers on the market.
2. Flat Lid
Photo Credit: www.thepirateslair.com
The flat lid of steamer trunks was certainly the most common and the simplest style. Flat topped steamer trunks were designed with one purpose in mind and held one outstanding advantage.
- Perfect for travel! Thanks to its flat lid, these steamer trunks could be more easily packed (or stacked) into the available luggage space of any stagecoach, train, or steamship.
Although, often simpler in design, collectors still love the versatility of use offered by a flat lid steamer trunk. Plus, one of the most sought-after antique steamer trunks, a Louis Vuitton, prioritizes the flat lid style over dome top style for most of their luxury line of steamer trunks.
Whether you favor the dome top or the flat lid, both styles offer a charming twist and hold history rich beauty.
Tips on Finding a Keeper or Money-Making Antique Steamer Trunk
Photo Credit: www.pinterest.com
Are you currently on the hunt for an antique steamer trunk of your very own? If so, enjoy listening to the following 5 tips offered by Dr. Lori, a PHD Antique Appraiser, on how to identify a steamer trunk worth taking home.
5 Tips on Antique Trunks and Boxes by Dr. Lori
For another source on identifying worthwhile steamer trunk finds, check out Antique Trunk Value.
While the value of different steamer trunks can be harder to trace due to their lack of identifying manufacturer tags, if you ever see the following steamer trunk in a thrift store, BUY IT!
Photo Credit: www.la-malle-en-coin.com
An antique Louis Vuitton steamer trunk sells anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000+!
What Makes an Authentic Steamer Trunk?
It is important to note that the word steamer is sometimes a bit misused when it comes to identifying trunks. In fact, nowadays, a wide variety of trunks get meshed into the steamer trunk category.
However, going back to the beginning of its creation, a truly authentic steamer trunk was a wooden traveling box no more than 14 inches high. The length varied and would often be influenced by the luggage size limit imposed by the different steamships and/or by whether you traveled 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class.
Now onward to discovering the trending uses for these resting travelers!
Trending Uses for These Resting Travelers
It is no secret that steamer trunks are adored worldwide! There is just something irresistible about a steamer trunk that captivates and compels discovery and ownership.
Are you considering the purchase of a steamer trunk? If so, consider which of the following uses of a steamer trunk you would idealize for your home.
- Coffee Table
- Storage – Blankets, clothing, keepsakes, and anything size friendly!
- Gift for Family or Friends
- Lamp Stand
- Hallway Décor – Set alongside the wall in your hallway and set décor on top.
- Window Plant Holder – Set below the window for showcasing plants.
- Shoe Storage
- End Table for the Bedroom or Living Room
Have you discovered your ideal use? Now all you might need is a beautiful, vintage steamer trunk!
Perhaps you enjoyed the history of steamer trunks and admire the antiques, however, you may prefer to own a brand-new steamer trunk.
Whether antique or modern, a steamer trunk offers a fascinating piece of vintage furniture.
Are you ready to bring a history packed trunk to your home?
If so, take a moment to check out the following quality and intricately crafted steamer trunks. You might just find your perfect fit!
Discover Your Idyllic Steamer Trunk Today!
Just in case you were wondering, the lifeboat you boarded kept afloat until you were heroically rescued by the RMS Carpathia. Unfortunately, your steamer trunk was never seen again.
This real to life, yet imaginary story is over, however, you can bring your imagination to reality today!
The Domed Vintage Steamer Trunk
Is your heart is sold by the attractive curvature of the dome style? If so, a dome style steamer trunk is yours! Plus, you get to choose whether your steamer trunk is handcrafted from maple, hickory, or oak. Many more customization options await such as hardware, sizes, and more! This historical beauty will certainly ravish not only you but all your friends and family!
View the Dome Style Vintage Steamer Trunk
The Flat Lid Vintage Steamer Trunk
Do you wish to turn your steamer trunk into a coffee table or spot for adding décor? The Flat Lid steamer trunk offers you the most versatility of use. ( Just like it always has throughout its history😊 ) Enjoy choosing your favorite wood, hardware, and size. Revel in the pride of contributing to the admiration and history of steamer trunks!
Click on the button below to view flat Lid Vintage Steamer Trunks
Thank you for reading, hopefully you’ve learned more about what is a steamer trunk.
Hello I have a unique trunk im looking to sale it can you point me in any direction I’m willing to send pictures.
Do y’all know where I can take my antique steamer chest to be refurbished? I want it to remain as close to the original as possible.
Hello Christian, It is hard to recommend someone who could help with this without knowing your area. However, I would look online for “furniture doctor near me” The Furniture Doctor company has several locations through the US. They may be able to help you out.