Antique steamer trunks



2015-06-26 11:17:56

Antique steamer trunks, also known as flat-top trunks, are sturdy luggage trunks with hard sides and top, designed or intended for use on long journeys, typically aboard a steamship or steam train.


Background and Description

Steamer trunks first appeared in the late 1870s, becoming extremely popular between 1880 and 1920 as the fad for travel by train, steam ship, and later cruise ship holidays grew.

In some old catalogues, this type of trunk was known as a ‘packer’. Steamer trunks are very similar to Cabin trunks, although these were smaller.

Steamer trunks are made from wooden planks nailed or glued together, sometimes incorporating tin, others made from tin exclusively. Some are covered in leather, others lacquered canvas.

They generally have metal or leather straps surrounding the body. Most have an additional internal frame of metal or wood to further reinforce them against heavy knocks or other luggage stacked on top.

The inside is usually lined with leather, fabric, or paper, often with a decorative design. They are often very large, some large enough to fit a person inside. The exterior can be either plain or decorative. Steamer trunks began to get more elaborate toward sthe end of the 1800s.

Collecting antique steamer trunks

Antique steamer trunks are nowadays often used for decorative purposes, as coffee tables, storage chests, or similar, although some people continue to use them for travelling purposes.

They can be found in many antique and vintage shops and at fairs and markets, as well as on auction websites such as eBay.

Some modern examples are still produced, so it must be determined whether a steamer trunk is indeed antique.

Many are restored before being sold on. Often these restorations retain their original features and replace damaged lining or handles. However, bad restorations can detract from the authenticity of the steamer trunk and devalue them.

People often painted their initials on their steamer trunks to aid identification of luggage. If once owned by a notable historical figure, steamer trunks could become much more valuable.


Steamer trunks generally sell for a few hundred dollars, however, examples are more valuable if produced by a famous designer, such as Louis Vuitton. These can fetch several thousand. Value generally depends on the condition, rarity, and any unique features.

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