BOXING IT UP — Whenever you see an old attic in a movie or TV show, it usually contains travel trunks. They remind people of yesteryear almost as much as old picture postcards, Model T cars, and steam locomotives.
You can sometimes snag an antique trunk at a flea market for under $50. But be prepared to pay as much as $1,000 for a restored container. Old travel trunks still pop up everywhere. During the late 1800s, a single manufacturer could churn out as many as 80,000 trunks a year. Generally, they were well made. And it seemed as if every family bought at least one, cramming it with clothes & other items.
Immigrants carried them across the Atlantic, and settlers, across the Great Plains. The trunks traveled by stagecoach, wagon, steamship, barge, and train. Used by a variety of individuals, the containers came in many shapes & sizes, fashioned from leather or wood. They were covered with canvas, with paper that featured elaborate designs, or with embossed tin that boasted various patterns.
Many trunks contained just a tray or two that fit snugly inside for holding items. A large wardrobe trunk, on the other hand, was something special, according to Jack McGiffen, who lived in Jacksonville during the early 1900s. (His memories are given in the wonderful book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, and It Never Was.) A wardrobe trunk provided drawers on one side and a place to hang clothes on the other. If the trunk was turned upside down, an adjustable frame kept the garments in place. Under the space for hanging clothes was a box for shoes. All in all, a wardrobe trunk could serve as a well-organized, traveling closet.
TRUNKS GO INTO RETIREMENT — After World War II ended in 1945, the popularity of trunks took a drastic turn. More & more people jumped in cars for a weekend getaway or boarded planes for a quick jaunt across the ocean. Soft luggage, like suitcases & travel bags, fit better in autos and proved lighter to carry on aircraft. Take a look at the photo on the left, which comes from Jacksonville in 1948: It’s going to take some careful planning to squeeze those bulky trunks into that car.
By and large, trunks have gone into retirement. For years, the big, boxy containers have sat in attics, basements, and barns, stuffed with grandma’s old gowns or grandpa’s army uniforms.
~written by Glenn Emery