All About Steamer Trunks

Steamer trunk definition

According to, a steamer trunk is “a trunk suitable for use in a stateroom of a steamer.”

Thus, steamer trunks have their bearings, as far as their name is concerned, in the location of their storage, that is the cabin of a steam ship, or steamer. Steamer trunks are at times referred to as flat-tops. They first made their appearance in the late 1870s, even as many of them trace their origin to the period from the year 1880 to 1920.

Cabin trunks, that are at times referred to as “true” steamer trunks, were quite like the luggage of the carry-on variety in vogue in today’s day and age. Their size was small enough for them to be adjusted somewhere under the berths of trains or inside the cabin of a steamer, from which their nomenclature is derived.

Steamer trunk ideas – painting it

What to do with old steamer trunks? When it comes to antique steamer trunks, they are suited to a myriad of purposes and intent. Steamer trunks can be used as storage chests as well as coffee tables. A little bit of tinkering with the decorative aspect can get a steamer trunk to gel with the décor of a given room. One way is by painting them in several different finishes. Using suitable paint hues, techniques and details can give a new meaning to the style and practicality of an antique steamer trunk.

How to clean old steamer trunks? The different methods used to paint a steamer trunk are milk-paint method, dry-brush technique, Faux-Crackle process and Shaded-Ombre procedure.

The original use of steamer trunks

The steamer trunks and chests were initially used as luggage for long trips by steamship, train, or stagecoach – they were, in effect, travel trunk luggage. Thus, these were also given the name “travelling chests”. Many were quite intricate in their design, both when it came to the inside and outside. A unique feature of steamer trunks is that they have a curved or barrel top.

The steamer trunks were common in the 19th and early 20th century. It appears that the trend was short-lived. The steamer trunks were fast to give way to suitcases, that were more cost-effective and could be manufactured on a large scale more conveniently. Hence, the longing to own or possess a steamer trunk is more out of a sentimental yearning for the past or a fetish for adding to the appeal of the interior décor of a place.

Dome top steamer trunk

While the flat top steamer trunk was common, if the top of a steamer trunk was curved, it not only afforded a tad bit extra space for storage, but also it meant that the traveller would be placing it on the top of a pile, not underneath, thus cutting down on the probability of wear and tear and resulting damage.

Antique steamer trunk value

Steamer trunks come in a variety of sizes. Some forms of these trunks were close to the luggage of the carry-on variety of today. They could be kept under the berths in trains. The larger steamer trunks can be as much as 42 inches long and 24 inches deep and require two people to lug them. By and large, the trunks that are smaller in size are rarer and consequently, their worth is higher.

Tags and labels

The labels and tags that get attached or pasted to these trunks are often supposed to be a collector’s items. These are perceived to be adding to the value and worth of the trunk.

Vintage steamer trunks

Vintage steamer trunks come across as elegant pieces of furniture in many houses. From flat-top to domed, their aesthetic qualities draw many admirers and collectors. A metal lock used to be a common feature of these trunks. Another thing that set them apart was their strength and sturdiness. These kinds of trunks were often covered with paper, canvas or leather. The interior of such a trunk was usually segmented.

How you can use vintage steamer trunks in your home décor

Although steamer trunks are dated in many ways, their old-world charm and appeal continue to mesmerise many an onlooker in the contemporary world. Instead of tucking them away out of sight, you can strategically place these trunks somewhere in your drawing room or living room.

You can even upcycle certain kinds of steamer trunks for them to match the look and feel of the décor in a room. Following steamer trunk restoration, the resulting item often gels with what can be called a retro look in a room, or in any corner of the house.

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