Friday, April 24, 2015

This Old Trunk

Trunks have been around nearly as long as people have had the need to travel or move to new locations. A trunk often held all the owner’s earthly belongings, or sometimes a whole family’s. It held up well and was used in the place of a table or for storage, and was usually passed down to a daughter getting married or a son about to move out on his own.

When the early settlers came to the New World, pioneers traveled west in wagon trains, and thousands of Europeans immigrated to America for a better life, they brought all their necessities and treasured possessions along in their trunks. 
The trunk in the photo below belonged to my husband’s grandfather, Herman Wirgau. He and his two brothers came from Germany in the late 1800s and settled in northern Michigan. The trunk remained at his farm for over 100 years, and now it’s on display in our basement. His name is on top, and the inside is unfinished wood. Ours has just enough of a rounded top to make it unsuitable for a coffee table, and it smells like its age, so I don’t store anything inside.

Evidence suggests trunks were in use during medieval times and were made of a variety of different materials. American trunks, some dating back to the 1600s, were flat on top, made of wood, came in a variety of sizes, and were often covered in animal hides. Leather straps, metal ornaments, locks, and brass tacks were gradually added. Most were lined with printed papers or newspaper. This well-preserved trunk dates back to the Civil War.


In 1850, a singer named Jenny Lind came to America for a concert tour. Her trunks were covered in leather, curved in at the center, and had several brass bands nailed around them from front to back. Trunk makers began making copies and the new trunk style, known as a Jenny Lind, won the public’s favor. They were also known as bread loaf trunks, due to their shape.


Large domes on trunks became popular in the late 1800s for people who wanted to have their trunks placed on top of other trunks on trains or steamships and avoid having their own damaged.


Most trunk makers ceased production around 1910, and suitcases took the place of trunks. Old trunks still turn up at antique markets and estate sales, and they often make me wonder about the owner and the journeys he or she took. What wonderful stories these trunks could tell!

Is there an old trunk in your family? How do you use it?


  1. A fun fact about the domed lids. I had never thought about that before. I wish there was a trunk somewhere in the family still, but alas.

  2. I loved this! Right up my alley in interest. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. :)

  3. Wonderful trunks, so interesting.. No one in my family had one of these.

  4. Interesting motive behind the domed lids. My father-in-law had a footlocker from the British Navy, so now I'm wondering what the difference is between a trunk and footlocker?

  5. Any info on the first trunk pictured? I have the same one I think, and would like more info before having it restored!