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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Restore/Stabalize/Salvage Original Lithographs?


interior, overall
interior, overall  

lift out tray/box
lift out tray/box  
I purchased a very good, solid camel/dome top steamer, with all the original insert/tray/boxes and beautiful lithographs in near perfect condition. I would like to retain the unique character of these, except the substrate (cardboard/pressed paper) structural components of the boxes is poor quality, and the hinged areas of paper are torn. Is it best to retain these components, replace with modern reproduction images, salvage (can they be removed, reused), reconstruct the insert/tray/boxes? I can manage the tin, leather, wood work, etc. but this area is delicate, and I have no experience with it. Thanks

Yes, you did find a very nice trunk with an excellent original interior, which is pretty hard to find. I buy and sell trunks all the time, but the ones with all of the interior compartments including the lids and chromolithographs are quite a bit harder to find. Just FYI, this style trunk was originally called a Cross Slat Round top trunk and the names "camel back" or "Dome Top" were never used by trunk makers for these trunks. That is based on looking at many old trunk catalogs and many trunk patent documents. Those are newer names people have come up with. The alligator pattern embossed metal was patented in 1885 by a man from Newark, NJ, a city where many trunk parts were manufactured. But these trunks were produced by many trunk makers until about 1910. Also, the term "steamer trunk" only applied to a very specific style, which was a flat or nearly flat top trunk made only 12 to 14" tall, per steamship line regulations. They were made to be used in the cabins on steamships of the late 1800's to early 1900's. Over the years many people have started calling all the old trunks a "steamer trunk".  But to answer your specific question, I have to say that gradually people have started to appreciate the original features of these trunk's interiors. Several years ago, most restorers were just cleaning out most of the interior, including trim and lithographs, and either refinishing the interior or relining it with paper or cloth. Now I am seeing more of them trying to preserve as much of the interior and lithographs as possible.  I personally do my best to preserve all the trim and lithographs and also the lining when possible. But as you said sometimes there is damage to the cardboard covers, compartment doors etc. I can say from experience that it is extremely hard to remove any of the lithographs or trim and reuse it and I would not recommend that you even try that.  What I usually do is to preserve the pictures and trim and colorful paper if it is in fair to excellent condition. If it is very worn, in bad condition, I would recommend replacing it with reproductions. If a cover or lid is missing then I would make a replacement in the old style using new materials. I will often clean out and recover the bottom of the trunk with cloth and sometimes the wood parts #paper covered# of the lift out tray or lid of the trunk. I try to repair and restore the covers, hinges, etc. the best that I can and keep them as original as possible. You can buy a special artist clear matte spray finish for art, that can be used on the old paper to help preserve it, from places like Michael's craft stores. I would not use other varnish or finishes on the paper. You can use regular white glue to carefully glue down loose areas of paper or to fix cracks or breaks in the paper or cardboard.  I believe that most people would agree that something 100 years old or more should not be expected to be perfect. The old original interior is going to be more valuable than any reproduction interior that can be created in my opinion and my customers seem to agree.  I hope that answers your questions and enjoy your antique trunk.  

Collectibles-General (Antiques)

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Marvin D. Miller


I can answer questions related to antique trunks, their age, manufacturers, styles, patents, etc, including all types of trunks such as steamer trunks, saratoga trunks, Victorian trunks, slat trunks, toy and doll trunks, stagecoach trunks, valises, hat trunks, and others.


I have over 40 years experience in trunk restoration, collecting, and research. I own the most extensive collection of historical documents, catalogs, maker's labels, cards, etc. related to antique trunks. I am always updating my inventory of historical documents and antique trunks.

Association of American Antique Trunk Restorers, President.

Primarily on the website Cotton & Quail Antiques newspaper (Southeast). Antique Journal magazine.

Bachelor of Arts from the University of Georgia. I have conducted extensive research related to the topic of trunk manufacturers and trunk styles in the U.S. and Europe.

Past/Present Clients
Have consulted for the Pawn Stars TV show on antique trunks. I have sold antique trunks to museums in California and Florida and to customers around the world.

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