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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Trunk lock patent date


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patent date photo  

full front trunk photo
full front trunk photo  
Good Afternoon Marvin,
Thank you for your time. I have a flat top trunk with a Yale patent dated lock that reads "APRIL 151870" What can this information tell about the age, manufacturer and ultimately value of the trunk?
A. Mortensen

Hi Andrea,
That's a great question which is more complex than most people think. Many parts for trunks, including trunk locks, were patented since the 1830's. The patent date only tells you that the trunk cannot be older than sometime after that date. But most trunk locks and parts were actually used by trunk makers for many years after the patent date, sometimes as long as 30 years or more. The patent date on your lock is actually April 15, 1879.  I know it can look like 1870, but sometimes the stamped numbers are not so clear. This was not a patent by Yale, even though Yale made some locks with this patent date on them. But so did Eagle Lock Company and Corbin Cabinet Lock Co.  That's because the person who patented the lock, in this case it was John Haskell who was a trunk maker in Chicago, assigned the patent rights to the lock companies so they could made locks with his design. The feature that was patented in this case was not the lock itself, but the design of the raised edge around the lock which helped to protect it from getting damaged when hit.  Then the lock companies that made these locks sold them to trunk makers all over the U.S., so most trunk companies used locks of this type as well as many others.  I can also tell you that the latches on the front of your trunk were patented in 1878, and used by many trunk companies. Sometimes the patents for locks were from the lock companies themselves but not always, as in this case.  So all these patents tell us is the approximate earliest date the trunk could have been made, in this case around 1880. But these type trunks and these parts were used as late as the early 1920's and trunks of this style are shown in trunk catalogs of the early 1900's.  This type lock was quite common for trunks of that time and it doesn't really affect the value of the trunk unless it is broken or missing. It's always good to have a trunk with a good working lock, and keys can still be found for most of these locks.  What really affects the value of a trunk is the style, condition, completeness, age, rarity, and the style of the hardware and trim. When a trunk has been repainted, especially over the wood slats like this, that lowers the value somewhat. When new, the wood slats on this trunk were not painted green, but the canvas covering may have been.  
You can rarely determine the maker of a trunk based on the lock.  Most trunk makers used a wide variety of trunk locks. Lock companies did not ever make trunks. So unless a trunk has a label or other way to tell who made it, it is nearly impossible to tell which company made it.
This trunk was most likely made sometime from the 1890's until about 1910, when this style was most common.  
I hope that helps.  

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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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