Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Antique trunk
QUESTION: Hi! I won this trunk at an auction over the weekend and planned to strip it and paint it. As I inspected it, I came across this tag that looked interesting. "New York City" is also imprinted on both sides near the bottom. Could you give me some insight on the origin and value (if any) of this trunk? If I paint it, will the value decrease?
ANSWER: Hello Kim,
This is a very interesting question and trunk because it allows me to explain that some trunks were actually made in European countries, mostly from about 1890 to the 1920's, using mostly American made hardware. This is one of those trunks, made by L. Amrein & Son in Luzern, Switzerland. The take basically says "Traveling Goods Manufacturer". But the latches, lock and probably other metal hardware are American made. I have a couple catalogs from American trunk hardware companies in NY and NJ which state that they exported trunk hardware to Europe. They just didn't have the large trunk hardware companies in Europe at that time as we did in America and many American trunks and hardware were exported and sold in Europe and then many of the trunks were eventually brought back to the U.S. by immigrants. There were eventually more trunks made in Europe with European made hardware, but mostly from the 1920's and later. Some did exist from the mid 1800's such as L. Vuitton and others in Paris, but they did not use the American style hardware. Your trunk has hardware made from the mid 1890's to the 1920's and so that is when your trunk was made. It is covered with canvas which was originally painted as waterproofing. Since the canvas has rips and missing spots it would not hurt the value to remove the canvas and refinish the wood, most likely pine or basswood, of the body of the trunk. The canvas can be removed by carefully cutting along the edges with a good razor knife. Or if you really prefer you could repaint the canvas and metal parts also and use the trunk that way. Since the trunk is not really a rare style the value is not real high, but as it is the trunk does have a value in the range of about $100 to $150 in most areas, usually less at auctions or flea markets. The label appears to be stamped brass and could be easily polished up some or just highlighted by buffing with some fine steel wool. I think your trunk is very interesting because it was from the time period when many immigrants were coming to the U.S. and this is one of the few trunks I've seen from Switzerland. It is a style which was usually called a "steamer" or "cabin" trunk due to it's low size. Other larger trunks were given other names and only the short and wide style trunks such as this were called steamer trunks at that time. A picture of an American made steamer or cabin trunk from a 1900 catalog is attached, but each company made them with a slightly different look.
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QUESTION: Thank you SO much! I really appreciate the details you've provided as it seems this trunk will be quite a conversation piece. I've never refinished a trunk before so this is going to be a challenge for me. Aside from removing the canvas with a razor knife, are there any special instructions for removing the adhesive and cleaning? Also, can this type of hardware be restored/polished with steel wool or some other rust remover?
After cutting and peeling off the canvas with something like a flat putty knife, you would use a sponge or wet rag to wet the wood and soften the glue. It usually scrapes off with a flat putty knife pretty easily after it soaks a few minutes. Don't soak the trunk but just get it wet enough to remove the canvas and glue. It won't hurt it and when dry the wood will look much cleaner. If necessary put some water on the canvas to soak a little and make it easier to peel off. When dry you can lightly sand the wood if needed with fine sandpaper. You can also clean the metal if needed with steel wool or a fine wire brush. That's usually all that's needed for removing light rust. If it's very bad you could put a little naval jelly on it to remove rust. Some people like to repaint it and some like it left unpainted, it's personal preference mostly. I repaint most of the trunks I restore, but not all. The metal was mostly black and some hardware was originally brass plated but is often worn off. You can look at pictures of restored and refinished trunks to see what look you like best. The wood can be stained, but will not always need stain. When the wood is wet that is how it usually looks when you put a coat of clear satin varnish or tung oil varnish on it. I don't like to use polyurethane but some people do use that. I always use satin low gloss finishes and paints. So that's the basic steps unless there are repairs needed or parts to replace such as the leather handles.