Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Vintage Seward trunk
I found this beautiful trunk today at a local flea market and would love if you could give me a little information on the history and maybe the value. Thanks so much.
From what I can see in your pictures you have a Seward wardrobe trunk called the Sewardrobe. Wardrobe trunks are basically like a mobile clothes dresser and closet. These typically have several drawers on one side and clothes hangers on the other side but there are several fancier models. These didn't really come on the scene until about 1900 by a few companies and then became very popular from the 1910's to the early 1950's. The Montgomery Ward trunk catalog of 1897 didn't even contain wardrobe trunks but had all other styles. The Seward Trunk and Bag Company catalog of 1909 did not contain any wardrobe trunks, then after about 1910 nearly all the trunk companies made or carried wardrobe trunks. Most were made between about 1920 and the late 1940's by a couple dozen large companies in the U.S. Several lock companies make trunk locks for these including Eagle, Yale, Corbin, Excelsior Lock company and others, but they didn't make the trunks. There were many models of wardrobe trunks with different features including expanding clothes racks, hat cases, ironing boards and irons, fold down desks, shoe cases, clothes bags, lights, etc.. Some were fairly simple but others were quite elaborate with many drawers and compartments, fold up tops, mirrors, and revolving stands. Nearly all wardrobe trunks came complete with wooden clothes hangers and tie down straps inside. They ranged in size from the smaller compact models to huge trunks the size of phone booths or larger. I wonder how many people it took to move some of these enormous trunks, especially loaded with clothes! Based on research I've done it appears that more patents were issued for wardrobe trunks than any other trunk style. The largest makers of wardrobe trunks were companies in Wisconsin, including Hartmann, Wheary, and Oshkosh Trunk Company. But companies all over the United States and also in Europe made wardrobe trunks. Some wardrobe trunks have labels from the maker such as Hartmann, Wheary, Oshkosh, Seward, Wilt, Likely, Winship, Drucker, National, Parkhurst, Indestructo, Innovation, Goyard, Louis Vuitton and many other trunk makers. Now and then, I still see a wardrobe trunk with no maker's label on it. This could be because these trunks were often made to be sold by furniture and retail luggage stores who sometimes put their own labels on them. Some of the earlier wardrobe trunks were canvas or leather covered wood, however most wardrobe trunks were plywood covered in vulcanized fibre and made in a variety of colors. Vulcanized fibre was a hard waterproof material similar in look to formica, but more flexible and not as glossy. Most wardrobe trunks made after 1900 had brass plated hardware, but a few were made with solid brass hardware, which is fairly rare to find. (If a magnet sticks, it's not solid brass) The lining of wardrobe trunks varies from paper covered, to cloth, linen, and even silk on high end models.
The Seward Trunk and Bag company was incorporated in 1895 and started by Simon Seward. In the next few years, his sons, J.W., Harvey, and Hatchell, all became partners in the company. The company was one of several making trunks in Petersburg, Virginia. Seward claimed to be the largest trunk manufacturer in the world by 1908, and Petersburg was the largest trunk producing city in the world. Many models of wardrobe trunks were produced by Seward including the Sewardrobe, which was one of their higher priced models. Some of the wardrobe trunks have labels listing some of the patent dates, which helps to narrow down the age. But because many styles of these trunks were made from the 1920's to about 1950, it is very hard to determine the age by looking at the trunk. Many had the same or similar style hardware, which was also used for many years. Very little historical information is available from the company, but Seward is one of very few trunk companies that is still in business today.
The value of these American made wardrobe trunks is generally not very high, partly because so many were produced and many are still available. Also, many people do not have room or a good way to use this style trunk today, but they are starting to become more popular and prices have been rising some. I usually see these priced in the range of about $150 to $300 but of course there are exceptions and a few in very nice complete condition have sold for quite a bit more.
Keep in mind that even though today you will hear most people call these "steamer trunks" they are really something completely different than the original steamer trunk. The early trunk catalogs from the 1880's through the 1930's showed and described steamer trunks as the low style flat top trunks which were designed to fit under berths on steamships. They were typically about 12 to 14 inches tall. Some catalogs also called them cabin trunks. I've seen some other websites call them half trunks, but they were never called that. Somehow over the years the term steamer trunk was gradually applied to all old travel trunks. Copies of a variety of early trunk catalogs are available to purchase on my Research page. Many people are surprised to learn how many styles of trunks were available and when they were made.