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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/james s. topham trunk


QUESTION: i have had my trunk for about five years now. i bought it at an antique shop in douglasville ga. unfourtunatly the condition is very poor. the iron is rusted and the leather handles are not there anymore. none of that really matters to me though.. i have no intenions of selling this trunk, i love it.

what really has me curious though is the name painted on the side of the trunk. on one side it says GILFILLAN. on the other just a plain G. also, the lock on the front has three dates in this order; PAT SEPT 13 1867, REISSUED AUG 12 1870, PAT MCH 16 1889 (OR 99, i cant really tell. i could not find a serial number however..

im very interested in knowing this trunk's history, i hope you can help me out

1900 steamer trunk
1900 steamer trunk  
1911 steamer trunks
1911 steamer trunks  
ANSWER: Megan,

You have a true "steamer" trunk, which was a style made from the 1880's through the early 1900's by many trunk companies. Now many people are calling all old trunks a steamer trunk, but originally it was only the short or low models such as this, which could only be up to 14 inches high per steamship line regulations in order to be used in the cabins.  They were also called Cabin trunks. Many types of locks were used and were patented and those patents dates relate to various features of that lock. You know the trunk cannot be older than the latest patent date, so it was made sometime after the 1889 or 1899 date.  Without the patent dates I would have said that this trunk was most likely made from about 1900 to about 1915 based on the style of the hardware. I can see there is a makers label on the top but I can't tell what it says from your picture. Trunks rarely had any serial numbers on them.  These trunks were used in many ways, including for trips by steamship.  They nearly always had a lift out tray. They were made with either metal, canvas, or leather covering.  I am attaching a couple old trunk catalog pages which show various types of these steamer trunks so you can see what they said about them.  It was very common to have the owner's name or initials painted on the side of the trunk. So I would say that Gilfillan was the original owners name.  That's really about all I can tell you about your trunk.  I hope that helps.


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QUESTION: awesome =) thank you very much! that makes me very excited knowing how old it is. i will send you a picture of the makers label from the top of the trunk and from inside =) thank you again!

You're welcome and thanks for attaching the label pictures. I save trunk label pictures because you can learn more about the company from them, such as when they were established, their address, types of trunks they made, etc.   I have a couple other James Topham labels because they used a variety of them over the years. The label on the top of your trunk is probably brass and would clean up well if you wanted it to shine some, just use some fine steel wool to polish it. Topham is the most well known trunk maker of the Washington DC area and they seem to have put labels on all their trunks, while some other companies did not. It's always nice to know where a trunk was made.  


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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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