Collectibles-General (Antiques)/restoration


QUESTION: I purchased an embossed rounded top trunk circa 1880-1920 (?).  
It needs cleaning because of the oxidation on the metal.  I have tong oil for the wood but the "wadding" I purchased to clean the metal seems to give the metal a white color. What do you recommend?  Thank you.

ANSWER: Karen,
Most of the embossed metal trunks were painted when new and are usually found with the old paint worn off or nearly all gone. Sometimes you can see traces of the original paint and colors around the inner edges. A few had embossed zinc which was not painted and was originally a silver color and over time turned a dark gray color. I'm not sure what the wadding is that you tried, but I often have to use some fine steel wool or even a fine wire brush to clean the old oxidation off the metal. I'm not sure how you want the metal to look, but sometimes it needs to be repainted, but some prefer to buff all the old paint and oxidation off and leave it with the bare metal look.  That is not original (unless it was zinc)and still needs to be coated with some finish to protect it from rusting or oxidizing again. You can use a tung oil varnish on the metal as well as the wood. With a couple pictures I could help you better and I could tell which type of metal your trunk has.  

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QUESTION: Sending a pic.  Hope  it makes it to you.  Thanks

1911 cross slat trunk
1911 cross slat trunk  
Yes, this is a cross slat round top trunk, probably made from the 1890's to about 1920. Many companies made several models similar to this. The metal was originally painted on these trunks. The metal on the outer edge panels was almost always black. The metal between the slats was done in various colors including a metallic crystallized style.  Some of the metal had fancy patterns pressed into it (embossed metal).  When the metal is worn and has any rust on it, it needs to be cleaned of and either repainted or have some protective finish on it.  I prefer to repaint the trunks when necessary because that's how they were originally made. Some people prefer to buff the metal to a shiny bare metal surface and then put a clear finish on it. There is no "right" way so you have to decide what you like best.  But bare metal will rust again if it is not protected. There is nothing wrong with repainting a trunk of this style because that is restoration of the original look, just like people restore antique cars by repainting them when needed. You may have to use a wire wheel, wire brush, steel wool, etc. to remove rust. Then you can paint or finish the metal. Metal polish will not usually work on this type metal. I'm attaching an antique trunk catalog page from 1911, which shows an embossed metal trunk. All of the metal on the trunk was originally painted.  You can see some of the details that they gave about their trunks.  I hope that helps.

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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