You are here:

Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Antique family trunk



Rivet inside trunk
Rivet inside trunk  
I have inherited 6 family trunks and am beginning to restore the one in the picture.  I have several questions: 1) Where can I purchase leather binding to replace what is on the trunk? 2) The inside shows what appears to be rivets.  How do I remove these if need be? 3) Can you tell me how old this trunk is?  It has my grandfather's name on the side.  He lived 1878-1933.  4) Any suggestions before I start this project?

1911 trunk catalog
1911 trunk catalog  
Your trunk is a true "steamer" model trunk and many American trunk companies made this type with the hardware on yours from the 1890's to about 1920. It normally isn't possible to narrow down the age more unless you know more about the owner or maker. Many of the trunks do not have a makers label and they were very popular trunks so many were made. The lock is solid brass and high quality. There is often a key code stamped into the bottom of the brass lock so you can find a key (I often sell trunk keys when someone finds the key code).  These were almost always canvas covered and some had leather binding and some had vulcanized fiber binding which was made to look like leather. Unfortunately there are no sources for pre-made replacement bindings for trunks, but there are some good sources for leather to do that yourself. I sometimes use leather from Tandy Leather, which sells many types of leather, straps, etc. You can see if there is a Tandy store in your area or you can order online from them. Another good source of leather and trunk handles and straps is Brettuns Village which you can find online also.  Some parts were riveted on rather than nailed. If you must remove them there are two main ways. One is to get a wide flat screwdriver and tap it under the washer, then pry up the washer and bend it upwards, then take a pair of pliers to bend it more in half and pull it off.  The usually works for me.  Then the rivet piece can normally be pushed out and reused if needed and the washer can usually be hammered flat again and reused also.  Another way is to use a small grinder bit with a drill and grind off the end of the rivet and then it should come out also.  I've used both methods with success.
When the canvas is worn I usually remove it.  You can then either clean and sand the wood to refinish it or recover it with duck canvas. The interior is usually paper covered and can also be cleaned out, refinished, or relined. I usually clean and lightly sand the wood slats before removing the canvas. The metal can be cleaned and left as-is or repainted as most of it was black enameled.  Just be careful, take your time, and it can be a beautiful trunk when completed.   I've attached a page from an early trunk catalog of steamer style trunks (not all trunks were steamers, only the short models such as this).

Collectibles-General (Antiques)

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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.

©2016 All rights reserved.