You are here:

Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Cleaning Newark Trunk Co trunk


Hi Mr. Miller!

    Have ALWAYS wanted an old steamer, and while shopping for my birthday present (May 26) came across a very large, gorgeous old trunk in my budget. I can still read the newark trunk co Dependable label sticker on outside of trunk. Its my understanding that the trunk was in a barn of some sort for a number of years. Its appearance (in my humble opinion) seems to support that story. My main issue I need to clean the trunk up enough to be able to use it for storage, blankets, toys, etc...but in now way am I looking to "refurbish" it. I accept that it will need new paper on the inside, & Im absolutely willing to accept that. But the outside I have no wish to restore. In fact one of the things I really love about my particular trunk, was that it had obviously been a dark blue color on the outside, & now the finish has this beautiful "mottled" look to it. I dont want to lose that, but have no idea if thats possible. I started on the very bottom of the truck tonight, then later one lower side, with nothing but a rag, water, & a literal drop or 2 of castille soap diluted in 2 gallons or so of water. More than anything its like trunk just a a heavy coat of dust/dirt all over its outside. But it apoears to me that i cant wash away the grime without taking some of the paint with it as well. Any help or advice you can offer me would be so greatly appreciated!! Whats best way to clean up the outside of the trunk, best thing to use to clean it with, whats good & easy to help with some of the rust, etc...Thank you so much ahead of time for taking the time out to read & consider, and best wishes to all!

Hello Tara,

I'm glad you found an old trunk that you like. Trunks are great to use in so many ways and there is such a variety of them. I use trunks of different types all around the house. Your trunk from Newark Trunk Company was most likely made with vulcanized fiber covering but I would need to see a couple pictures of it to be sure. Newark NJ was a huge trunk center for a long time and there were several large trunk makers located there from the late 1800's to the mid 1900's. Anyway, there were many types of trunks made there and several types of covering used on them, including canvas, fiber, or leather. By the early 1900's and later, many of the trunks were covered with vulcanized fiber which is a special heat treated pressed fiber material, which was made in several colors and then it was given a coating of varnish on most trunks. Sometimes these trunks have been repainted also, so it can make a difference sometimes in how to best clean them. Usually a mild detergent with a soft cloth is the best start to cleaning them. Just be sure they aren't too wet and that they dry completely after cleaning.  If paint is coming off, then the trunk may have been repainted. It may be some of the original finish also which is coming loose. After cleaning the dirt off, I often give these trunks a fresh coating of varnish or shellac which can make them look much better. I usually remove light surface rust with fine steel wool or even with metal polish depending on how bad it is and the type of metal.  Most of those trunks had brass plated hardware and many times the brass plating is worn and can look silver from the steel under the plating.  If you want to send pictures to me that can help and you can send them to me at


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.

©2017 All rights reserved.