Collectibles-General (Antiques)/Abraham & Straus Trunk - mfrg date / worth?
Dear Mr Miller.
I purchased this trunk at an estate sale and I was wondering about its history and worth. I wasn't able to find any information on the internet. As you can see from the pictures, I've started in on removing some of the canvas.
The size is very unique - 28.5" across, 11.5" tall and 17" deep. Too big to be a sample trunk and smaller then a standard low profile Drucker trunk (I own one of those as well).
Could you tell me, is this a nesting trunk? What year was it produced? Did Abraham & Straus manufacture these or did they purchase them from another manufacturer and place their nameplate on them?
Your feedback & consideration is greatly appreciated.
Based on my extensive research on trunks and trunk makers, I have found no evidence that Abraham & Straus made their own trunks. Instead, like many other large retail department stores in several areas, from Montgomery Ward to Saks Fifth Avenue, they purchased trunks wholesale from a variety of large trunk makers. There were at least six large trunk makers in Newark, NJ alone which made many trunks for New York and east coast retail stores. The retail stores would often put their own label on the trunks. Many trunk makers only put their own labels on a small portion of their own trunks and some did have their own retail outlet stores to sell directly to the public. This style trunk with the brass plated hardware of that style was made from about 1896 to around 1920 by many American trunk makers. This is a true "steamer" or "cabin" trunk and the name low profile trunk was never used by the trunk makers. The steamer and cabin trunk names were given due to the design of these short trunks, which could be used in rooms on steamships. The steamship lines actually had regulations on the size of trunks used in the rooms and only up to 14" tall were allowed. Larger or taller trunks had to be stored in the storage areas. So, only these short models were originally called a steamer trunk and today most people use that name for nearly any older trunk. The 28" size was the smaller size of these steamer trunks and several old trunk maker catalogs I own show the sizes from 28" up to 40" wide. The Louis Vuitton company even gave details in their 1914 catalog that their steamer trunks were 13" tall in order to comply with steamship line regulations. I'm attaching a couple of the steamer trunk model pages from the catalogs for you to see how they described them.
I'm not sure what you meant by "too big to be a sample trunk". A true "sample trunk" was typically a larger and much taller trunk which was made very strong and heavy duty to be used by traveling salesmen. Again, many old articles and trunk maker catalogs gave the details on their sample trunks. Today many people use that term incorrectly, to describe very small trunks which were actually made as toys, doll trunks, or even tool trunks, because they don't know how they were really used. They weren't used as salesman's samples. The salesmen didn't need small samples because they had larger, regular size trunks shipped ahead by train to the locations they were visiting, in order to show them, take orders, and then sell them at a discount to retailers. There is a lot of information about trunks and many other types of antiques, which has been made up over the years because people don't know the real facts and often make up something that they believe sounds good. I've written about sample trunks and steamer trunks in several earlier answers and you might be able to go back to previously answered questions and read more details if you are interested.
The trunk appears to be in very good condition and the smaller 28" size is less common than the 30" and larger sizes. But I see them now and then and usually the asking prices are about the same regardless of the size on these. The asking prices are in a wide range, depending on the condition, completeness, etc., so it's hard to give anyone a very specific value on these. But I usually see the unrestored trunks in the range of about $100 to $200. Well restored steamer trunks can have a value of 3 to 4 times that range. I hope this information helps.