Have Trunk Will Travel

Linda pubpixEverything was much more complicated and involved back in the 1800s, especially travel. It took days and often weeks to prepare for a trip, depending on how long you were going to be away. Now days, when we get ready to hit the road, we throw a few things in a suitcase and take off. We don’t worry about having enough clothes because we know if run out we can find a Wal-Mart or a Laundromat.

In the 1800’s, a woman had to carefully plan. Think of packing long dresses and petticoats alone, not to mention shoes, hats and everything else. Just the clothes would take up a lot of space. A journey would require a valise or two and definitely a trunk.

There were a lot of different trunk styles to choose from.


THE CIVIL WAR TRUNK – flat topped, of wood with metal bands


THE STEAMER TRUNK – most common, has flat top and was covered with canvas and wood slats with metal banding. It was the workhorse of its day. I used to have one of these that my mother gave me a long time ago. During one of my many moves it came all to pieces. I didn’t know there are places that repair them so I got rid of it. I’m kicking myself and bemoaning the fact that I didn’t try to save it. I was young and foolish.

steamer trunk


THE JENNY LIND – leather-covered, iron or brass bands with large brass studs, curved inward on the sides giving it an hourglass look.

Jenny Lind Trunk


THE SARATOGA – camel-back or domed top, covered with leather or embossed metal.



STAGECOACH TRUNKS – leather-covered with steel bands & large brass studs

Circa 1850s Gold Rush Stagecoach Trunk


THE BARREL-STAVE TRUNK – has a domed top but is only style featuring horizontal slats. This photo is my sister Jan’s trunk. It too was given to her by our mother, passed down by our grandmother Sarah Jane. Jan’s husband carefully restored it and it’s a real treasure. I’m so envious.




HALF-TRUNKS as the name suggests, half the size of the others



WARDROBE TRUNKS – monsters, largest & heaviest made, designed to stand on end and when opened ½ (usually the right side) is drawers – the other side hanging clothes & usually a shoe box, sometimes contained an ironing board (Goodness gracious, they certainly wanted to be prepared!)

wardrobe trunk

A lot of people re-purpose trunks, making them into all kinds of useful things. Here are a few pictures of some.

Chair trunk

coffee table trunk

Dresser Trunk

Which type would you most likely to have used back then? Big, small, fancy or plain?


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Have Trunk Will Travel — 18 Comments

  1. I love trunks, I have 5 old trunks in my house and 3 child trunks as well. I’d probably if had the Steamer Trunk as my traveling partner. It would be hard to imagine all your worldly processions being kept in one trunk and if it was ever stolen or destroyed you would be up destitute. Thank you for sharing this wonderful history with us.

    • Hi Tonya…..Wow, you have a bunch! I’d love to visit you and check them out. That would be great fun! Thanks for coming and leaving a comment.


  2. Very interesting info on trunks. Until now I didn’t know that my grandfather’s trunk was a Saratoga, and my two trunks are both steamer trunks of different sizes.
    Loved all the pictures.

    • Hi Sarah……Thank you for coming! You own a lot of trunks too. Wow! I’ll bet your grandfather’s Saratoga is something. Yeah, those steamer trunks were really the most widely produced. They were really sturdy.

      Hope your writing is going well.

  3. I love the looks of the SARATOGA trunk but would have gone with something plainer back the that would hold more. My grandfather had an old trunk but I am not sure where it is now. It had some old books from 1942 war in it. I have the books but not sure where the trunk is. It may have fell apart by now. The books are not in real good shape.

    • Hi Quilt Lady…..So nice to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I, too, like the Saratoga best. It’s really pretty. Maybe you need to do some investigating and find out what happened to your grandfather’s trunk. If it has fallen apart, you know they can be refurbished now. It’s a popular thing to do.

  4. Love this blog post, Linda! I like to think I would have packed light (and took the half-trunk) but something tells me that’s probably wishful thinking on my part 🙂

    • Hi Jacqui……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Yeah, I don’t think you could get much in the half trunk. Ha! But not the wardrobe one. Oh my goodness! That’s huge. It’s fun to speculate.

  5. My family has always had trunks. My grandmother had several, my mother had one she passed on to my older sister, then got another one later which my middle sister has. they are not only useful for storage they are beautiful. Great post.

    • Hi Paula……Thank you so much for coming over! Great to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I’ve always had a love affair with trunks. They’re really practical and great to store things in. But I love to sit and think about the people who once owned them and where they might’ve traveled. Blame it on a writer’s mind. Ha! I hope the next trunk your mom gets will go to you. I know you’ll treasure it.

  6. Isn’t it funny how the trunks were considered practical back then. Now, I’d love to have one or two to use for storage and decorating. I guess things get more beautiful as they age. 🙂 I loved the Jenny Lind trunk. I think because it looked the most feminine. But then again, I really liked the steamer trunk too. It was probably more useful because it looks deeper and could hold more items. Thanks for the interesting article!

    • Hi Barb……Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m glad you came. Yes, trunks can be used for anything and they’re great storage places for quilts and blankets and all kinds of things. The Jenny Lind is truly a beauty. I suppose it’s shaped in the hourglass figure like her and was certainly named after her. Jenny Lind was an opera singer and she traveled all over the world. A very interesting lady back then.

  7. The wardrobe trunk would have suited me – and a handsome cowboy to help with it. I never did learn to travel light…

    • Hi Mary……Thank you so much for coming. Great to see you. I hear you on the trunk size. I probably would’ve needed the wardrobe one myself. I tend to pack everything when I plan a trip. My husband used to get so aggravated with me. I think that’s why he bought an RV. Just so I could fill it up. Oh yes, of course we’d definitely need a handsome cowboy with muscles to help carry it. Ha!

  8. I don’t have any trunks neither my family they don’t have trunks in their possession we have quilts and jewelry that’s our heirloom but I love the stagecoach trunks I think that would have suited me

    • Hi Natasha……Thank you for stopping by! I’m glad to have you join the discussion about trunks. I’m sorry you don’t have a trunk but maybe your luck will change. The stagecoach trunk was known for it’s sturdiness. That would be the main consideration for traveling by stagecoach. I would not want to be the one to have to lift a heavy trunk onto the top. Oh my goodness! I’m sure those people tossed trunks and other luggage around a lot. I would’ve been mortified if mine came open and everything spilled out.