Yesterday's Magazette

8 – Antique Trunks


Antique Trunks

Hold Stories From The Past

By Madonna Dries Christensen

Walk into any antique shop and you’ll probably see an old steamer trunk or two. The shopkeeper might be using them to display vintage clothing, photographs, quilts, or other collectibles. Most old trunks found today originated in the years between 1820 and 1920, and are made of wood, with side handles and simple locks. There are a few leather trunks circulating, and others covered with tin or canvas. Prices start at about $150.00 and run to the thousands, depending on age, size and condition. Recently listed for sale on the Internet was a trunk from Poland, dated 1830. Colorfully hand painted with a whimsical scene of a man riding a rooster through a provincial village, the asking price was just under three thousand dollars. ymtrunkpixmadonna

Vintage trunks have an aura of mystery surrounding them, conjuring stories of travel and adventure. My daughter’s friend, Evelyn, had a trunk owned by her grandfather, a sea captain. Set afloat when his ship was wrecked in the late 1800s, the trunk later washed ashore and was returned to the captain. Upon Evelyn’s death, the trunk, holding the captain’s sea maps, charts and logs, was donated to a maritime museum.

Wealthy people traveled with elaborate trunks, including an upright style in which clothing was placed on hangers and hats on shelves. Millions of poor immigrants packed their meager possessions into crude handmade chests for their voyage to a new land. These carryalls bounced across America in covered wagons, on trains and stagecoaches. I own a trunk with such a history. It was made about 1890 by my husband’s great-grandfather, Kristian Linnet Zaakariassen, when he was nearly 90-years-old.

A blacksmith in Aare, Denmark, he built the trunk for his granddaughter, Dorthea Kristiansen, for her voyage to America. Constructed of wood and covered with tin in a hammered design, it has side handles, and bentwood straps wrapped around the body. One might say the trunk was also constructed from love and from an old man’s knowledge that it was time to let go of his loved one. Quite likely it was a bittersweet moment when he gave Dorthea the handcrafted trunk, a gift she would use for a journey that would forever separate the two of them.

When my father-in-law gave me the trunk in 1977, I asked him to write down its pwebkristian-2rovenance. He wrote: When I was going to America, Grandpa said, “Chris, I should make you a trunk, but I’m getting old and out of practice now so I’ll just wish you luck.” He was now in his late nineties. I later asked my cousin Dorthea about her trunk and she told me that before she got married she traded it to a fellow named Jess Jessen and she knew no more about it. Well, as you know, I got married, and one day my mother-in-law told me to look at a trunk she had and tell me if I knew it. I looked and told her I knew nothing about it. Then she said her brother, Jess Jessen, Jr., had given it to her and that he got it from my cousin, Dorthea. So I inherited it from my mother-in-law and now I take great pleasure in giving it to you.

This old trunk has traveled from Denmark to America, from South Dakota to Virginia to Florida, where it holds family history and photo albums. My daughter is next in line to own the trunk handcrafted by her great-great-grandfather more than a hundred years ago, and then it will go to her children.

Vintage trunks add unique accents to your decor. Place one at the foot of a bed for storing blankets. Fill a trunk with books and games and dress-up clothing and let children dig into it when they visit. Place one on the porch to hold boots and other winter attire. My daughter’s first toy box was a handmade wooden chest left in the first home we purchased. Now refinished, it’s her coffee table, with sentimental value and personal history.

If you have a trunk in the attic gathering dust, bring it out and enjoy it. If you know the provenance, record the information and secure it inside. The history will increase the trunk’s value, both sentimental and monetary. Future owners will enjoy repeating the tale of its journey from the past to the present and how it came into their hands.



  1. I am trying to find out if a sea trunk used by Gregory Peck to send to his wife in Paris while filming Roman Holiday is worth anything. THe shipping labels are typed and read from Mr Gregory Peck to Mrs Greta Peck and the address is Cinecitta Roma

    Comment by cheryl valenzuela — October 4, 2009 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  2. Trunk in possession is from 1936 if not mistaken all parts in secure places drawers hangers upright model good shape

    Comment by Mary — January 29, 2013 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: