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Carrying the Past: Antique Trunks and Chests

An antique chest or trunk is usually defined as one that is at least 50 years old. Although trunks have been in use for thousands of years, most antique trunks available have an age range of 50 to 200 years. These antique trunks have a vintage appeal for home decor, and they are often restored to preserve their structural integrity and functionality.

What Materials Are Antique Trunks and Chests Made From?

  • Wood - Vintage trunks and chests are usually made of partly or all wood. The antique wooden interior offers strength so that the vintage trunk can hold heavy woolens and household goods. The wooden parts of the antique trunk may be made of oak, pine, mahogany, ebony, or cedar. Vintage styles of cedar chests are often used as decorative furniture within the home. Because cedar repels moths, antique cedar chests are often used to hold clothes and fabrics.
  • Metal - Brass, steel, and iron were often used to make the latches, corners, and edges of a vintage-style steamer trunk. The metal on an antique trunk is designed to protect the trunk's corners. After years of use, the antique metal may develop a characteristic patina. A metal patina is a change in color that takes place with exposure to oils from the hands and oxygen in the air.
  • Leather - An antique trunk or vintage chest often includes handles made of leather. Leather handles are gentle on your hands for picking up and lifting the antique trunk or vintage chest. The antique leather handles become softer with use, and they offer durability and longevity.

How Do You Choose Antique Chests and Steamer Trunks?

  • Choose a material - Choose an antique wooden trunk made with oak, pine, or cedar. In the event that a wooden vintage trunk is not your style, choose a trunk that includes a brass finish or with decorative metal-and-leather handles and other features.
  • Select a style - Choose an ornate antique flat-top trunk with vintage hand-carved scrolls and designs or an antique that is more traditional and simple in its manner of construction.
  • Choose a region or year of origin - Trunks are available from France, the United Kingdom, and other countries of origin. There are also trunks that were made in America. You might also consider the year that the trunk was made. Different years for trunks had different vintage or antique finishes and designs.

What Is the Difference Between an Antique Chest and Trunk?

While each antique will have known a lifetime's worth of birthdays and summer trips, a trunk and a chest served different purposes in their times. A chest is designed for storage rather than transport, often used as a piece of furniture in the home, such as an heirloom hope chest. They are often made of heavy woods like cedar, oak, or mahogany. A steamer trunk has a rugged construction that makes it ideal for travel as a type of luggage. People often used them when traveling by boat or train for a long distance. An antique trunk usually has a pine base and sides that are covered with durable materials and decorative finishes, along with handles for ease of lifting.

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