Monday, October 24, 2011

History, Mystery, and Thing of the Past

Sometimes I think I missed my calling as an antiques dealer or some sort of historian.  You see, I have a strange and deep love for antiques and the history that they hold.  You could call it a 'special appreciation' for times past.  I have been known to wear vintage jewelry and pins (often to Justin's chagrin on dates), to actually use authentic depression glass in my kitchen and around my house, and recently to fall head-over-heels in love with both the beauty and the mystery of antique steamer trunks.

For quite awhile I have been intrigued by vintage trunks--it fascinates me to think of who may have owned them, where they may have traveled, and what contents these trunks may have once held (which can be a little creepy, too, if you think about it too much).  Oh, how I wish they could talk!  However, it was only recently that I began to actually consider purchasing one for myself.  It was then that I discovered just how old these steamer trunks actually are.  Most of them date back to the late 1800's, and therefore, their price tags were a bit higher than I had originally anticipated (okay, a lot). After doing a lot of antique mall searching, I had basically decided that I really couldn't afford one of these beauties ... especially since most of them were falling apart and still causing a bit of sticker shock for me.

That's when fate stepped in.

Now, I have to set the scene here.  Last week my mom and I had gone to the Strasburg Emporium to browse, and I had looked at about every single steamer trunk in the place.  I left a bit disappointed and empty handed.  The next morning, I was telling Justin about my unproductive search on our car ride home from lunch.  We were driving down a road about 2 miles from our house, when I see a sign that says "Antique Trunks For Sale" on the side the road.  Now, keep in mind that our town has a population of less than 1,500 people.  I freak out and demand that Justin "TURN THE CAR AROUND RIGHT NOW!"  He does, and that's when I meet Charlie.

I'm not 100% sure of Charlie's age, but if I had to guess, I'd put him around 93 or so.  He is outside raking leaves when I step out of my car.  Because he is hard at hearing, I have to yell a bit to get his attention.  I tell him I am interested in his trunks, and the afternoon becomes magical.  This little man is tiny and frail, but sharp as a tack.  He spends the next 30 minutes taking me throughout his garage and basement showing me upwards of 15 vintage steamer trunks that he has fully restored by hand.  He tells me the history of Jenny Lind, the turn-of-the-century Swedish opera singer and trunk designer.  He details out his handiwork, telling me about the materials he uses and the labor he puts forth.  He gets his trunks from estate sales then completely refurbishes them by hand.  He tells me about woodworking with his grandfather when he was 12 years old ... about being a builder ... about working on bombs during the war ... and about his retirement hobby of antique restoration.  

I fall in love.  Both with his trunks and with Charlie himself.

I return home, and within an hour I have gathered up a "stash" of cash from our yard sale last July, and I am on my way back to Charlie's house down the road.  He is happy to see me return, but thinks I have just come back to visit with him (how I would love to hear more of his stories) and is surprised that I am interested in purchasing a trunk.  I tell him which one I like, and he immediately lowers his asking price by $50 without me even asking for a deal.  I am amazed.  It is as if it is meant to be.  We agree on a few finishing touches to be added to the trunk and decided that I will return to get in on Monday.

Well, that was today, folks!  I visited my beloved Charlie this morning and picked up my beautiful trunk.  I have been spending my evening researching steamer trunks, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this trunk to see what I could find.  Naturally, I'm not an antiques expert, so nothing is certain, but I think I have developed a decent idea of the trunks history.  Again, I'm sure this research only merely scratches the surface, but here you are:

This trunk is considered a "hump back" style based upon its dome shaped top and the placement of the wooden slats on the lid (the top handle is not original).

The hardware is marked "PAT JUL 9 72."  That would translate to: Patented, July 9th, 1872.  Wow!  We are talking less than a decade after the end of the Civil War (i.e. Scarlet O'Hara could have owned this trunk...makes me very excited!).  Upon further research, I discovered that his patent was issued to C. A. Taylor who was a trunk manufacturer himself.  He could be the trunk maker in this case, but not necessarily as his hardware was used by several trunk makers during this time period.

Here's my favorite part:

There is still an intact lithograph on this inside of the trunk lid.  I did some research on "The Plankinton" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I uncovered that this was a high-end hotel during the late 1800's.  On December 17, 1883 there was a historic fire disaster in the hotel that destroyed parts of the structure.  The hotel was later demolished in 1915 in order to build "The Plankinton Arcade."  Those dates somewhat confirm the legitimacy of the dates on the trunk's hardware.  Fascinating!

Although not pictured, there are four intact rolling wheels on the bottom of the trunk as well as the marking "28in."  I'm assuming that merely refers to one of the trunk's measurements.  I have emailed an antique trunk expert to see if he has any tips on further identifying the trunk's manufacturer, but I think I've done fairly well myself!

Now, depending on who you are, I have either stimulated your love for history, mystery, and things of the past -- or, I have completely bored you to death (you could have stopped reading).  I hope it is the former.  But since I'm currently thinking in terms of the late 1800's, I'll use to words of my dear friend Rhett Butler: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"

Happy hunting!


Steve said...

You have the most interesting posts also loved the pics of you at the circus.

jill herbert said...

I love that trunk, great story have always wanted one, or a few for my home! You have sparked my interest again! Congrats on the BIG news, really happy for you. Wishing you a blessed pregnancy, ENJOY!!!

Joy Kalfas said...

Hi, Jen! I just inherited a Plankinton steamer trunk today! My research led me to your post. Did you ever find anymore information on the trunk? Thank you! Joy

Joy Kalfas said...

Hi, Jen: I just inherited a Plankinton steamer trunk today. Just began researching which led me to your post. Have you found anymore information on the trunk? Thank you! Joy

Julie said...

I too have a hump back trunk that has wheels and a lithograph of the plankinton hotel. Mine however has metal inlay that resembles alligator or snake skin. I inherited mine from my mother who purchased it at a flea market.