Up till the 19th century, the steamer trunk or portmanteau was the preferred means of packing for travels, especially long distance travels by sea or railroad. The steamer trunks of the Victorian era started out with quite simplistic designs and grew into the ornately and intricately designed trunks that we see today. Steamer trunks were first used by the upper class and the rich when they travel by horse carriage before they became truly ubiquitous and could be purchased by virtually anyone who needed them back then. Steamer trunks then were designed to feature different compartments, drawers, trays and provision for coat hangers
that made them much more functional and perfect traveling companions.
The name steamer trunk was coined from the location where the trunk is usually stored which happens to be in the steamer section of the ship. Steamer trunks are usually leather-bound or covered with paper or canvas, with some form of metal hardware for decoration or locking mechanism.
Nowadays, steamer trunks are hardly used as traveling boxes, due in part to luggage
restrictions placed at the airport but mostly due to their large and unwieldy design that takes up much more space than a contemporary traveling bag will. Instead they are collected as antiques or used for other purposes in the house including as decorative accessory, side tables, cabinets
, television stands and dressers and as general storage units. Their distinctive and unique styling mixes well with modern items in the home or office thus they can be used in any number of ways.
If you’re a collector of antiques and vintage items, then you’d have a field day picking out truly rare and unique steamer trunks with storied histories.
Now that we have an idea why you may want to buy a steamer trunk, there are several factors which you have to look out for so that you can make the right choice like the type, suitable use, material, color and design. The price of the steamer trunk should also be considered when planning on making the purchase. Please stay with us, as we would be studying these features in detail.
Steamer trunks have a wide array of styles, designs and sizes and this greatly affects their price. Your budgeted amount will play a vital role in the type of steamer trunk you'll buy. There are feature-laden high-end steamer trunks that are quite pricey and the low-end ones with fewer features and more affordable. We still have the mid-range products that have some balance between cost and quality or function. You'll have to decide the type of steamer trunk that you want, especially considering what you're going to be using it for. If it's for its antique value, then you'd have to be ready to spend quite a tidy sum because the truly antique steamer trunks are somewhat expensive.
We reviewed a range of steamer trunks covering the low-end, high-end and mid-range categories with prices ranging from $35 to $1200. And to ensure you get your money’s worth, all the items reviewed here come from reputable brands that are top players in the field. Since we are dedicated to bringing only the best quality products to you, we won’t be featuring some of the cheap steamer trunks we found that were made from flimsy materials that will not stand the test of time.
Shopping for a steamer trunk can be fun if you’re well acquainted with the qualities that are important in such a product. In order to make the right choice of a steamer trunk, here are some of the features to look out for:
- Suitable uses
- Manufacturing material
- Color and design
- Other extra features
Construction and Design
There are different types of steamer trunks but the two most common types are the flat-topped and the dome-topped steamer trunks.
Flat-topped steamer trunks have a flat top cover and were used primarily for travels in the early days. They are extremely stackable and quite easy to stow away. They’re usually fabricated from a mix of materials like leather, canvas, wood, metal components and sometimes covered with a waterproof material.
The dome-topped steamer trunks are often referred to as round-top, camel, humpback or barrel trunks. They feature dome-shaped top covers which make them better suited as stationary storage units or decorative pieces. They’re usually made of embossed tin or any other metal. There are still other less common types of steamer trunks like slatted trunks, Jenny Linds, wall trunks and the Saratoga trunk.
Different materials are used in manufacturing steamer trunks but the major materials include leather, wood, paper and canvas. They're usually adorned with decorative metal pieces like embossed tin. They can also be made of metal like the British polished steel travel trunks and the Dutch iron bound trunks. Most of them are sturdily built to last especially as they were meant for long travels and are exposed to lots of abuse from both man and the elements. Most antique steamer trunks are constructed using wooden slats and carefully finished with hide and skin material, canvas and paper. They may also be covered with rolled steel, tin or strips of wood which help to make the trunk stronger. They often feature a brass lock for security. The interior is often lined with fabric material, leather or canvas.
The color and design on a steamer trunk may be the signature of the manufacturer and it’s often used to distinguish the trunk from others. The leather steamer trunks are usually brown while other materials can be painted with any other color like red, black, and blue. Some of them have patterns all over like flower pattern which often depicts a feminine steamer trunk, or it could be patterned with a map. The decorative ornaments also vary and are all geared towards making each steamer trunk stand out or appear unique among the rest.
Performance and Ease of Use
Steamer trunks are travel boxes with lots of ornaments and they're used much in the same way as contemporary boxes. Most of them come with simplistic locks that are easy to use while others come with a combination of locks that even the seasoned thief will be hard-pressed to manipulate. Depending on the material, you may find it a little tricky to clean and maintain a steamer trunk, especially if it’s an antique piece. Most of the leather or canvas-bound steamer trunks will just need you to wipe them down with a dry duster while the metal steamer trunks need appropriate mild chemicals to help retain their shine and luster.
Steamer trunks were originally designed for long distant travels, but with the advent of more compact and lightweight traveling gear, they've been converted to other uses. Before buying a steamer trunk, you should have a specific purpose in mind for it, so that you can choose one that suits the part. If you want to use it as a lamp stand, dresser, television stand, or for any other function that involves placing objects on top of the trunk, then you'd be looking for a flat top steamer trunk. If you would rather have one to use as a decorative or accent piece, then the dome-top steamer trunk should be your focus.
Steamer trunks can also be used as general storage units, file cabinets, footlockers, window seats, footrests and for anything at all that you fancy.
There are different sizes of steamer trunks, from the small footlocker sizes of about 14 inches to the 17 inches-tall trunks suitable for use as modern tables. Typically, the bigger the steamer trunk size, the more expensive it is.
The hardware is another important part of the steamer trunk as only the highest quality hardware can offer the type of durability required of a steamer trunk. You should be on the lookout for gray metal, solid brass or black painted metal, as they offer the best durability for steamer trunks.
Some steamer trunks come with accessories like clothes hangers, trays, compartments, drawers or a combination of these, while others are not accessorized, and with just an empty space for you to use as you see fit.
There are a whole lot of features to consider when shopping for the best steamer trunk and having read through our buying guide; it’s expected that you’re adequately informed to make the right choice. Our detailed product review section features some top notch products where you can be sure to find the steamer trunk that suits your needs perfectly.
Thank you for staying with us to the end of this review. We're sure that you must have found a steamer trunk that suits your preference.