Steamer trunks once languished in dusty attics and musty basements but they are currently a hot item on the antique circuit. A well restored trunk adds a touch of the old world to the most modern room and fits right in with antique furniture in a more rustic decor. Put to work as a coffee or end table, or as storage for bed linens, trunks show their versatility. You’ll see reproductions on the glossy pages of popular catalogs. But how much is an authentic steamer trunk worth?
Learn as much as you can about steamer trunks. Consult reference books like trunk expert Paul Pat Morse’s “Antique Trunks: Identification and Price Guide.” Talk with antique dealers who specialize in old trunks.
Go to flea markets, antique shows, antique shops, garage sales and junk stores. Compare the price and condition of the trunks you see and take notes. You may also want to consult internet outlets like eBay.
Familiarize yourself with the characteristics that can make a steamer trunk valuable.
Evaluate a Trunk
Determine the construction of the trunk. If the piece is made from pressed cardboard over plywood and sports imitation leather straps, assume it is worth only around $20. If the trunk is made of solid wood, such as pine, with real leather straps, it can be worth $300 and more.
Evaluate the condition of the trunk. The better shape a trunk is in, the more it will be worth. Also, determine whether the trunk has been restored. Unlike many antiques, which when restored go down in value, a good restoration or refinishing job will raise the value of a steamer trunk.
Inspect the trunk's interior. Steamer trunks with fully fitted interiors are worth more. These trunks generally have drawers on one side and a hang bar on the other.
Check the trunk's manufacturer and model. If you have a trunk with a desirable label or style, it will be worth more. For example, leather-covered hump-back trunks from Crouch and Fitzgerald or breadloaf-shaped Jenny Lind trunks are difficult to find in good condition thus driving up the value. Trunks made by Louis Vuitton are also very collectible and very valuable. Of course, the best built, rarest trunks in the best condition are worth the most.
If you have a trunk you wish to restore, it is best to let a professional handle it. Poorly refinished trunks will go down in value rather than up.
Jan Czech has been writing professionally since 1993. Czech has published seven children's books, including “The Coffee Can Kid," which received a starred review from School Library Journal. She is a certified English/language arts teacher and holds a Bachelor of Arts in education from Niagara University.