What is a Steamer Trunk?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A steamer trunk is a type of luggage which takes the shape of a large rugged trunk with a flat top. These trunks were built for long trips, specifically on steam trains and boats; the flat top makes a steamer trunk easier to handle and stack. Many people continue to use steamer trunks for travel and shipping today, and some people also keep a steamer trunk around the house for use as a storage chest. Steamer trunks are often found in vintage stores in varying conditions, and some companies also manufacture steamer trunks which can be purchased new from specialty luggage suppliers.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Typically, the body of a steamer trunk is made from thick wood or metal, and it is often strapped with metal or leather bands to ensure that it is extremely sturdy. A frame of metal or wood may be enclosed inside the steamer trunk so that it can endure heavy impacts and the weight of luggage stacked on top of it. Typically, the inside of a steamer trunk is lined with leather, fabric, or paper, and a decorative design is often used on the lining. The exterior of the trunk may be lined with leather or embossed metal, and it may be plain or highly decorative.

On vintage steamer trunks, decorative features like embossed metal corners on the edges of the trunk are common, while modern steamer trunks tend to be more streamlined. The trunk also typically includes two sturdy handles on either side of the trunk so that it can be moved, and it may include lockable latches for security. Some steamer trunks come with straps to go around the trunk, ensuring that it stays closed and providing a handle.

The size of a steamer trunk varies. Smaller versions can be moved by one strong person, as long as they are not heavily loaded, while larger steamer trunks may require two porters or a handcart. Classically, people painted their initials on their steamer trunks to make them easier to identify, and many vintage trunks are also covered with luggage stickers from various shipping companies; some people like to collect these stickers.

A vintage steamer trunk in good condition can be quite costly. It is also possible to find restored vintage trunks, with most of their original features intact and replacement for damaged things like the lining or handles. Some people enjoy purchasing old steamer trunks and refurbishing them, and many antique shops have at least one steamer trunk lurking in their depths. In addition to being decorative, a steamer trunk can also be quite useful; it can be laded with possessions for moving or long trips on board a ship, and some steamer trunks even come with organizing tools like hangers for clothing, shelves, or pull-out drawers and trays.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I have four old trunks. One seems to almost be metal and the locks say corbin. I just need help finding out who made these trunks and what they are worth. I think they are from about the 1860 to 1900 in year. Can someone tell me how to find an internet site that is free that would have the info I need?



There are websites which have different types of restored antique steamer trunks. You can probably contact them and ask. Maybe even get the parts you need or maybe they can refer you to another site.

Good Luck, these steamer trunks can turn out absolutely beautiful with some time and effort.




I have a LARGE flat top steamer trunk that belonged to an aunt who moved to Florida in 1905 from Oklahoma. I have no idea how to identify it. It appears to be metal, somewhat decorative brass trim, two straps, three wooden slats around the bottom and five wooden straps on top. Has two brass closures and one keyed closure. It has a decorative paper lining. It also at one time had an insert used I assume for smaller items. I would love to know how old it is. Most of the leather straps have decayed with time. Anxious to hear from someone who might know about this lovely trunk. I also have a LARGE all metal one.

Post your comments
Forgot password?