Looking After Vintage And Antique Trunks And Suitcases

Looking After Vintage And Antique Trunks And Suitcases

Carl, director and founder of antique and vintage luggage specialist Scaramanga, gives his expert tips for keeping and caring for old trunks and suitcases. Wonderfully displayed vintage luggage evokes memories of the golden age of travel: transatalntic cruise ships, river paddle boats exploring and steam trains crossing Europe.

Vintage luggage should look like it has been used and been to far off places, making it look new by using brown wax will loose some of their charm. Corners and edges will always show more wear and will show more distressing than other parts of a trunk or suitcase. Of course for serious collectors and dealers of vintage and antique trunks their condition is number one. For them the better the condition of rarer vintage luggage, the higher value and collectibility.

Before and after treating the leather
Before and after treating the leather

So avoid coloured waxes and polishes, they can be used sparingly where there has been a significant loss of colour on a surface. Otherwise use a clear wax, we recommend Celtic Leather Care a natural, non toxic bees wax based wax with balsam. A small quantity is simply applied with a sponge. Test a small area to see that you are happy with the results and then proceed if you are happy. The entire surface of the leather trunk or suitcase should be treated. Severasl applications may be needed. You will notice how the natural colour is restored, particularly when the piece looks dry.

Carl restoring a vintage leather suitcase
Carl restoring a vintage leather suitcase

Leather suitcases and trunks should be regularly treated to ensure they keep their suppleness and parts and areas that are prone to the most ‘stress’: edges, seams, hinges and corners should be checked regularly.

We often acquire suitcases with loose or broken stitching along the seams and edges. This is usually caused by the cotton stitching perishing over time or as a result of scuffing. If there is just a few inches of loose stitching we generally leave it as it is. Depending on where it its and the value of the vintage leather suitcase or storage trunk we would only restitch it if the pieces was going to be used for storing heavy items and their weight could then make the sittchless area bigger.
You can restitch it yourself or use a reputable luggage repairer or saddler. Ask to see examples of their work and ask for an estimate before committing the repair. Should the original stitched holes become ripped or unsutable foe restitching them a leather strip or patch can be applied along the edges and stitched on. This is something that would have been done 100 years ago to extend the life of a leather suitcase or travel storage trunk, so if it’s done sympathetically will not look out of place.

A Revelation leather suitcase that had traveled to south east Africa
A Revelation leather suitcase that had traveled to south east Africa and India

Sometimes we buy vintage luggage from individuals and I have had several calls from people saying they have ‘given vintage suitcases and antique trunks a good scrub and removed the old labels’. Generally they should never be removed because they add colourful flashes of colour and can add a historical context to vintage luggage. They would have been added to luggage to show where luggage was to be sent. It also promoted resorts and hotels, so were often quite large and brightly coloured.

Old suitcase with travel stickers
Old suitcase with travel stickers

Look closely for dates, locations and ship names. Often ship names and destinations were painted on to travel trunks and suitcases and these add to the vintage luggage’s character and story. The painting should be kept becuase it’s part of the storage trunk’s history. Of course imitation labels are often to be found on old suitcases and trunks. These may be unnautually new looking, a placed ‘artisitcally’ in the centre of the luggage. Originally they would have been quickly and efficiently slapped on by luggage handlers and porters, who would have put them anywhere on a trunk.

antique storage trunk
We discovered ”SS KENSINGTON’ on the top of this trunk. We were then able to find out that this trunk had sailed on the ship in 1896

Depending what you are using it for you may be happy to just vaccum a slightly tatty lining and freshen it with scented sachets. If you want to use it for storing clothes then you may want to have it relined by an upholser, or even try it do it yourself.

A few drops of lubricating oil will keep the locks and hinges free. A metal polish can be used on locks, but I think light corrosion or tarnishing is perfectly fine. Be careful not to get oil on the leather or wood as this may permanently stain it.

 

A suitcase use as a military case
A suitcase use as a military case

Carl’s Top Tips:

1. Wipe the surfaces down with a slightly damp cloth (do not use any water if there are labels on) to remove dust and dirt.
2. Use a clear natural wax or leather treatment.
3. Oil the hinges and locks
4. Avoid placing vintage luggage in bright sunlight or near radiators and heaters.
5. Style it with other travel inspired furniture and interiors like maps, globes, postcards and model ships.

Looking for inspiration:
Victora and Albert Museum: Cromwell Rd, London, SW7 2RL. wam.ac.uk
Walsall Leather Museum: Littleton St West, Walsall, WS2 8EW. cms.walsall.gov.uk/leathermuseum

Some of the many leather suitcases we have sold
Some of the many leather suitcases we have sold

Brands and makes to look for:

There were hundreds of vintage luggage makers dating as far back as the 1850s. Here are just a few to look out for:
Goyard – well known Paris maker, almost in the same league as Louis Vuitton.
Revelation – a British maker, that often used an innovative rachet mechanism to expand the size of their suitcases and trunks
Globetrotter – popular fibre and leather suitcase makers, about to make a comeback with modern versions of their 20th century suitcases.
Hartmann – USA travel trunk and wardrobe trunk makers
Osh Kosh – another USA travel trunk and wardrobe trunk makers
Cave and Co – Edinburgh trunk and suitcase retailers, we often come across these as they were local to us.

 

A Georgian leather travel trunk from around 1840
A Georgian leather travel trunk from around 1840
A fibre and wooden travel storage trunk
A fibre and wooden travel storage trunk

 

The interior of the SS KENSINGTON travel trunk
The interior of the SS KENSINGTON travel trunk

 

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