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Antiques Considered - April 15, 2009

   This humpback steamer trunk belongs to a lady in Fredericksburg.  It appears to have the original finish, and the metal banding is in good shape.  The leather handles are gone, but the clasps that held them ate still in place.  The inner tray is missing, but the rest of the paper finish is in tact.  The lock does not work.
This trunk dates from the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  It is American, probably from the Midwest.  The term, "steamer trunk" derives from its utilitarian purpose of carrying a traveler's possessions on a steamboat.  Perhaps a careful examination might show a manufacturer's label or stamp, or shipping labels from its days of practical service.
   Humpbacks always have been popular, and usually sell for several times those with the flat tops, although the latter make good coffee tables, and are excellent for storing children's toys in a TV room setting.
   As the finish is in good shape, the trunk appears only to need new handles, a lock and a replacement tray.  Trunks are a genre of their own, and a quick browse of the Internet will offer the names of numerous suppliers where one can locate the replacements for the missing parts.
    A capable carpenter should be able to make a tray inexpensively.  I suggest using white pine for it, and then papering it with a design compatible with that of the rest of the interior of the trunk.
   This particular one, without the strap handles, lock and tray, is worth $100.   Repairs to those areas would increase its value to $250.  Several years ago we sold a magnificently restored humpback trunk for a client, and it brought $350.  As I noted above, they are hot items, and this one is well worth the cost and effort of restoration.
   In years past the Northern Neck was a good place to find trunks, as a great many of them came here in the glorious days of the Potomac and Rappahannock River steamboats.  Today, most of those items have been identified and in many cases purchased by collectors, and now are prized possessions in folks' homes.

• Lisa and Henry Lane Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont  Hwy. (P.O.Box 35) Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579, a firm which he founded in 1973.  The appraisal service began in 1976.  Write to him there,  or by e-mail at comantqu @ crosslink.net, with pictures and descriptions of items you wish to have him treat in "Antiques Considered."  Please include a stamped, addressed envelope if you wish a personal acknowledgement.

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