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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dome Trunk (ca. 1880)

One of my current projects is a dome trunk that dates to around 1880. The metal brackets that connect the wooden parts on the trunk are stamped "Pat Mar 80" which I interpret as Patent March 1880. The timing is right , since these style trunks were in vogue around this time.

There are many different styles of trunks that were made for the past 200 or so years. the heyday of the trunk was the later half of the 19th century into the 20th century. the fall of the trunk was the suitcase and I assume travel by air. In their time, trunks were used for extended travel or for permanent relocation and were seen aboard steam ships, trains and stage coaches. In fact, the reason for the domed top on this trunk is to ensure that the trunk goes on the top of the stack rather than having trunks stacked on top of it, possibly damaging the contents.

The construction of this trunk is a basic case made from pine. the outside is covered in tin that is painted black as well as tin pressed to look like alligator skin which is painted brown. The tin is fixed to the case with nails and the tin is partially covered by retaining slats made from Elm which also help to add strength to the whole trunk.
The inside of the trunk is lined with wall paper and is accented with chromolithograph prints of Victorian scenes. the prints offer some possible clues towards the intended user. Often a man's trunk will have images of men and a woman's case images of women. The dominant image in this trunk is of children playing, but there is one image of a woman, so my guess is that this case was intended to be used by children or possibly by a mother. The dimensions are a little smaller than most trunks, so this may have been for children. The chromolithograph prints are really interesting and there were many different images available.
I believe this trunk was made in England. This would account for the use of Elm for the slats in the place of Oak. Below is a photo of some workers standing outside a trunk factory from about the same time period this trunk was made followed by some photos of the trunk and the chromolithograph prints as it all came to me.

The dome trunk.
The trunk open showing the tray with bonnet and shirt compartments and the chromolithographic prints
A detail photo showing one of the prints. The scene depicts children being pulled by a sled attached to a dog! The other images are pussy willow branches, a hound dog, and a songbird.
This image shows the children with a dog surrounded by birds and flowers. The restoration of the dome trunk involves two very different processes. the first is the restoration of the outside of the trunk and the second is the restoration and stabilization of the paper on the inside of the trunk. the first set of photos below deal with the restoration of the outside of the Trunk.
The first step was to remove the finish from the Elm slats. They were then repaired, sanded and stained to the color of the original finish. Below are two photos of the slats with the finish removed and one after the slats were stained.

the next step was to paint the black sections. the old paint had really worn from the black sections so they needed to be repainted. The best way to do this was to mask off the parts that would not get painted and spray a paint on that would attach well to rust and metal. Below are five photos detailing this operation. I only repainted what sections were originally black.

The next two photos show the trunk with all of the black sections repainted and the wood ready for French Polishing.

The wood and the alligator pressed tin sections got coated with French Polish which brought out the color of the paint and the stain that I added. below is photo of the trunk during this process and close to completion. The second half of the restoration dealt with the paper inside. all of the hinged parts had torn and needed to be repaired.Below are two lids that had become completely separated. the process of restoring them was different since each was made differently.

The grey lid above was made from cardboard and had simply torn. What I did to restore the hinge was to create a new hinge out of cardboard strips and canvas. I then created a slit in the two broken sections and inserted the hinge into the slits and glued it in place. the result is a properly working lid with no visible hinge. here are some photos detailing the hinge creation.

the blue tape held the two pieces of cardboard together while I attached the canvas to the back
The completed hinge.
attaching the broken section of the lid.
This lid was made of pine which was first covered with canvas and then paper. the hinge point had leather straps which worked as hinges. I was able to pull back the canvas and attach new leather hinges and then cover them over with the old canvas and paper. Below are some photos.
Here is a photo of the bonnet tray and the lids restored.


  1. Phenomenal! Thank you so much for providing such a detailed step-by-step of the process. I am Christine Foster's brother in Ohio... I grew up with that trunk and must say that it has never looked so good as it does now! GOOD JOB! God bless!

  2. I was Very Impressed with the step by step process as well as the Final Results! I have a trunk that looks (ALMOST) identical to the one you completed! However...I cant seem to find much Information about its history! The date on mine is MARCH 1880 and has a Beautiful young girl with Huge hat and surrounded by flowers on the Bonnet Tray and lids! Can you help me? Thanks...Dennis Giles

  3. I believe I have a very similar trunk, but I thought the inscription read "Pat.D.MAR 1680." The D being a half font high. Mine is not is as good of a condition as yours is, and I am trying to preserve the only original picture (image of young Victorian woman) that is left.

    Do you have any idea how much a trunk from this time is worth?

  4. Jordan Lee I have a trunk that says the same thing! I just got it. Have you found anything out about yours yet?

  5. Jordan does yours look similar to this?


  6. Thanks for the info and pictures. My son-n-law and my daughter recieved a chest from his grandfather and my husband is trying to restore it and came across a date we think. Can you give us any info on this: AT D MAR1680 but the D is half font high. It has a victorian style lady and a bird and looks like a pug dog they are in a circular picture each. Please email what you think of the information I sent you.My email address is bonbon1960@gmail.com Thanks

  7. So happy to have found this site. I too have one of these trunks with PAT D MAR 1880. Mine has an "aluminum" type wallpaper instead of the alligator covering. I'm not sure at all how to restore that covering. There are flowers "embossed" in the covering and they are "painted" blue. So glad to see others here with successful restorations. IF anyone has comments on how to work with the "wallpaper/covering", I would welcome the input! c.ketsenburg@yahoo.com

  8. So I almost had a heart attack when I saw your dome trunk!! I have one very similar, except mine has copper that stamped with oak leaves and acorns, stamped is probably the wrong word...Its in good shape handles are bad,and tray is missing, other than that its great. any ideas? I can email pics if anyone cares to see, email me larobinson65@aol.com

  9. Gosh, I see there are a lot of trunks like mine! Although someone painted over the silver and blue stamping, and it is now brown all over. [:-( But does have the large inside tray with a shallow compartment built into the bottom of the tray,and an arched compartment with cover on the side; and a flat compartment on the other side of lid with a hinged cover; and 4 pictures inside of a fashionable woman, a woman with a dog in 2 scenes, and someone fishing in a boat in the fourth. An active lady! It is very large, and smells like cedar, even though has been in the garage for @ 10 years. My husband found some old leather and replaced the handles, which were broken, but everything else is OK. We did find an IOU (that was what it said on paper!) that someone had borrowed from a local bank in the 1930's, for $25..then a letter where the man didn't pay, and his mother had to pay his debt. Interesting! If it could only tell the rest of its stories.

  10. I was just curious as well i found one in a storage locker that has the metal fasteners on top with pat d mar 1680 and on the lock it says pat d mar 69 apr 77... Has a tin under the wooden straps that has tree and leaves design on it. If you could tell me something about it please let me know.. thanks chrisblackburn25@yahoo.com

  11. Glad i found your page. My father in law just bought a trunk like this in Auction. I've searched on the trunk for any inditcation where it came from. I also found on the bottom of the wheels this " MICHOLSON JUN JULY 1680" Also it has on the side the black like yours and the compartment indicates that it belonged to a little girl or young lady. but it doesn't have the Aligator pattern. When i cleaned a little bit of it, it looked dark brown, but i'm not sure if it's some kind of metal or hide? I wanna restore trunk and keep it at the same time antique. I do not wanna take off the paper lining the compartment nor the paper inside the trunk. By the way, my trunk has yellow straps below the compartment to keep clothing in if i'm not mistaken. The only thing i will have to fix is the leather straps on the handles and the round lock. Some one had hammered it out. Can you pls email me back anni.harrington79@gmail.com thank you in advance

  12. We have one nearly identical to yours but the previous owner painted it. We would like to have it restored but don't know how to go about it or who to talk to. Any advice? We don't have room for it so we'd like to fix it up to sell because nobody seems to want it with it being painted.

    1. Did you ever restore this? We have a trunk almost identical to this one, but it's painted.

  13. We came across a curved top trunk and want to find out more about it. It looks like it is embossed with metal and has wooden straps and a removable wooden tray inside. It looks like the latch has Pat Mar 1880. Would love to restore it but do not know where to start....any suggestions?

  14. I submiitted the comment on Feb 8, 2013 ant 6:33 pm but failed to list me e-mail address. If anyone has information please let me know.

  15. I just purchased a trunk it has a curved top is about 27 inches tall the only markings I can find are on the front lock it says PATD.MAR.69 above the key hole and STAR LOCK WORKS PHILAD below. Does anyone know the age if this trunk?

  16. Hello,
    I bought a trunk about 10 years ago, and I always wanted to know moe about it. It is PatDMar 1680 Dome Top. Please give me more information as to how I can get it refinished, or the value. Thank you.


  17. I have a PatDMar 1680 Dome Top.I am trying to sell it and was wondering the value.Thank You tamarabelflower@gmail.com

  18. Hello, I have a trunk that looks similar to this. However it appears to be in original state. Does not need restoration. Outside looks great...with the original leather straps broken.it's in very nice condition. The inside has the top dividers on dome but not below and the pictures on top inside dome look similar to this. I am trying to date it and get an estimate on its worth. It's really beautiful trunk that was in a very small town kind of off the map.

  19. What would a trunk like this cost?

  20. I found a chrst that states par mar 1680, as I was reading on your site, is this an idication of the year 1680 or march 16, 1880? And how valuable are these chest in its original condition? Thanks for your help, Brad.

  21. I just purchased a dome top trunk it also has pictures inside and removable tray and was wondering it's worth ?

  22. I have exact same trunk I need to know the value of it please contact me @ Rayne0819@gmail.com

  23. Have a chest like this. Being restored. At point where I need to paint the black metal. Does it need to be primed? Can I paint with brush rather than spray? Did you leave all brackets with original patina. Many of the brackets are rusty.
    Thanks so much.

  24. I have one of these chests that say Pat d Mar 1680. It has Victorian style picture of horse and sleigh with man and woman riding on a snowy path. Also man in red coat sitting on horse and also in bottom right corner a depiction of young girl..all bordered with cardinal in the tree branches. This is a really ornate chest that I believe to be similar with the alligator like metal sheathing. Definitely pine wood and ornate clasps. If anyone could help with info on this..would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  25. My email is reliquidator1@gmail.com

  26. I have a trunk like this one also, I thought about getting it restored but first want to know how much the value would be after it being restored. Thanks

  27. I have a trunk like this.. it says (star) PAT D MAR 69 & APR 77 (star). We believe it came from my great grandmother.

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