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Another Antique Steamer Trunk Restored

Here is another antique steamer trunk restored and saved from the trash.

I got this trunk from Delmarva Antiques right here in Laurel. Delmarva Antiques is now closed. A sad day for the antique community and especially the antique shoppers. I came to know Leeann and Russell Wells as hard workers and very friendly people. They had a philosophy about the business. Price the antiques to sell! What a novel approach. You really have to make a decision as to whether you want to sell antiques, or create an antique museum!

I will really miss that place. So this is the last antique steamer trunk that I will get from there. But how many do I really need?

At first glance this trunk didn’t look too bad. But upon closer examination it was really rough. A lot of cracked wood that would have to be reinforced or replaced. But at least all of the parts were there. That should account for something, right? Anyway it was not something that I couldn’t deal with, and it would definitely be a learning experience!

Steamer Trunk Restoration

Antique Trunk Refinishing

Steamer Trunk For Sale

Refinishing an antique steamer trunk is really a labor of love. There are basically 3 kinds of antique steamer trunks.

The trunk that has been inside a home and well cared for. It is in the original condition and looks very good.

The trunk that has been sitting out in the weather. Not cared for and really of no value to anyone. It could end up in the trash, in an antique store, or maybe even on eBay.

The trunk that someone took the time to restore. All of a sudden it becomes a cherished possession that will be kept inside and passed down to another family member or friend. A trunk that will be appreciated and displayed!

Antique Trunk Restoration

Antique Trunks For Sale

Vintage Steamer Trunk

Sure does look a lot different.

I love to work with wood. Not really sure if it is more satisfying to bring something back to life or create something new from a pile of lumber!

This is the eighth antique steamer trunk that I have restored. I must be liking it! LOL

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{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Tom Wharton February 12, 2012, 9:50 pm

    Nice work…Very nice.

    I picked up a Erskine and Sons steamer trunk I am going to try and refinish. How do you remove the canvas?


    • Bob February 13, 2012, 7:36 am

      I use hot soapy water and a putty knife. Just take your time. Sometimes it is hard to get off, and other times it just “rolls” right up and falls off.


  • Daniel July 3, 2012, 5:07 pm

    What did you use to stain the wood and get the blk parts black again?

    • Bob July 5, 2012, 11:04 am

      Any wood stain will do, or you can just put a clear finish on it. I have found that each thing you do makes it darker. You may want to test a spot on the back or bottom, if the color is that important to you.
      For the black trim, I use Rustoleum flat black. I have also sanded the metal parts and left them natural. It is a different look and a matter of the look you are after. Either would look good.
      Enjoy your project!

  • Lee Peterson December 5, 2012, 3:02 pm

    Good afternoon

    I am restoring a trunk and have discovered that the metal has a unique finish on it. The pattern it like galvinized or featherly and a bronzish color tone. Where would I get paint to repaint it or if that will not work where would I be able to find the replacement metal?

    Thank you Lee

    • Bob January 6, 2013, 11:04 am

      Not sure on the replacement metal. Try a google search. As for the paint, any metal paint will work. Good luck!

  • Shirley Heistand June 1, 2013, 7:31 pm

    I would like to know what the difference is in a old steamer trunk and just a old trunk? Are there always makings on a streamer trunks? Why I ask is because there is three old trunks left in my mother’s basement after she died 20 years ago. We are wanting to sell the house now and need to dispose of them. Am wondering if there is any value there. They do not have any markings on them that we can see.

    A reply will be appreciated.
    Thank You
    Shirley Heistand> surgln@wavecable.com

    • Bob June 2, 2013, 6:54 am


      I would simply go to eBay and see if you can find any trunks that look like yours. That would probably put you in the ball park as far as what you have and how much they are worth.

      Hope that helps,

      • Shirley Heistand June 2, 2013, 6:16 pm

        Thank you for your reply, Bob.
        I have done that with out success. My main question is, what is a Steamer trunk? I see them on E-bay but do not know if mine are one of them. Do steamer trunks have ID on them?
        Thanks again,

        • Bob June 3, 2013, 6:33 am


          I am no expert, I just love the trunks and collect them. I take a lot of joy in “bringing them back to life”.

          At the end of the day, in my opinion, they are all the same. Pieces of luggage. They were made to carry clothing on long trips. The longest trips were probably on steamer ships, which could be where that part of the name came from. The most important markings, and increased value, would come from who made the trunk, and how rare it is. But on the other side of the coin what a buyer would be willing to pay for a particular trunk.

          Me? I just buy trunks that I like, and that I think will look nice when they are refinished. I wouldn’t even know if I have any “valuable” trunks, as they are all the same to me.

          You may what to contact a local antique dealer or auctioneer to help you.

          Hope that helps,

          • Shirley Heistand June 6, 2013, 10:10 pm

            That helps a lot, Bob. Good luck on refinishing old trunks and Thank You again!


  • JD June 28, 2013, 11:35 pm

    I almost fell out of my chair when I ran across the trunk you’re showing above here. I just found one at a yard sale that could almost be a twin…same banding, configuration, etc. Biggest difference is mine is completely wrapped in sheet metal, whereas yours is on the corners only. Was never wrapped in cloth and also has the inside tray. It’s in very good condition and would appreciate if I could send you a couple of photos. Do you have any info on manufacture of your trunk? I have a family history in writing on my trunk possibly going back to the 20’s or 30’s.
    Would appreciate any input you may have. Thanks, JD

    • Bob June 29, 2013, 6:01 am

      Sounds like a great find JD. I sure don’t have any manufactures information on this trunk. Most of mine have been one step away from the trash pile! LOL

      I always save any family history or labels. Makes for great conversation.

      Send some photos. Would love to see what you have.


  • JD June 29, 2013, 11:52 pm

    Not sure how to send you a few pics.
    Got 4 that pretty shows it all.Would appreciate any input you’d have in reconditioning this thing. Not sure what direction to go in with the metal jacketing on the outside of the trunk.

    • Bob June 30, 2013, 4:13 am

      Just load them up on photobucket and give me the link.

  • JD June 30, 2013, 7:11 pm

    Here’s the link to the photos…interested in what you think. Have you ever had one wrapped in metal then banded with wood this way? Looks so close to the one I saw you had refinished and have a feeling they may have had the same maanufacturer. Here’s the info I recieved from the last family owner in this note ‘Elizabeth’. Below is the scan of the letter I recieved from her when I bought it.
    P.S. The trunk also has his name beautifuly branded in the side and bottom of it.

    The J. R. Reuling Trunk
    The trunk originally belonged to James Risley Reuling of Muscatine, Iowa. The trunk can be dated to at least 1937, the year he went to college. It could possibly be up to ten years older if it was the trunk he used to go to summer camp.
    The tag on the top of the trunk confirms the sender’s address was his father’s engineering company.
    Since he went off to serve in World War II directly from college, the trunk was stored in the attic of his father’s home. In 1982 it was given to his niece, Elizabeth, who kept it in original condition until selling the trunk in June 2013 to JD Kuser.

    • Bob July 1, 2013, 5:43 am

      JD, Beautiful trunk! Quite a nice find. Seems like the flat top trunks are harder getting to find.

      I am not an expert, but have learned through trial and error. I would sand down the wood and the metal. A good stiff wire brush would help with any rust that you may have. Then decide if you want the wood darker. If so you may want to stain it. Then paint the metal with flat black Rustoleum. You will need a steady hand to keep the paint from getting on the wood. Then put polyurethane over everything.

      The inside, your call. Really depends on how much time and trouble you want to invest. But you will probably be the only one who sees it.

      Make sure that you take your time and think through all of the steps. This will probably be the only refinish that this trunk gets. Then I am guessing that it will be displayed in your home and passed down to other family members. There will be a lot more life left in this trunk!

      Keep me posted on your progress.

      • JD July 1, 2013, 6:10 pm

        Thanks for your input, I will put it to good use. I am highly skilled in metall working of all kinds and not too bad with wood. I’m retired and have taken up wood working doing everything from building cabinets to bird houses and toys.
        Will post a few pics to yo as I go along and am always open to suggestions.
        Thanks again. JD

        • Bob July 1, 2013, 7:01 pm

          Thanks JD. You are in for a whole lot of fun!

  • Kristin June 25, 2014, 2:28 pm


    I am trying to repair my grandmother’s steamer. It is not nearly as elaborate as your beautiful trunk. I am thinking about re-upholstering mine with canvas, like it was originally. Did you remove the leather when you stained the wood? If so, how? And how to do you re-attach it?

    — Kristin

    • Bob June 26, 2014, 5:35 am

      I have never tried to remove leather. This trunk had no leather. Most of the leather you will find is over a hundred years old and dried out. This trunk is trimmed in metal, as a lot of mine have been.
      Good luck with your project!

  • dave johnson October 16, 2014, 9:27 pm

    i was given a trunk that is said to have belonged to my wife’s great grand parents . Just wondering if you would be willing to restore?

    • Bob October 17, 2014, 2:41 pm

      Not sure where you live, but I normally do not do trunks for others, nor do I sell trunks. All of mine are at my house or at friends and families houses. You should probably look for someone in your local area.
      Good luck.

  • Crystal December 8, 2014, 7:58 pm

    How do we tell how old a trunk is the one we have has a paper liner on the inner lid with a women look almost like the one on your home page that you restored could you please let me know i can send you a picture if needed thank you in advance

    • Bob December 30, 2014, 6:29 am

      Crystal, I am by no means an expert. The majority of these trunks are over a hundred years old. I buy them based on whether I like the way they look, not on value or age. There are some books out there that could possibly help you. It would be a lot of work, unless you get lucky, as there were so many different ones. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. Bob

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