There is rarely a basement that I go into when doing appraisals that does not have one or more antique trunks. Some are pressed into service as storage receptacles while others simply sit there as a gentle reminder of an ancestral family member’s first trip to America or Canada. Many trunks still bear the original hand written names and passenger ship’s markings or labels. Such was the case on the trunk in the picture on the left. A client brought me this trunk to restore but she wanted all the markings to be preserved as much as possible. First of all – when is a trunk worth saving? Well that depends on your personal attachment to it and your pocket book. Restoring a trunk requires a lot of time and knowledge of many disciplines. The person needs to know how to strip, stain and protect wood. They need to know about different paints, faux finishes, and antique glazes. If the interior is to be restored they need to know how to cover the interior with fabric or wallpaper and how to get rid of smells. Having said that, if you think a trunk is wonderful but it smells of mothballs do not buy it. Mothballs were meant to repel moths and who could blame them? Mothballs smell awful and once they get into the wood there is very little that can be done to eradicate the smell – except to attempt to “seal” the smell so that it is less noticeable.
The first thing you need to do is to wash the trunk with TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Rinse well with a vinegar and water rinse. Don’t allow the trunk to stay wet long. Work outside and in the shade if you can. Once it is dry you can strip and stain any wood that is on the trunk, Then you paint the other canvas covered sections in a colour that is the closest to the original. An antique glaze goes on over the entire piece – wood and canvas panels. Once this is dry a coat of matt varnish or urethane is applied to the outside of the piece to protect all the surfaces. Leather handles and straps can be restored with a leather treatment or replaced. One website you can check out for replacement parts specifically for trunks is: http://www.shenandoahrestoration.com/trunk_index.html. Once your trunk is completed consider placing it at the foot of your bed – it’s a very traditional thing to do and it’s perfect for storing space-hogging blankets and pillows.