Long haul ship travel required hefty trunks built of wood, leather, and often a heavy iron base. The best trunks were waterproofed with canvas or tree sap. Without this protection, a trunk in the hold of a heaving, leaky ship would probably have been wet within a couple of hours, and crushed by other sliding trunks within a few more.
The history of vintage suitcase is closely related to the history of travel.
When the suitcase finally did catch on at the end of the 19th century, it was quite literally a case for suits. By the early 20th century, the “dress-suit case” was still only one of countless styles of container that travelers could buy, from steamer trunks to club bags to ever ready portable wardrobes. These were boom times for the baggage business.
Early suitcases were lighter and more portable than trunks, but they were still bulky by today's standards. Corners were rounded out using brass or leather caps, shapes were flattened and easy to carry, with a handle on the long side. Until steamship travel declined during the mid-20th century, many were advertised as waterproof. Lightweight models were often marketed specifically to women.
As time passed from the 19th to 20th centuries and the use of ‘staff’ declined, the need for more personal, lightweight luggage arose. This, combined with the advent of air travel and the associated weight restrictions led to a universal reduction in the weight, size and structure of luggage.
Many examples of vintage luggage bear witness to their travels, rather like a passport bears stamps and visas of international locations. Luggage with embossed or applied initials and crests carry history and nostalgia. Collectible in their own right, the labels are an example of the of the great age of travel, of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
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