I spent the last few days sniffing around the interwebz for any information I could find on my newest acquisition. This is what I learned, based on multiple sources:
My trunk dates from 1880-1910. This was determined from the Corbin Cabinet Lock Company fastener on the front, and the way its lettering was arranged. More than a hundred years old -- that's pretty cool.
Trunks were made of an inner box (usually pine or cedar) that was then covered with something to protect it -- heavy paper, canvas, leather, tin or -rarely- oak slats. When "restoring" old trunks nowadays, the outer cover is usually stripped away due to bad condition and the wood underneath is then sanded, stained or painted, and polished. While this may look nice, and it's fine for indoor use as a blanket chest or coffee table, it's not the way a trunk is meant to be. All the protection is gone from the inner box, and the soft wood is exposed! One trunk expert said it was rather like stripping all the paint from your car.
My trunk is covered in sheet metal with a somewhat unusual "mottled" finish. Layers of paint were applied to the metal, and the finish was spattered with a solvent to create the speckled appearance. It was then coated with lacquer. I contacted Jim at HMS Antique Trunks to ask how rare this method was. The finish on my trunk is pretty worn, but I didn't want to cover it if it was a valuable feature. He told me that as the paint is very worn, it would make no real difference if I wanted to repaint the trunk.
On the wooden slats on the top and right side is written the name of a former owner: "Mrs H. Quentin, Cashmere, WA", and on the trunk's left is "Glass. Handle with Care". I searched the White Pages for Cashmere and didn't find any Quentins there. Oh well.
The inside of the trunk is papered with a blue and white ticking stripe. There's a rest for a top tray, but it's missing. Someone banged in a newer strip of pine along the back for some reason and didn't do a very good job of it -- the nails are far too long and just bent over. I started stripping out the paper the other night and the inner box is in very good shape, so I'm not sure why they felt this extra support was needed, unless it's because the lid stay is broken.
The box's top edge has taken some knocks and dings, and there are places where the metal is torn and jagged. There were a few puzzle pieces and toy bits in the trunk when I opened it -- plastic things, modern things -- and it makes me wonder what kind of parent thinks a jagged-metal edged trunk makes a good toybox for a small child.
No matter. It's going to be fixed and make a lovely tack chest for my bridles and horse-y whatnots. Now I have to get to work. Stay tuned to see my progress on this project!