I just love a new addition to our collection of antiques—and this one is a doozie! We have lots of trunks: wooden trunks, leather trunks, big ones and little ones and one for a doll. Now, we have a wardrobe trunk in wonderful condition. A wardrobe trunk is a much cleverer version of a regular travel trunk. If we still used trunks today, this is the one the Container Store would carry. It is sort of like a chest of drawers and a closet that folds up into a box.
The wardrobe trunk didn’t appear until after 1890 and really came into its own after 1900. This one is late enough to be pushing our museum’s time period. I think it was made after 1910. They are actually more Edwardian than Victorian, and you can imagine a lot of wardrobe trunks went down with the Titanic. That was the sort of travel they were designed for. On one side, the trunk has a range of drawers that could hold shoes, folded men’s shirts, undergarments and accessories. On the other side are the hangers for outerwear. Why do some of them have that funny curve at the bottom? When the garment was hung tightly wrapped around that hanger, the hanger kept it straight all the way down so it wouldn’t wrinkle.
These trunks were not cheap, and they were owned by people of means who took long trips. You had to have plenty of money to pay somebody to carry the thing, as one man can barely move it when it is empty.
We do not put all of our collection on display, but I would like to show this one off for a while. If we had a regular exhibit space somewhere, I could just set it there with a sign that said, “Our Latest Acquisition.” But we have carefully arranged realistic room settings, so the job becomes harder. It has to go someplace where it fits in with the logical activities of the room. The Depot comes to mind, for traveling, but it would not be open at the depot, so no one could see the cool interior.
To show off its best features, I need to show it being packed for a trip, so it needs to go in a house. Millermore? All its furnishings depict 1861, before the trunk was invented. Shotgun House? Section House? No, this was a luxury item that the people in those houses could not afford. Blum House? Right time period, and they are not poor, but it would be a rare shopkeeper who could afford the trunk and the kind of travel it implied. And now we have worked our way over to the Sullivan House. They live in the right time period, they have money, and maybe Mrs. Sullivan would like to go home to Ireland to visit her mother. This trunk would be perfect for that trip. I can place it in the bedroom, and show it in the middle of being packed. That way, I can also display some of our beautiful hats, purses and shoes, because I bet she wants to show the family back home how her successful husband buys her nice things.
We have 24,000 artifacts, and many have not been seen lately by anyone but me. That keeps me entertained, but what about our visitors? I do my best to come up with creative ways to make new displays without compromising our realistic exhibit settings.