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The Use of Antiques Reconsidered: The Trunks and Where They May Have Gone

Sometimes we have to stop and take a second look at the antiques we’ve inherited. Sometimes we have to reconsider them from the perspective of how they actually might have been used, not how we might use them today.

Antique trunks are like that.

Today we tend to use antique trunks mainly for storage. We may put them at the foot of antique beds, in a hallway, or use them decoratively anyplace in the house. Flat topped ones may serve as coffee tables while also holding bedding for unexpected company. Others may hold old quilts or out of season clothing or childhood toys or programs from senior plays.

But if we stop and think we realize that, once, they were used for travel. Our great-grandparents or great-greats took them places. They weren’t purchased for storage. They were purchased for going places. That realization opens new questions. Where did they go? And when?

Hello, this is Nancy with Dusty. A relative, a young man with an urban loft, just inherited these two trunks. They came from the home of a great-aunt who had many antiques but she didn’t buy any. They all had been passed down. It was a practical family. Things were just passed down from generation to generation and care was always taken.

I had remembered the trunks from long ago. Each had been in a bedroom of the great-aunts home. I also was pretty sure that they had been in her grandparent’s home before that, an old farmstead that stretched back to the early 19th century. Her grandparents had been fairly prosperous. Most members of the family had at least some college. They enjoyed life. Her grandfather had traveled to the Middle East around 1900. He brought back “Holy Water” from the River Jordan, packed in jars and bottles. He stored them in the spring house “on the place”. I saw one of them years ago, still on a ledge in the stone spring house, marked in his hand “from the Jordan”.

Where had these trunks gone? Did the metal one go with him on his adventurous journey? How did it get painted that coral color?

When you start opening doors you only have more questions. Those questions can help fill out the lives of those who came before.

Trunks traveled. So did they.

I knew from old family postcards that in the late 19th century they often visited the mineral springs at Keene, Kentucky. You can see, above, part of the main building that still stands. Like many people in that period, they retreated in the summer’s heat to the literal “watering holes”. They “took the waters”, had picnics, and probably enjoyed the dining room. From the postcards it seemed like they just took day trips. I suspect, however, that some stayed longer, especially when cousins came from other states. They would have packed trunks for the visits.

The trunks also many have gone to college with some of them. The great-aunt’s mother was in one of the first classes that admitted women at a central Kentucky college. I later stayed in the same dorm she did. Did she carry one of those trunks up the same flights of steps I carried my modern luggage probably 70 years later?

We can’t see, of course, luggage or trunks in this photo. What we can see is a Kentucky farmer, who also was a minister, who had enough of a spirit of adventure to travel at a time when it wasn’t easy…and stay relatively well dressed at the same time.

Trunks are a clue to those who didn’t stay put, to those who followed new paths. When we inherit them, they are for more than just the storage of unused bedding.

They are for our curiosity to learn more.

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