Steamers have been around for thousands of years, existing in some baggage-toting form or another. They had their heyday in the late 18th to early 20th centuries, before lighter, cheaper suitcases usurped them. The name came from the trunks’ storage in the cabin of a steam ship. Often, they are distinguished by their flat or slightly curved tops, and are usually decorated with or covered in patterned paper, leather, or canvas. Malletiers, or trunk-makers, would design special customer’s steamers with art. Lithographs and chromolithographs could be placed over lids, indicating who the trunk was intended for. A trunk intended for a man might contain images of villages, a hunt, or the countryside, while a bride’s traveling chest would bear more feminine florals or drawings of fashionable ladies.
Historically used for long-haul voyages, steamer trunks were rugged, built to be traveling furniture, with different compartments. Steamers could be customized according to the traveler client’s expenses and taste. The complex tray system inside the trunk could potentially comprise a hat box, shirt compartment coin box, document box – even “secret” compartments could be included.