Carry On Cruising: A History of the Trunk

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

As Robert Louis Stevenson so tastefully observed, the true fulfilment of travel can only be achieved by savouring the journey and not just the destination. Alas, this romantic notion has been somewhat lost along with the belief that the world is flat - thanks in the most part to travel becoming synonymous with limited legroom, baggage restrictions, delays come cancellations, invasive security checks and (shudder) chemical toilets. Nonetheless, ever since our early ancestors descended from the treetops it has been our natural impulse to forage beyond our native realms. As civilisations developed and grew, so too did the concept of travel as a means to explore. Technology has advanced the way in which we travel and transport our belongings along the way, ever evolving as we seek to satisfy our irrepressible curiosity and wanderlust.

Evolution and revolution

The wheel, having evolved from the fundamental realization that logs could be used as rollers to transport heavy objects, is one of the most divinely simple innovations ever devised by the human mind. It revolutionised the way we travel and transport goods. However, roads in the early 19th century were often rudimentary and rutted, making passage by horse and carriage slow and difficult and as such, travel was for necessity rather than pleasure. Gradual improvements in road construction and maintenance reduced journey times - but the real revolution came with the introduction of railways. Their speed and efficiency was unprecedented, so much so that early passengers feared they wouldn't be able to breathe travelling at such velocities. Within decades, with fears allayed, thousands of miles of steel lines linked cities to suburbs and seaside resorts. A new era of travel for travel’s sake had begun.

The structure and dimensions of luggage has always evolved in synchronicity with changing modes of transport. Bavarian luggage maker, Hartmann, was founded in 1877, not long after the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. Luggage at this time was handled roughly so their trunks were made of heavy wood, leather and reinforced with iron bases to ensure their durability. During construction, luxury leather purveyor, Globe-Trotter, reinforce each stress point with stitching, riveting and gluing. Vulcanised Fibreboard, the material used to make their cases, is incredibly light and strong - stronger than steel in fact – and to demonstrate this, Globe-Trotter performed a strength test at the Zoological Gardens in Hamburg by using one of their cabin cases to bare the full weight of a one ton elephant – reassurance indeed that one’s belongings wouldn’t get squashed in luggage holds by sliding trunks.

The tops of trunks were initially dome-shaped to allow water run off when exposed to the outside elements during transportation. Heritage luggage brand, Moynat, patented the first waterproof trunk in 1854 using a canvas coated in gutta percha gum (a tropical sap). This provided much needed protection from water, humidity and temperature.

The dawn of a new era

In the early 1900’s, changes to immigration laws halted the flow of immigrants across the Atlantic. This caused a shift in the business model of shipping companies towards tourism instead of passenger transport. Fleets of grand cruise liners began to welcome society’s haute monde onboard – this was the dawn of the luxury cruise liner. The sumptuous elegance on offer was a testament to this new era - with champagne bars and ballrooms for lavish parties; fine dining to rival that of top restaurants and hotels; extensive public spaces to cater for every fancy from deck sports and sun loungers to smoking rooms and gymnasiums; as well as immaculately liveried attendants attending to your every (non-salacious) need. Passengers enjoyed the onboard luxury so much so that they embarked on ‘nowhere voyages’, which would sail on a round trip without stopping at any ports of call.

Cruise liners afforded the added benefit of travel, unencumbered by baggage restrictions. As demand increased for moderate-sized and special-order bags, luggage moved towards the suitcase as we know it today. Passengers, from royalty and politicians to celebrities and Hollywood icons, demanded a wide range of travel accessories to facilitate the opulence of their journey. Trunks were made to match with hat boxes, vanity cases and garment bags, many of which were personliased, as became the style de rigueur – screen actors and Hollywood Rat Pack members, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, both had monogrammed Hartmann steamer trunks to accompany them on their jet set lifestyle. Clara Agnelli, granddaughter of esteemed Rake, Gianni Agnelli, had her Goyard luggage painted with her initial ‘C’ in red or heat-stamped in black on soft leather items.

Another devoted Goyard customer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, commissioned a writing trunk which he could use to continue his work during his own adventures overseas. A similar size to an ordinary trunk, the special-order case would transform into a writing desk - complete with bookcase, typewriter, and hidden storage space for his developing manuscripts.


Millie Bradshaw


June 2016


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