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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Louis Vuitton monogram canvas trunk sold for $1,650. Photo courtesy of Eldred's
Can you imagine dragging a heavy trunk through a crowded airport?

Nowadays when we plan trips, we think about luggage that is lightweight but also durable. During the stagecoach and steamboat era, people struggled with bulky trunks.

In 1854, Louis Vuitton developed a name for himself in Paris among fashionable women for his ability to carefully pack their costly, fragile dresses in wooden chests before trips. He did such a good job that Empress Eugenie made him her sole trunk-maker, and he started his own company.

Vuitton revolutionized trunk making by getting rid of the stagecoach “domed” lid most of us are familiar with, for a perfectly flat top trunk. Stacking and storage became easier. Poplar wood made trunks lighter, and waterproofing with a grey Trianon canvas offered a real advantage over the traditional, leaky, leather trunk.

The interior of Vuitton trunks accommodated dresses and all the accessories to go with them. In 1867, 15 million visitors had a chance to view his “flat-topped” trunks at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

If high-end travel was your desire, Vuitton had the answer. His “modern” trunk was a perfect fit for rail and seafaring travel.

By 1890, the company patented a steel-bodied lock. Each lock was individually numbered making it easy to duplicate lost keys, and easy to place the same lock on each piece of luggage belonging to a customer. A single key opened every piece, a real convenience for travelers with several trunks. Since the beginning, Vuitton has registered the lock number of each customer who owns rigid luggage.

Louis Vuitton and his son George had a knack for keeping the luggage fashionable. The Trianon canvas and the subsequent striped, and checkerboard canvasses were widely imitated. So, in 1896 George came up with a monogram canvas that was difficult to copy. The motif combined a monogram, the initials of Louis Vuitton and a floral pattern that was hard to copy, and hard to forget.

Over the years, the company expanded the line to include suitcases, handbags, toiletry kits, cases for fishing gear, shoes and more. In 1959, they came out with a line of supple bags, and launched an average of 25 new models each year through 1965. Today the company has 263 “free standing” stores around the world.

There is a real nostalgia among collectors for vintage Vuitton trunks. As far as luggage goes, it doesn’t get any better. Value depends on condition (original trays and compartments), age and rarity. More expensive pieces have ivory components.

On Dec. 11, Robert C. Eldred Co., in East Dennis, Mass., featured a Louis Vuitton trunk in its “Fine and Decorative Art and Collectibles at Auction” sale. The monogram canvas trunk had a lower section with a central document drawer flanked by four drawers. The upper section had a fitted compartment and two drawers. The height was 12 ˝ inches by 24 inches and sold for $1,650.

Q. I have quite a few old spoons. One is marked Pan American Exposition and pictures President McKinley. Might it have some value? Mary Ethel Pane, Pittsburgh.

A. Ironically, the 1901 Buffalo Pan American Exposition is where McKinley was assassinated.

The Fair was intended in part to celebrate the use of Niagara Falls for hydroelectric power. Your spoon falls under the category of World’s Fair collectibles. Postcards, matchbooks, programs, napkin rings, and coins are a few examples of the many items available.

Collectors favor items from the 1939 New York Fair as well as the two big Chicago Fairs of 1893 and 1933. Another popular one is the St. Louis Fair of 1904.

World’s Fair memorabilia is a good avenue for beginning collectors because there’s plenty around that you can pick up at reasonable prices. The 1939 New York Fair alone had 1,500 exhibitors who either gave away, or sold items to 45 million people.

Your sterling souvenir spoon is worth about $100, based on condition.

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