Monday, May 14, 2012

The Trunk

I know - I should always take before photos. But sometimes, I'm all in a rush, or I think the object mundane.

Wrong again.

It was in a fairly decrepit condition and the guidelines of the treatment were narrow.
  • Better - but not perfect
  • Attractive - but not expensive
  • Functional "as is" - without jumping through too many hoops

    So I cleaned all of the exterior surfaces. Removed the miniscule remnants of tooled leather that originally covered the open fields of pine you see here. Cleaned the old japanning from the strapping, and replaced the missing leather handles.

    Here you can see the original tooling pattern of the hide. From the indentations it was tooled in place after application.

    I love the details on the hardware

    A coat of amber shellac on the wood surfaces, yellow tinted shellac on the hardware and bone black pigment on the strapping. The interior I lined with fabric on removable mat board, so that it could be used for storage.

    I was gratifyingly surprised at how well it pulled together without going to extremes.

    Remnants of leather

    The Maker

    A little digging on the "internets" yielded a small amount of information on the maker.

    Who's who in Chicago 1905
    The book of Chicagoan s
    John William Leonard, author 

    Wilt, Charles T., manufacturer; born St Louis, Mo., Nov. 22, 1859;.
    Son of Charles T (Sr ) and Emerette A. (Babcock) Wilt; came to Chicago in childhood

    Education. Ogden, Newberry and Lincoln schools, graduating from latter

    Married Chicago, July 31, 1888 to Charlotte D Fairbairn;
    Children: Charles T., Jr., Collin D. Robert Lloyd Wheaton, Elmer Ellsworth.

    In 1878 entered business (founded by his father, 1862)of Charles T. Wilt, manufacturer in trunks traveling bags, etc.; is now head of firm, which is still conducted as Charles T. Wilt.

    Republican. Captain. 1st 111. Voluntary Infantry, served through Santiago campaign of Spanish-American War. Member of the Veteran Corps, 1st Regiment



    1. Great research! What a fabulous piece and such good work.

    2. I only regret not photographing it BEFORE I started all the work

    3. Hi Robert, very nice Wilt trunk. I also have a nice original leather covered Wilt trunk and have done research on the maker. You may be interested to know that I found that C.T.Wilt patented the large metal corner protectors on your trunk on Aug. 29, 1876. The latches were patented by Charles Taylor of Chicago in 1878. The lock was made by another company, probably the Star Lock Works or Keystone Lock works of Philadelphia. So the trunk was most likely made around 1880. The old trunk catalogs I have show these were almost always called a Barrel Top trunk. Yes, the leather was tooled by hand after the trunk was made. I'd send you those patents if you are interested. You can contact me through Thanks, Marvin Miller

    4. Hi Robert, great job! Charles Wilt was my great-grandfather and Collin Wilt was my grandfather. I have recently been searching the internet in hopes of finding a few luggage pieces, but they are few and in-between. Great job at keeping the vintage appeal while beautifying the trunk!!!

      1. Fabulous, I have a beautiful Chase. T. Wilt Trunk in good condition. A big green trunk with all of the inserts in really good condition. It was a family piece but we just don't have room for it any more. If interested, contact me at

    5. @anonymous
      Thank you for your comment. Any additional family info would be greatly appreciated! Marvin Miller in the comment above yours has some interesting additional insites.

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    7. Hello!

      I just love this restoration! I recently found a Chas T. Wilt trunk in Benton Harbor, MI and just thought it was amazing. So much history.

      Here is a copy of our listing -

      Thank you!

    8. Looks like you found some more back ground! Love the details - makes it all worthwhile.

    9. I stumbled onto a "Chas. T. Wilt" chest, it was laying in the grass, having been 'dumped off' at a Charity Flea Market place, in a town called Deer Park WA. It has the same type maker plate, however the address is different, it's '180 Wabash Ave., Chicago". Each little corner protector plate says, "Wilt" and the hardware seems similar to the more rounded trunk in the photo you have. Do you know anything about the different address? I mean, yours says,"144 State Street" and this one says, "180 Wabash", is there any difference?
      I can see you must be a busy guy, but if you get a chance it would be of interest to us, since , well, you know, you like to know history of stuff.
      Sincerely, Michael Yeager

    10. Found a small trunk with tag:
      Chas. T. Wilt
      144 State Street (showroom)
      N. Clark Street (Branch #40)

      So, there's another street address to add to your list.

    11. I just discovered a Chas T Wilt trunk this morning. Its canvas type material with wood and metal. It has a belt also. Its got a flower pattern fabric liner inside and except for being dirty and some small scuffs, its in near perfect condition. The address on the tag is 40 east Madison street, Chicago. I would live to get more info on it.

    12. Hello from across the Atlantic. My name is Solveig and I live in Sweden. I have a Chas T Wilt trunk that belonged to my grandmother who was from Norway. When she was young she travelled by boat to work in New York. It also has the adress 40 East Madison street, Chicago. It has a lot of old labels on it from all over the world. It is a real treasure and means a lot to me. I am curios if you have any info to give. Thank you.