Joy Magazine

Have vintage suitcase will travel

"Guess I've got that old travelin' bone, cause this feelin' won't leave me alone."

— John Fogerty

The Industrial Revolution birthed many new things, among them the American tourist.

Before about 1840, when the iron horse replaced the flesh-and-blood variety at twice the speed, folks traveled mainly out of necessity. Stage coaches weren't comfortable. But no matter the mode of travel, there's always been a need for something — a container of some make-up with which to haul our belongings — if only a saddlebag or a wooden box.

Our word "luggage" traces all the way back to 1596 from the word "lug," which means to schlep something along.

Transcontinental train rides and oceanic voyages meant weeks or months away and required larger boxes to lug. Clothing was bigger back then, and people wore hats that necessitated their own boxes. So steam trunks became the norm. Many of these antique trunks are still available and make great storage bins, while lending a room an air of our romantic past.

If you stumble over an original Louis Vuitton trunk, manufactured during the 1800s heyday, it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. The LV name and logo still carry much weight in the fashion industry.

Fast forward a few years to 1910, when a man named Jesse Shwayder, out of Denver, Colo., came up with a hard-sided suitcase, or valise, with a handle. It was portable and perfect for shorter trips. He named the product "Samson," after the strong man in the Bible. They were a huge success, and in 1941 the company trademark became Samsonite.

Today, people stack vintage suitcases for decorating purposes that serve double-duty as storage containers. My brother, Alan, who goes all out with Christmas decorating, keeps his fragile holiday goods wrapped inside several handsome pieces.

Early- to mid-20th century grips, as the Brits refer to them, range in price from $25 to $100 on eBay, with additional charges for shipping. One particularly alluring 1930s or '40s tweed number with brown, leather trim brought $150, but that was unusual.

Travel nostalgia holds enough sway to have elicited more than one line of new vintage-looking suitcases. Something about the old styling of everyday objects may trigger warm memories of a family trip or a personal sojourn of the soul. None more so than a traveling case — direct link to moving on for a gander at different scenery — a slowing, or quickening, of pace.

I am the proud owner of a sleek, red pair of suitcases from the 1960s. "Starline" is their given name, and they are worth maybe $75 in mere cash. I wonder where they've been. Did they cruise Route 66 in the rear of a Ford Country Squire station wagon? Did they fly to Honolulu in the belly of a TWA jetliner for a romantic honeymoon? This year they're destined for the Southwest — to Taos, N.M., for an art show and novel research. And who knows what else?

With Mr. Fogerty, I croon, "Pack my bag, and let's get movin', cause I'm bound to drift awhile." Once more with feeling.

Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.


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