Versatile, beautiful, large and most often always a commanding presence in any room they are placed in, the regal Barrel Top is a trunk that is horribly misunderstood, and with good reason. Imagine being called a “Camel back”, a “Curve top”, a”Humpback” or a “Round top” and the reason for that “curve” is still the subject of continued heated debate. In its years of glory, there were lots of listings in catalogs and print ads, around the world, and never once was the poor old Barrel Top referred to as any of the above names, other than a “Barrel Top Trunk”.
Some say that the reason for the dome was for extra storage. Many antique trunks were built with compartments in the lid, presumably to separate the dirty garments from the clean, but the lid didn’t have to be rounded in order to utilize it as a dirty clothes bin. Another myth which has stood the test of time (which is usually perpetrated by the filthy rich) echoes that the arch on top was built in order to trick baggage handlers into packing these trunks on TOP of other trunks, so that they would be the “last on, and first off”. After all, you can’t easily stack or balance anything on the top side of a curve; gravity would simply pull it down the slide. But wait….what about the ingenious packer who stacked trunks on the boats, or trains, or steam ships? The schlepper who figured out that if you just lay the trunk down on its BACK, you could then easily stack others on top. Hmmm, makes sense, right? .. Just where does the truth lie, or does it?
The actual reason is the weather for the creation of the Barrel Top Trunk. That’s right, RAIN. Most trunks up until the time that barrel tops were invented were box shaped and on those long stagecoach rides across the country, or hours spent on loading docks, when it rained, water accumulated on the top. Put that soaked box now deep in the cargo holds of a steamer ship and you’ve got a recipe for fresh mold to fester and spread. Having personally restored several hundred barrel top trunks over the years, I can attest to the fact that only on very rare occasion do you find this build with moldy lids.
Given the above, why then did Louis Vuitton lay claim to being the first to create trunks with “flat tops”? Surely he knew that the design was flawed yet he boasts of revolutionizing the trunk industry with this design. In fact, barrel top trunks were around prior to his entry into the biz, and so were flat top trunks. I believe it was Goyard who was building luxury flat top trunks before Vuitton too. But I guess none of this matters now, in this day and age, especially when there are trunk restoration experts around (!) who can spank the mold and allow for you to choose which style of antique trunk would look best at the foot of your bed.