Is this creepy-looking steamer trunk a priceless antique?
August 29, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

This trunk is a curb recovery - I was hoping to lightly scrub it to remove some of the surface rust and seal it - To keep that 'Silent Hill' look without having the rust rub off on everything. Will I be destroying a priceless antique? What's the best choice for sealing it while keeping it's creepy look intact?

The interior is in better shape - The wood's intact, and apart from needing some new lining material, is fine. The drop-in trays are long gone, but the rails for them are still there. The exterior leather is rotted off - As far as the metal fixtures go, I haven't tried locking or unlocking it, but there's no key. The hinges work freely, however. The metals seem functionally intact, but this is probably never going to be a showroom piece.
posted by Orb2069 to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Clear Coat the thing after knocking off the majority of the surface dirt with a soft bristle brush. Cover the hardware bits you don't want sprayed. That would keep the "silent hill" look you find attractive about it.

Try to find a matte finish or something other than gloss or semi-gloss.
posted by Gravitus at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love olive oil and a rag for restoring old pieces after cleaning them. Really helps leather and metal and wood look its best.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:49 AM on August 29, 2009

Wow, that's cool! Lucky find. I covet!

Gravitus, I read the OP as exactly the opposite--wanting to clean flaky rust off the hardware but leave the other parts grungy. As for the exterior, I second whimsical's suggestion--oil is good for soothing and smoothing pretty much everything. If you don't use too much, and be sure to wipe it down a few times with clean cloths every time, it shouldn't remain excessively oily.

Anyway, if my reading is correct, I'd take some superfine steel wool (I think 000 is the finest there is--ask at the hardware store) and go over the hardware lightly, then seal it like Gravitus said. Or you could show it to a restorer and see what they say, or what they would charge. (Duh, this probably occurred to you already, sorry.)
posted by scratch at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2009

My mom had a trunk like that. I used a towel and whatever generic cleaner we had. The rust was firmly attached for the many years we had it, despite several scrubbings. Those trunks are heavy duty...I used some abrasive stuff and nothing was damaged.

If your trunk loses its rust, you could always leave it outside for a bit to get that 'creepy' look.
posted by shinyshiny at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2009

My dad restores old trunks, so a few things I know from him -

Flat top trunks are more desirable, because they can be used as tables, or bases.
He uses old leather halters, to replace the trunk leather.
The interior trays are nice, but not necessary.
Lots of people redo the interiors with wallpaper. He usually just cleans them and leaves them be, and I have to say the smell of cedar in an old trunk is one of the best smells ever.

Nice find!
posted by suki at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2009

It's got plenty of character, so clean it well. I use a 1:1 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. Over repeated applications, it develops a nice patina.
posted by theora55 at 2:49 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

As I understand it: you want the whole thing rusty, but for the rust not to rub off on the rest of your belongings. You only talk about knocking off the surface rust so that you have some sort of a reasonably smooth surface to work with, and so it won't flake in the future.

Run over it a couple times with a soft brush. That'll knock off any loose flakes.

Then, you can find all sorts of matte and semi-gloss clear coats in rattle cans. Get one of those, and spray the shit out of the whole thing. If you were especially concerned about putting a hard coating on it, you could use a resin--but that's probably more work than you want to deal with.
posted by Netzapper at 3:04 PM on August 29, 2009

I wouldn't try olive oil -- I'm pretty sure it would go rancid. It is suggested that you not use olive oil on leather boots for that reason.
posted by runningwithscissors at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Olive oil will most certainly go rancid. Linseed oil is good on wood (mineral oil will also work in a pinch), but that trunk looks like it's rolled steel (am I seeing it wrong)? For that I would use a soft bristle brush (dry) for any surface dirt. You can also use 00000 steel wool and mineral spirits to prep it for finish. You can use a matte or satin clear coat straight out of the can for this, but I recommend doing 3-4 very, very light sprays rather than 1-2 heavy ones.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:26 PM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

As far as value, I think the one you are looking at would sell for $40-100 cleaned up at a show, unless the interior is in excellent condition (opposed to just good). That's if the hardware is functional and it has no structural damage. A wooden turn-of-the-century one in excellent condition (good quality leather, lining $ padding intact, etc.) would sell for between $350-500.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:31 PM on August 29, 2009

First thing - leave it sitting open and let it air out. For a LONG time. Smells can get into trunks way too easy, and if you leave it closed you might not realize it. A good airing after an interior clean helps with that.

Seconding the options mrmojoflying gave you. Linseed oil, though flammable, is always what I was told to use if the trunk is wooden, and fine steel wool is just the trick for dusting off any crumbly rust without taking it all off. I think you have to be careful on which kind of spray on sealer you use - I've heard some might not stop the rust from continuing to cause decay - not sure about the truth of that though. (Anyone have a brand name or two to recommend? I'm interested too!)

And I love the look of rust, so I'd want to keep it as is too.
posted by batgrlHG at 5:34 PM on August 29, 2009

Followup: After light scrubbing, I coated the trunk with krylon clear matte sealer. The surface went mildew and frost-coated where it was not rusty and kind of fuzzy where it was rusty, but the rust and clearcoat would still come off in my hands. Unfortunately, this took a lot more time and effort than I was interested in spending, so I cut my losses and put the trunk out in the trash again. Thanks for your suggestions, everybody.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:14 PM on October 25, 2009

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