First established in 1854 by namesake Louis Vuitton (French, 1821-1892) as a box and packing shop in Paris, this eponymous brand has evolved into a 21st century luxury powerhouse with products ranging from watches and handbags to clothing and fragrances. Today, Louis Vuitton operates under the LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) conglomerate housing some of fashion’s most important and opulent brands, including Bulgari, Céline, Hublot, and more. After over a century and a half of operation, however, Louis Vuitton’s most iconic form remains its first design: the traveling trunk.
Just four years after opening shop in Paris, founder Louis Vuitton introduced the first flat-top malle, or trunk, in 1858. Easily stacked and transported, the trunk garnered popularity among the traveling elite and continued to gain success success through the turn of the century. Today, the coveted Louis Vuitton trunk is crafted from a wide array of materials including copper, wood, canvas, and a variety of rare leathers. Its historical significance in the luxury industry as well as its iconic design make these trunks highly desireable objects at auction.
In its May 2017 sale of British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts, Freeman’s sold two early Louis Vuitton trunks with great success, each selling for sums substantially in excess of their original estimates.
The first is a particularly important example, as it is one of the first models by the brand to feature the Louis Vuitton monogram pattern—a design recognizable even today with its interlocking L and V. The pattern was designed by Vuitton’s son, Georges, in 1896 to prevent lesser manufacturers from passing off their plain leather trunks as superior Louis Vuitton products. The LV pattern and has been reinvented many times in various colors and overlays since then, but the classic original remains the most popular.
Dating to the early 20th century, this trunk showcases an impressive and original fitted interior. One side includes rails suspending coat hangers above shoe compartments, while the other features six drawers. Even standing empty, it immediately conjures images of an elegant world traveler aboard an ocean liner, awaiting new adventures. The trunk even offers a clue to one such owner: a monogrammed side emblazoned with “J.H.C.” in red lozenge. After an exciting few minutes on the bidding floor, this trunk was sold for $16,900, far surpassing its estimate of $7,000-9,000.
Another, even rarer, example is a plain leather vanity trunk constructed in the first decade of the 20th century. Intended to travel upright on castors, the lid opens to reveal a fitted interior with trinket compartments and an extending tray over four varisized drawers. This highly unusual trunk could be used as a traveling dressing table for a lady or gentleman when not at home. After very aggressive bidding, this trunk was sold for $19,500 after a multi-increment knockout bid. The sale price was nearly ten times its original low estimate of $2,000-4,000.
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