This small, dome-lidded trunk – a style known as a “half-trunk” – belonged to Julia Prout Vinson Anderson (1864-1950) of Rockville. Before Julia it was “used by Rachel Prout and Mary Prout,” according to the donors, Julia’s grandsons Thomas and George Anderson.  The trunk is 16″ wide, 13.5″ deep, and 17″ tall (at the highest part of the lid); made of wood, it has leather covering the back, metal covering the lid, and metal bands on all the edges.

The trunk has seen hard wear; its leather straps and handle are gone, the metal top is rusted, and as you can see from the photo it has suffered some water damage at some point in its life. Inside is a covered tray (still with a few odds and ends of lace inside) on top of the main compartment. The underside of the lid and the tray cover both feature colored lithographs, probably applied by one of the owners. There is also a label inside the lid for “Lutz & Beall, Saddle, Harness & Trunk Manufacturers, Pennsylvania Avenue next to the National Hotel, Washington City, D.C.” On one side of the trunk is pasted a label advertising the Cincinnati-based United States Mail Line (a steamship mail and passenger service on the Ohio River), specifically the steamers United States, General Lytle, Maj. Anderson, and General Buell. In addition, something – a name and address? – was once stenciled to the front of the case, but thanks to the water damage it is pretty much illegible; it looks to me like it might end with OUT (as in Prout), but it could be almost anything.

Julia Prout Vinson was the daughter of Frances Rachel Prout (known as Fanny) and John Thomas Vinson. The Prouts were an old Washington family, but Fanny’s mother, Rachel Fowler Prout, moved with her children (including teenaged Mary and Fanny) to Rockville shortly after the death of her husband William Prout in 1840. The “Rachel and Mary” referenced by the donors are probably Rachel F. Prout, Julia’s grandmother, and Mary Prout, Julia’s aunt. The Anderson family gave us many artifacts, photos and documents – I could probably do a whole year’s worth of blogs just on Julia and her husband – from the various branches of their family, including some papers related to the Prouts. I know that Rachel and William Prout went to Key West in 1840; so far I have not found reference to other trips, but I did find a wonderful list of the rules Mr. Prout laid down for his sons while he was away in 1840, including the admonition “to go to no fire by day or night and never touch an Engine or its apparatus” – they must have lived near a fire station.

The half-trunk style was popular during the mid 19th century, but it would be nice to pinpoint it a little closer than that. Sometimes labels, like the ones sported by our trunk here, can instantly date an artifact. Not so lucky this time! Advertisements for Lutz & Bro.’s saddle and harness business on Pennsylvania Avenue show up in late 19th century newspapers, but so far, no Lutz & Beall. The steamboats listed on the Mail Line label are named for Civil War officers, which would make the Prouts’ Ohio River journey post-war; the General Lytle suffered various accidents and indignities over the years, but was still in operation at least as late as 1881, when it sank (yet it had already recovered from a boiler explosion in 1866, so perhaps it was resurrected once again). Steamship fans: lend me your expertise!

"The Magnificent Steamers."