Recreating hard-sided luggage

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by David Conwill, Apr 7, 2016.

  1. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    I’d like to build custom-sized luggage in the 1940s/’50s style, starting with a small box to store my camera gear and elevating to a complete fitted set for the trunk of a car.

    It appears a common material for this was heavy cardboard (solid, not corrugated), and the interior was typically lined with something resembling wallpaper or contact paper. The exterior is a mystery to me, however, as it often seems to be textured and finished with a clear varnish.

    Stripes are a common motif on these cases, but that appears to just be paint.

    Points that have me at a loss are where to source hardware (hinges, latches and handles) and whether there is a way to reproduce the rounded corners so often found on vintage pieces. Corner protectors are another option and I may go that way for durability, but I do sort of like the rounded look and it saves weight and cost.

    Any experts on vintage luggage out there who would like to advise me? Thanks in advance!

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  2. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

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    Wow - I hope this gets off the ground!
     
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  3. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

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    They used to sell the latches and hinges in hardware stores but that was a long time ago. You also used to see such suitcases in thrift stores and they may still turn up from time to time.

    The material may have been untempered masonite. I believe it can be steam bent or dampened and bent. Not so sure about tempered masonite. You can still buy masonite in 4X8 sheets at any good lumber yard and it is not expensive if you want to experiment.

    The covering was probably oilcloth or canvas, glued on and painted. The paint would partly fill in the weave. If it had a leather like grain it would be leatherette, an oilcloth material. Vinyl was not available till the fifties.
     
  4. Shangas

    Shangas I'll Lock Up

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    I'm fairly sure suitcases of this era were covered in canvas or a similar material.
     
  5. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    Thanks fellas. Great info! Unfortunately, these cases have become such hot decor items they're tough to find outside antique stores anymore. I'd love to find one that is unrepairable to dissect.
     
  6. herringbonekid

    herringbonekid I'll Lock Up

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    they're basically fibreboard (i have one which says on a label inside: 'genuine compressed fibre') ... so some type of wood / paper / cellulose mix.
    the interior is simply printed paper, glued on.
    i agree with Stanley that the exterior is some sort of oilcloth or fake leather material, probably heat-glued under pressure to the fibreboard.

    good luck. that's a heck of a project, especially without the machinery that was used to produce all of that luggage on an industrial scale way back when.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2016
  7. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    Well, I found some reading for tomorrow. This seems right in line with what I want to do...

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  8. Talbot

    Talbot One Too Many

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    I understand the compressed board is called 'nelson board' or 'nelson panel' by motor trimmers. Not sure about the decorative aspects however.

    Great thread!
     
  9. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

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    There is a place near me, in Amish Country, Called Lehman Brothers Hardware. It has just about everything you can no longer find, including a large supply of restoration materials for luggage and trunks (mainly trunks), and they have the metal corner guards, etc. Unfortunately, they only offer online sales for limited items, that I am aware of.

    https://www.lehmans.com/?partner_id=bcngoog&gclid=CPeaw6SIh8wCFZSCaQodip0P_Q
     
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  10. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    Well, I've been following along with that 1948 How To article I posted a bit of above. And I've got a couple different sources that appear to offer the kind of hardware I need: Brettun's Village, Gerstner USA and Rockler.

    Given that I don't have the industrial capacity for moulding the hardboard to shape, I'll be using square edges with rounded brackets and corners.

    Now I'm just trying to figure out my color scheme--black and nickel, brown and brass or maybe a color. I'm thinking black and nickel for the camera gear and browns for my eventual suitcase project.
     
  11. LuvMyMan

    LuvMyMan I’ll Lock Up.

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    Hello. There is a thin wood, not sure if I am going to get the spelling right, Luon. It is thin light and can be steamed to be bent. My Husband has used it for many things and I have watched him steam and shape it on a jig. It is light weight almost like balsa wood, can be lightly sanded and for making some material adhere to it, I would think a spray adhesive would work just fine. Small additional strips of the Luon on the back part of anything you would need to attach something similar to a "gusset" for use of small screws should work, that or small thin pieces of a hard nylon sheet for added support. You can find some interesting materials for projects from an online source, mostly used for artist but they have things you may desire to obtain, Dick Blick online Catalog. Sure hope this gives you some additional source for your creative needs!
     
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  12. Rodney

    Rodney Familiar Face

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    I play with vintage sewing machines. Often the cases are in pretty poor shape. The closest material I've found is Tolex. It's the leather looking material used for instrument cases and has been around forever.
    Here's one supplier:
    http://www.mojotone.com/amp-parts/tolex-tweed-colors
    Their tweed might be one option.
    Grasscloth might be worth looking into as well.
    The old fabrics used on vintage suitcases and sewing machine cases just don't seem to exist anymore.
    Rodney
     
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  13. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    Thanks Rodney, that looks spot on to what's on the case of my 1952 Smith-Corona "Silent" typewriter!
     
  14. esteban68

    esteban68 Call Me a Cab

    I've quite a few such suitcases, some were made from pressed cardboard type fibre and some were woven type material impregnated with some sort of resin, both had reinforced corners in either parent material or leather.
    Whilst I admire you're wish to 're create these surely you could find a set in Vgc fairly cheaply?
    Over here in the UK it's not uncommon to acquire single cases in vgc for ten or so pounds and sets of three or for matching for around the sixty pound mark.
     
  15. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    Decent ones are quickly headed for the stratosphere in local antique shops. They're usually priced around $100. Plus I've yet to find one suitably sized for my camera gear.
     
  16. esteban68

    esteban68 Call Me a Cab

    Wow , cheap as chips over here!
     
  17. David Conwill

    David Conwill Call Me a Cab

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    As luck would have it, I've just bid on a gutted train case that may be perfect for my camera gear. That means this project goes on the back burner for now. Thanks for everyone's help thus far.

    Edit: I won!


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    Last edited: Apr 19, 2016
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  18. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

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    There are 2 in my local thrift store right now. A big one about 24 X 30 inches for $30 and smaller one like an overnight case for $10. So they are still around. I don't know where to suggest looking in your area to find them at a decent price.
     
  19. Rodney

    Rodney Familiar Face

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    Location:
    Centralia, WA
    You found a great looking case. Around my area you only see them in antique stores. If you're lucky enough to even see one in a thrift store it will be at antique store prices or more.
    "It's old, It's worth a lot" is the rule around here.

    The flip side is just buying the materials to make a case like that gets expensive fast. It's very easy to spend more than a vintage one would cost even at full retail.
    Rodney
     
  20. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Once upon a time, nice cars came with fitted suitcases. I never saw a car that nice, however. I've also never seen any suitcases anywhere like in the original post. The one described a post or two above looks to be in pretty good shape to me. It looks like a lady's cosmetic case or whatever they were called. The larger cases always look a little "caved in," when I've seen photos of them. Isn't it funny how something like luggage can almost be dated to the decade? Those styles were followed, probably in the late 50s or 1960s with hard-sided luggage covered with vinyl or plastic. Nowadays, the only hard luggage you see in the airport, if any, is made of metal.

    My first post here, by the way.
     
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