Restoring Antique Chests and Trunks

MPF Conservation specializes in antique furniture restoration, furniture repair, antique upholstered furniture, and traditional woodworking.  This page documents various types of chests and trunks.

Fully occupied American Dowry Chest
before treatment, right.

In all cases below, we perform the following details using traditional techniques as needed:

  • Disassemble as necessary
  • Inspect parts for viability
  • Clean all parts as needed
  • Repair / re-glue / amend broken parts
  • Replicate missing parts
  • CHOOSE Finish Method below:
  • Historic varnish is amended with several coats of pure shellac and rubbed to patina or French polished OR
  • Historically accurate varnish coating with combinations of gums, tree resins, oils, waxes and natural earth pigments is applied  OR
  • Historic painted finish is repaired and amended as needed

Above and below, before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

American Dowry Chest circa 1685

The chest showed all the attributes of a hand-crafted piece made during the 17th century. The body is made of white oak solids with and the bottom has been replaced with second generation satinwood. Tool markings, asphaltum and oil varnished finish, period tool markings, joinery style, hand-whittled pins, non-glued joinery, single slabbed top, primitive hand-forged hardware and wood atrophy are all consistent with a chest over 300 years old which has been exposed to caustic elements which are by-products of coal and wood hydrocarbons. The chest was exposed to beetle infestations a century ago, and had dry rot in its leg tips from water exposure.

There is an oddity about two carvings. The date on the inside back, “EMS 1685” and the decorative front, “MB 1796” do not match. (Also, the carved date in the chest’s decorative front and the oak leaf motif is imbalanced causing the leaf motif to be cut off.) Possibly this chest passed through a family over a century, and was preserved. Perhaps a fresh facade was added during the 18th century (ergo the disparate date on the front header). Other than that anomaly, the entire cabinet reflects all the attributes of the previous centuries construction, tool-markings, and carving style.

The chest exhibited several condition issues which threatened its viability: water damage, dry rotten leg bottoms, rotting bottom panel, and a splitting top with warping guides and breaking hinges. Also, the chest had been retrofit with upholstered panels during the early twentieth century; these had turned to mildew and needed replacement.

Traditional woodworking techniques using hand tools were employed; materials introduced were in keeping with the history of the chest. Any “modern” materials (gap-filling PVA, bulking wood infill product ®Araldite) were museum-approved.

Below, after treatment.

Chinese Wood Blanket Chest circa 1900

The chest was made for Chinese export trade to American during the Theodore Roosevelt administration.


  • The chest was thoroughly cleaned of decades of Pledge (a popular silicon based polish, NOT a wax), the use of which is not uncommon.
  • The hinge supports were repaired.
  • The entire chest was waxed and rubbed to patina.

Above, before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.
Below, interior before treatment, left, and after treatment, both images right.

Mognat of Paris Steamer Trunk circa 1900

The heirs brought us an extremely sentimental family trunk which had been around the world many times with family members. We were to clean inside and out, stabilize the inner lining, create new handles, and to preserve the character of the outer trunk memories or their families travels if possible — the pasted stickers and luggage tags to exotic destinations, with memories of its travels in each image, example shown right! It was retiring to live in the family home.

Above, assessment images of condition issues before treatment.

For a full accounting of our treatment go to our blog:

Walnut Lane Chest circa

The walnut family Lane Chest had crackling veneer issues at the base, shown before treatment, right, which prompted the visit to MPFC.

We matched the grain patterns when we replaced the damaged veneer, and then gave the lovely chest a warm wax polish. After treatment images above.

Above, additional chests and trunks can be found in Maryhill Museum: Queen Marie Collection and Maryhill Museum: Sam Hill Collection, and then there is the humble painted wood box from the Superintendent’s residence in Crater Lake National Park, which Kate loved and MPFC conserved as a gift.

If you are interested in other wooden objects, see below: