This trunk is fabulous, as it is a noble person’s trunk from the 17th century. (See box/trunk/strongbox/cassone.)
I can see by the coat of arms in double cartouches that the gent who owned it in 1650 or so was from Lyon, as we see the triple fleur de lis and the lion rampant as being the symbol of the French city.
We know the crown is a city emblem because we see in both roundels the French mural crown, which is granted only to municipalities and officials of those municipalities.
Lyon is the ancient capital of Gaul. The noble person who owned this trunk was probably a canon of Lyon. Canons were the lords of the noblest houses. The canons in public proclamations — “most noble counts of Lyon” — had to prove that they were nobles de quatre races, on both the paternal and maternal side. In other words, they had to demonstrate that all their great-grandparents had been noble — the notorious seize quartiers or “sixteen quarterings” of a coat-of-arms. So there we see the coat of arms on this trunk which matches that tradition.
French history of antiquity is often termed the history of “The Ancien Regime.” Thus the First Bishop of Lyons (553-74) established the nobility of Lyon. This was solidified by Charlemagne, who entitled the hereditary roles of the noblemen of Lyon.
This noble heredity was attached to the Cathedral of Lyon.
For hundreds of years, if you were a noble person descending from great grandparents who were 100% noble, you were allowed to be a canon of the Cathedral. So important did these noble folks think they were, that they decided not to bend their knees to the floor at Mass, and they expected to wear a bishop’s miter at Mass, even though they were not ordained.
In 1744, no less than Madame de Pompadour asked a canon of the Cathedral of Lyon to be in her service.
His full name was Francois Joachim du Pierre Comte de Lyonnaise.
Being clergy, the canon had little money. Madame de Pompadour claimed to have raised him from the mud. In response to that claim, Francois said : “No Count of Lyon is raised from any mud.” Interestingly for a clergyman, he wrote the biography of Casanova.
This trunk is from 17th century, and I would put it right in the middle of that century. And it was meant to carry unbelievably valuable objects, of fine clothing, no doubt, and probably jewels as well. (There was a little box that was firmly affixed inside the trunk.)
Security was enhanced by the mortise and tenon construction. It was very solid, and the trunk was made of walnut, a very strong wood, and put together with — not nails — but joinery.
The trunk is enforced by strapwork-inside and outside, wide pierced wrought iron straps and a great hasp and carrying handles. You can see the hinges are handmade and hand hammered.
The lock is magnificent because it has three tumblers, which means the turn of the original key would have provided three little iron C- hooks to be engaged, and if someone wanted into the trunk, he would have had to virtually pick three locks.
You see on the top of the trunk the deep rivets that cemented the construction, so that even if someone were to have broken into it, they would have had to get each board away from the interior trapwork that secured the exterior. You can peel off exterior strapwork but not interior!
It is still very strong, and that’s why it exists today, much to our pleasure.
Another word for these trunks of this era is a strongbox, but this is bigger than a strongbox, which usually carried only money and jewels. Therefore, I am surmising this was meant to carry clothing and jewels and perhaps money as well.
Remember, in the 17th century, clothing determined your status, and fine fabrics were beyond the reach of common folk. So that’s why I say this box was built for both jewels and clothing.
Because noble people, especially continental nobles, traveled from one manor home to another throughout the year in the 17th century, these trunks were necessary as traveling by horseback or carriage involved the threat of thieves.
The reason this trunk is still intact is because it is so strong.
I would put the value at $3,000 easily if you were to sell it.
If you were to insure it, the value would be higher.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.