Musée du Baggage
An intriguing look inside the historic Museum of Baggage in Haguenau, France
By Robin Jay
Crack open an Oxford Dictionary from the year 1596 and you’ll find the first official definition of the term “luggage.” The word, derived from the verb lug, means to drag that which needs to be lugged about. Why is this of any significance? Just ask Marie and J.P. Rolland.
Both grew up in the quaint medieval town of Haguenau, France. German King Frederick I Barbarossa founded Haguenau in the 12th century when he built a palace there to preserve the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, including Charlemagne’s sword. Haguenau is known in history books for the centuries of fraught and feuding it endured as the buffer border town connecting France and Germany.
No wonder why the importance of history is woven into the daily lives of the Rollands, or why they eventually tired of their stressful employment at a modern-era software company – and quit one day to focus on what they both loved: restoring antique luggage.
“My grandfather was an airplane captain. I always remember his stories – and his leather trunk – with a nice memory. That’s why I love history, travel and luggage so much,” said J.P., explaining that he and Marie learned the art of vintage luggage restoration by studying old books and catalogues; traveling to Switzerland for workshops; collaborating with trunk makers, shoemakers, leather makers and lock-and-key makers; and learning to sew with an “old needlewoman of Hermès.”
“We wanted to do something with our hands,” J.P. continued. “And so we started to restore several pieces of furniture, like a cupboard, and we also restored a trunk. The trunk was really beautiful because of its history, because it was made with many materials and because it told a story.”
Stories indeed. Steamer trunks, hand crafted of pine, leather, fine papers and embossed tin, proved most popular between 1850 and 1930 when the wealthy traveled for extended periods – sometimes months on end. “It could take 20 days to travel just from New York to Washington, for example,” J.P. noted. The high cost of travel in that era meant that it was reserved for families of nobility – who could afford to commission hand-constructed trunks, often 40 or 50 of them, to transport their necessities.
“A man could not go out without his hat. So, every hat had a trunk to protect it during travel” J.P. said. “Men were traveling with about two hats. Women were traveling with six or 10 hats.”
For travelers for whom money was no object, artisans in the 19th century Paris – including La Maison Goyard and Louis Vuitton – created trunks with tremendous custom variation. They contained clever amenities like trays for documents and shirts, cubbies for jewelry, pullout boards for ironing, and sections to store dishes and utensils.
“The wardrobe trunk was gorgeous! The clothes of madam (or mister) were tidied up in an interior closet and in drawers. Everything was very well kept and classified in trays,” J.P. said.
Musée du Bagage is Born
When J.P. and Marie first started restoring antique trunks, it was just for their personal collection at home. But when they reached their 10th trunk, the couple realized their passion was far more than just a hobby. Their luggage collection grew and became increasingly expensive to sustain. “We’d sell the one piece we loved less in order to buy another one. Some items we just couldn’t sell – because they were too nice or historically sentimental.”
Little more than three years ago, the Rollands’ antique baggage collection filled their attic and much of their home. Friends and acquaintances started requesting tours of the precious relics.
“Our collection represented the history of the evolution of luggage,” J.P. explained. “In 2011, my wife and I decided it was time to create a real museum and share the rich heritage of the collection with the public.”
Today, tucked amongst Haguenau’s ancient architecture and quintessential medieval fountains, tourists can discover the Rollands’ beloved legacy: the Musée du Bagage, which showcases some 600 trunks from the 1850s to the 1960s. “The museum collects, preserves, presents, maintains and restores suitcases, trunks and bags from all sources,” J.P. said. “It keeps the gestures and manufacturing methods of the past alive.”
Pieces of Distinction
When asked to tell about his favorite luggage pieces inside Musée du Bagage, J.P.’s eyes lit up. He paused to ponder – there were so many!
“One day, someone called to say they were sending us a picture of a grey trunk. We looked at it, saw a little piece of a mattress exceeding the edges, and recognized it immediately – it was a Louis Vuitton Bed Trunk. We rapidly joined the sale. The Louis Vuitton company wanted also to buy it, but they were too late,” said J.P. with a wry smile.
And then there’s the memorable day when an Italian trunk collector sent J.P. pictures of luggage he wanted to sell. The Rollands traveled to Italy and fell in love with 50 historic trunks. “And one was a very special one!” J.P. exclaimed. “We found the Goyard trunk that was owned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle had commissioned Goyard to make a secretary trunk so that he could write books during his travels. In the portable foldout desk, he could put his papers, his pencils, his directory to keep in touch with people – and his typewriter that he would place on the trunk’s wooden pullout tray that served as his office.”
The oldest piece of luggage in the Musée du Bagage dates back to 1650. “It’s a Nuremberg trunk. It’s all in metal,” said J.P. “It was protecting the important documents and money. And there is a false lock on it… to make thieves lose time by trying to open the
Also not to be missed is the tea trunk that allowed travelers to enjoy tea any time on their voyage. “They could make water hot with the teapot; there is a metal box for the tea, one for the sugar and one for the used tea. There is also a small tray with two cups, to have tea on the train.”
Another favorite is a piece owned by Madam Lily Pons, a prominent opera singer, who went to Louis Vuitton to order a trunk to carry her 30 pairs of shoes when she traveled. “It contained 30 drawers to protect each pair. Two drawers were made to protect the accessories needed to maintain the shoes, like the brush, the shoe polish and the small cloth for lustering. There is another tray that helped the handmaid to bring the black patent leather shoes to Madam Lily Pons, when she needed
to wear them on opera night.”
Let’s not forget the intriguing 1925 apothecary trunk made by luxury trunk maker Moynat. It has special compartments to carry every item – about 100 of them – a pharmacist may need during his travels. “There are two wash basins (one for cold water and one for hot water), a balance to weigh every element of the preparations,
a kettle and so on.”
One eccentric trunk on display is a dining table trunk. “You know, the top of it can be tidied up in the lid, just like that. The table folded up into a flat suitcase,” J.P. said.
Preserving A Dying Art
In 1850-1900, J.P. says there were more than 250 trunk makers in France. “Now, only four historically significant makers still exist – Goyard, Vuitton, La Malle Bernard, Moynat. Three new companies were created since then in France, and we are included in these three.”
When they’re not giving tours of the museum, J.P. spends most of his time restoring the outside of trunks, while Marie specializes in refurbishing the inside.
“Today, because of the airplane in particular, the trunk is dead to travel. So there are not so many trunks to create. People nowadays buy a new trunk for decoration,
because it tells a story and it’s great furniture at home,” J.P. said.
The Musée du Bagage is located at 5 rue St. Exupery 67500, Haguenau, France. The address for correspondence is:
Rêve de Bagages 11 rue de Berstheim 67500, Haguenau. The museum is open for tours on Sundays from February through November.
For an appointment, call 03.88.93.28.23 or go to www.la-malle-en-coin.com.