Covered in red leather and adorned with painted floral borders and brass mountings, this trunk is made of fragrant camphorwood and was produced exclusively for export, likely in Canton, China. Camphorwood, which comes from a large evergreen native to China, Indonesia, and Brazil, was long used in China to make cabinets for storing important documents, as the wood naturally repels insects. Due to the natural insecticidal properties of the wood, these trunks were also very popular with the military, whose woolen uniforms faced constant infestation on long campaigns. The trunks were made in various sizes, usually in nesting sets that ranged from two to five feet in length. The smallest trunk would often be packed with tea. The leather was generally painted and ornamented with floral motifs or decorative swags fashioned of tacks. By the eighteenth century, European traders regularly commissioned orders of Western style furniture from Chinese craftsmen, often providing a design or sample to be copied. While many examples of Spanish colonial decorative arts adapt Oriental types and decorative motifs, these travel trunks, also called "sea trunks," were specifically made by Chinese workshops for Western consumption, many of which found their way to Latin America and the US.
JoAnna Reyes Walton, Research Assistant, Latin American Art, 2015