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Vintage Samsonite Luggage

Updated on March 14, 2015

Samsonite - Retro, Nostalgic, Collectible, Practical

Samsonite luggage has been popular for a long time. Vintage pieces from the 50s and 60s are fairly easily found at charity thrift shops and eBay. They were available in the 1940s as well, but those are harder to find (due partly to their being older and also because of the war).

A company called Shwayder Brothers, that made furniture such as card tables and folding chairs (they also made the popular LEGO toy), also included a line of luggage called Samson, that eventually evolved into the Samsonite line.

One of the reasons for the popularity of Samsonite luggage was its strength and durability. An advertisement from 1945 proclaimed that Samsonite luggage was a, "popular traveling companion of our men and women of uniform. They've done a rugged job and they appreciate rugged luggage...luggage that stays smart in any climate." The ad also stated that it was the luggage "that's strong enough to stand on."

Samsonite suitcases are still made to this day, having evolved to be lighter in weight, usually with fabric sides (no longer the kind of luggage to "stand on") but also some hard bodied styles, for more frequent traveling their style is very different from those in the past, but remains a great luggage still popular with travelers.

But it is the older pieces that are sought out by people for their nostalgic appeal and cool looks. They are great for home décor. They can be used for storage. Some people even transform them into items like tables or pet beds. Or they can be just stacked somewhere for ambience.

Vintage Samsonite Ad courtesy of 1950sUnlimited

1950s to 1960s Samsonite Luggage

Some of the Samsonite clothing suitcases from the 50s and late 60s often tapered towards the top, making them distinct from other suitcases of the era. I haven't yet figured out why they were designed this way. I like to collect vintage suitcases and stack them in a small tower to use as storage and décor in my home, but find the tapered Samsonite suitcases and briefcase/overnight cases harder to stack in this way. Or perhaps not harder to stack exactly, but as each piece slopes forward they are not as suitable to use as "table tops."

One common line from the era consisted of a simple brown colors that ads named "Colorado Brown" and "Saddle Tan" that came in either a faux "rawhide" or "alligator" finish. Another color was called "Hawaiian Blue."

There was also a "marbleized" line with cream, tan, green and blue colors with a faux marble appearance. Another fun line was one that had a tweed like finish and subtle amount of glitter (I've seen these in blue and gray, but believe they come in other colors too).

1960s - 1970s Samsonite Suitcases

Samsonite suitcases from the late 1960s t0 1970s took on a very different appearance from the previous era. The materials changed to a hard plastic body, with a rounded body and rounded corners a pebbled texture. Bright colors such as red, pink, blue as well as more mellow shades such as yellow, brown and avocado green appeared. Although I think they are rare I have seen bright purple Samsonite as well. White suitcases were available as well.

Suitcases from this era were advertised as having "seal tight closings" and being scuff and stain resistant (although they certainly did get scuffs and stains from what I have seen)

What Era is that Samsonite Suitcase From?

Although in the sections above I have separated the luggage shown as being from the "50s to 60s" most of the ebay listings from that section will say they are from the "50s." And the section of suitcases from the "60s to 70s" will show suitcases listing them from the 60s even though they are from the 70s. This is because this how the pieces are often listed on eBay from the sellers. We have a perception of certain pieces being from one era when they might really be from another. What becomes new in the end of one decade becomes more popular or common in the beginning of the next decade, so we may associate it with that era instead of the one where it was introduced. Or they were common in both eras. I have seen what I tend to think of as the "50s" style of Samsonite suitcases in magazine ads from both the 50s and 60s.

Just because a seller lists and item as being from a certain era doesn't mean it is. For some, knowing the time period the luggage is from will be unimportant. For others though it will be important indeed.

One of the best ways to get a better idea of what era a Samsonite suitcase is from is to look at vintage ads for them. These can be found on eBay, and other websites that sell vintage advertising from magazines and other paper ephemera. (Vintage ads for Samsonite can be fun to collect in their own right. You can display them next to your vintage Samsonite as well.)

Old Samsonite Suitcases and Luggage Poll

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Vintage Samsonite Train Cases

Among my favorite pieces of vintage Samsonite luggage are the train cases, also known as cosmetic or makeup cases. These smaller cases, meant for ladies to carry on the train (and later planes) to hold things like makeup, toiletries and jewelry usually had a mirror in the lid a removable tray with compartments to separate makeup and/or jewelry, a larger space below the tray often had fabric pockets or loops to secure bottles of lotions, perfumes, shampoo, etc.

Because these cases were meant to carry cosmetics and toiletries they tend to be more likely to have stains or other damage resulting from spills and such than other luggage pieces.

Mirrors and trays sometimes get lost or broken. Keys are often lost as well. So it is nice when you can find a train case that includes any of these items.

Modern Samsonite Luggage

How has Samsonite changed over the years? Even if you love the look of old Samsonite luggage you probably wouldn't want to travel with it. The new lighter luggage, that often have wheels too, might be better for today's modern traveler and they can keep the vintage stuff at home.

Guestbook Comments

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    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I used to have one of these but let it go during one of my cross-country moves. Fun page.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 4 years ago

      I have some old suitcases too which I just love. They make interesting decorations.

    • DreamsBloom profile image

      DreamsBloom 4 years ago

      @Frischy: Those sound neat. By the way, there are a lot of tutorials online on how to paint, decoupage or otherwise decorate suitcases if you don't quite like the color (like avocado green) or such.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 4 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I have a few old suitcases. I still have one piece from a set my grandmother bought me when I went to college in the 1970s. It resembles those Samsonite cases, but I don't think it was. It is avocado green. I also have the suitcase my grandmother took with her when she married my grandfather in 1935. I should do something with these things instead of just stashing them in the closet and under the bed.