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Pony Express Trunk

A trunk used by Pony Express rider was gifted to the museum in November by Mrs. Frances Haywood of Cape Cod, ME. The trunk owner’s name, William Pridham, is printed on both ends with a sticker inside identifying it to 1873 Wells Fargo in San Francisco. After working as a Pony Express rider, William Pridham was employed by Wells Fargo for 50 years. A trunk used by Pony Express rider was gifted to the museum in November by Mrs. Frances Haywood of Cape Cod, ME. The trunk was sent to Van Witt Fine Art Conservation to be restored in November 2018. The trunk went on display in the museum in February 2019.  

From Van Witt Art Conservation:

[We were] asked to restore an antique trunk for the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. Trunks like this one, with its specially-designed trays, were once used to transport mail on stagecoaches during the early days of the Postal Service.


This particular trunk was in rough condition - the canvas body was relatively stable, but it was heavily stained, and the leather components had started to rot. The labels, spines, and interior showed evidence of fraying and rodent damage, and the entire trunk was heavily covered in soot, tar and oil residue, nicotine stains, and a variety of mysterious stains and debris. Considering its years of exposure and rough handling, it's impressive that the trunk lasted as long as it did, but it was now clearly showing its age. Clearly, this was going to be an involved project for Peggy Van Witt and her team.


The first step was to remove the layers of soot and grime from the canvas body and trays. A special vacuum tool with a HEPA filter was used to remove any loose debris, then the entire trunk was treated with conservation cleaning solutions and soft brushes. Afterwards, the conservation team stabilized all the loose edges and threads to prevent further fraying and clean up the overall appearance.


Next, the leather components were treated for rot to prevent further decay, then reinforced and sealed. Small cracks and flakes had to be adhered one by one - an extremely time-consuming process. The most noticeable scratches and scuffs were inpainted with conservation paints to match the leather's natural patina. Finally, all the brass and copper buckles and rivets were carefully polished and sealed, and the original paper labels were preserved and reattached.


This entire process took over two months, but the results were more than worth it.

With care, patience, and expertise, Ms. Van Witt and her team successfully reversed the passage of time. Most importantly, Van Witt Fine Art Conservation was privileged to be a part of maintaining the history of those who connected our country during an unstable era in American History.

Click here to see a Behind the Scenes look on the restoration of the trunk.

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