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    Auction Finds

    What’s the story behind old suitcase filled with toddler’s clothes?

    At some point, I’m sure, the little girl’s clothes had been neatly folded and lovingly placed in the suitcase. But by the time I came upon them at auction, too many hands had unfolded and jostled them.

    The suitcase – a single piece of vintage luggage in brown tweed with leather trim and a soiled bottom – held the travel wear of a little girl off to visit someone or to vacation with her family. The mother no doubt had packed her little undergarments, caps, dresses, skirts and tops for that trip, along with several pairs of well-worn shoes.

    I wondered where exactly they were headed. I was one of the auction-goers who moved the clothes around in the suitcase, but I was looking for some papers or other documents that would give me some idea of who these garments had belonged to. But I found nothing.

    suitcase with toddler clothes

    An array of a toddler’s clothes inside the suitcase at auction.

    It did get me to guessing. Based on the size of the clothes and shoes, they appeared to have belonged to a toddler – a little girl at least 2 to 2 ½ years old. The suitcase and the clothes appeared to have been from the early part of the 20th century. The family – seemingly middle class – would likely have traveled by train or car.

    But why were the clothes still in the suitcase, still packed, and obviously stored away somewhere? Had the trip been canceled? Did something happen to this child before the trip commenced? Was her suitcase lost or misplaced on the trip, and never found?

    The contents of this suitcase were much more mundane than what was found in an old suitcase at the University of Pennsylvania Museum recently. Museum officials opened a 50-year-old suitcase that had belonged to M. Louise Baker, an early archaeological illustrator of Mayan pottery for the museum, as well as a fine artist/painter. The suitcase didn’t include any of her illustrations – the museum has plenty of her works that were donated by her family – but its opening did prove to be a dramatic exercise.

    suitcase with toddler clothes

    The exterior of the suitcase shows some wear on the bottom.

    Inside were photographic negatives of children, a news clipping about one of Baker’s projects and a letter she wrote aboard ship on one of her trips. Not earth-shattering but the suitcase did hold more than clothing.

    A little aside: At least the parents of this little girl from the auction suitcase didn’t decide to send her through the mail. That’s what some parents were said to have done after the U.S. Post Office started shipping large Parcel Post packages through the mail in January 1913. Parents of an 8-month-old baby boy sent him to his grandparents for 15 cents plus $50 insurance. Newspaper accounts of his trip were said to have prompted other parents to do the same. The postmaster put a stop to this practice – which seemed to be common in rural areas – six months after the Parcel Post service was begun.

    A year later, a 4-year-old was sent through the mail by train, but she was accompanied by a relative who worked for the railway mail service.

    As for the suitcase at auction, what’s your guess about the story behind it?

    suitcase with toddler clothes

    An inside pocket in the suitcase holds a pair of pink shoes. There were also scuffed white shoes among the clothes.


    suitcase with toddler clothes

    Caps and other clothes from the toddler’s suitcase.


    suitcase with toddler clothes

    More clothes from the toddler’s suitcase.

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    1. For several years, I kept a suitcase filed with some of my first born’s baby items — cloth diapers, receiving blankets, knit romper worn home from the hospital, fleece coat and bunting, among other items. Special dresses that my mother purchased for her when she was between the ages of 2 and 4 still hang in a closet to this day. My daughter will be 40 this year. (As a doll collector, some of the baby shoes and clothing she and my son wore are now worn by child-size dolls.)

      Perhaps the items in the suitcase were not placed there for travel. They, too, may have been kept for sentimental reasons as clothing and shoes the mother cherished the most.


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