There are few material goods as satisfying as an elegant and nicely burnished-by-time piece of leather. The kind of leather that will age gracefully and show increasingly more interesting patina as it gets older.
The best example from my personal collection is a simple breast pocket Prince Gardner wallet that was my father’s dress wallet for many years. It performs the same function for me to this day. I’m sure it’s fifty years old if it’s a day. It’s made of thin, stiff, bridle leather. It would probably be impossible to find something of comparable quality for what the Prince Gardner sold for fifty or sixty years ago. Which was probably five bucks, if that.
Ye Olde Prince Gardner Wallet
When I wear a blazer or suit, I often change out my ID and credit cards from my regular front-pocket wallet and go for the gusto with the old Gardner. It’s worth that extra hassle to enjoy the sinfully retro pleasure that comes from producing a well-made wallet from your breast pocket to pay the check in a fine restaurant. Life is easily enriched by such simple pleasures.
Speaking of good leather, nothing quite takes the sting out of working long hours in a window-less cubicle—or a corner office with ceiling to floor windows, for that matter— like high quality leather attaches and briefcases.
Hermès Sac a Depeche
JFK used a wonderfully decadent alligator Hermès Sac a Depeche that was a wedding gift from Jackie. (Or a gift from his father, depending on who is telling the story.) It was recently sold for a staggering $700,000 at auction, but you don’t have to spend such heavy coin to find an acceptable briefcase. You can obtain a passable example of the leather maker’s art in briefcase form and do it for around a hundred bucks.
Last time I checked, you can peruse around 60 pages at your leisure when hunting briefcases on the Bay. They’re all there: Hermès and vintage Hermès, “veddy British” makers like SAB (just Google it), and Cartier. All the high-end cases you could ever want. And most all of them cost in the thousands. Of course they do. Even on eBay.
Believe it or not, and granted you have to educate your eye, you can actually find something very nice for around a hundred dollars. If you aren’t as picky as yours truly, you may well even get off cheaper.
I prefer items that aren’t beat to death with loads of “character” in the form of worn-to-tatters straps and edges. If you like such character, eBay will be even better for you. There’s a ton of really roached and beat stuff out there and if that is your bag—forgive the pun—the character and quality of many items still can’t be beaten.
A lot of these really cool bags are classic messenger-style cases and many are coming out of Europe. I remember my first visit to Germany almost twenty five years ago. Every German school kid walking down the street seemed to have a briefcase that looked just like the J. Peterman 1928 Air Corps Briefcase I lusted after at the time. They’re all on eBay now.
I recently went vintage cool hunting for a more professional replacement for my old 1928 J. Peterman briefcase. (Yes, I eventually got one of those.) The Peterman case was certainly robust but it looked a little more Indiana Jones than I wanted or needed twenty years on. Twenty years on I still wanted a vintage-looking briefcase, but one with a little less patina and a little more functionality.
(I like patina, but no finish at all was a bit too much. Plus, the design just wasn’t working for me anymore, functionality wise.) I looked at pages and pages on the Bay and then…I saw…it.
It had the beautiful tobacco brown hue I was looking for. Lighter in color than the new, darker brown cases they sell today. It had a shoulder strap for those days when you feel the need for it—although, for the record, we greatly prefer the look of the bag sans shoulder strap.
Made in America? Check. Good quality steer hide leather? Check. Lifetime warranty? Check.
Jack Georges has been around since the late 1980s and they've been steadily establishing a reputation for quality leather bags for professionals at very attractive prices—with a genuine lifetime warranty. I found a gently used #2456 from the University Collection and was instantly smitten. It had The Look.
It was old-school soft sided briefcase meets modern user-friendly messenger bag to create upscale everyday carry nirvana. The bag is decidedly Coach-like in design (supposedly, Jack Georges was once a designer at Coach). Unlike most of the Coach bags of the last 20 years, it’s still made in the USA from good old steer hide.
The hide is thick, but supple. It is thick enough to convey quality, but light enough to make it ‘just right’ when you are carrying it to the next meeting. What more do you need? A little lightness is appreciated in a bag you have to carry around all day, maybe on the metro on your way to work. The turn lock closures are adequately secure and prevent the contents of the bag from spilling out.
My old J. Peterman bag tended to dump its contents unless at least one of the straps was fastened. The single turn lock alone was never strong enough to keep the bag together when it had any weight on board. The 2456 doesn’t spill open even with both turn-locks undone due to the sturdy, ingenious design.
Jack Georges still makes the 2456 and they are great values even when purchased brand new for a few hundred dollars. The high quality, American-made construction, combined with the great warranty, all make for an attractive package.
JFK wore classic American-made sunglasses from makers like Ray-Ban and American Optical—the latter company from his home turf of Massachusetts. I think if he were still alive today and in need of a satchel, he might very well give the Jack Georges line of American-made cases a good, long look. It would also be more politically correct for a man running for office. When was the last time a candidate dared to carrry around an alligator case?
The JG 2456 is my number one choice when traveling. The soft-sided construction makes it superior to my pet Filson Field Satchel for a serious hard knocks travel bag. The soft sides let it expand and hold all sorts of odds and ends quite easily, which is appreciated when I'm on the road.
Here are a two photos showing it with a "light load" of coffee table book, large paperback, 13-inch MacBook Air, Surefire LX2 flashlight, Fisher AG-7 Space Pen, and vintage Parker 51 pencil.
We think it’s a damned good good bag, especially for the money.