I’m a sucker for a nice leather briefcase. And I don’t mean the super slick shiny kind. I’ve already written about my love affair with my modern favorite, the Filson Field Satchel. But aside from it, I generally prefer burnished by time, patina-rich satchels that can only be found second hand.
Antique and junk shops and eBay are your best bet. I recently scored a decent example of the breed for less than two bills (C-notes, not the big stuff) and thought it was worth sharing with the collective.
Why We Like It
Have you ever been walking down the street and saw somebody carrying a seriously cool briefcase or bag and thought to yourself, where did they get that?
A more 21st century example: I was recently watching a documentary about the Titanic on Netflix and saw historian and author Tim Maltin sporting a beautiful vintage briefcase that, yes, made me green with envy.
I mean it had that perfect antique shade of tobacco brown that only comes from honest age and wear. The bag I just bought is like that. There is just no faking real character.
If you’ve ever coveted a stranger’s briefcase, you’re not alone. Most of the bags you’re admiring on the street were made recently, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the really cool bags weren’t made recently, and if you look closely you’ll notice the difference.
A lot of bags are made to look old fashioned, but there is no substitute for true patina; a cared for, well-used bag will always look more amazing than a brand spanking new one.
This new-to-me bag is incredible. It's made of English bridle leather, which is produced through a very time consuming process that yields a very high quality, thick hide that’s meant to last and take plenty of abuse.
Just like this bag's sturdy brass lock.
Notice it's riveted to the bag, both the male as well as female sections. Sturdy indeed. They literally don't make them like this anymore. Not for $200.
New bags made from bridle leather are very expensive. Note how much my old satchel looks like a new Sterling & Burke Triple Gusset Document Case that runs close to three grand. (And yes, they are magnificent. I visited their shop in DC last summer and they sell gorgeous, top quality English leather goods.)
The dealer who sold me my vintage satchel said it was a collector's item, probably pre-1945, with no maker's mark. The lack of maker's mark is a clue to its age.
He said it was a nice bag to be enjoyed, but not every day. He recommended mink oil (some vintage collectors swear by Pecard Antique Leather Dressing) on the underside of the leather, and a gentle working in of slim books and sundries and such to break it in.
Nothing too hasty.
One of my favorite vintage luggage dealers, Bentley's of London, prefers Lord Sheraton's Leather Balsam for vintage leather. I do, too.
I think the Hermès Sac a Depeche-style (or fish-tail) handle is a nice touch.
So a new satchel like this, sold today, would probably sell for a couple grand. Keep your eyes peeled and you may run across something similar for a steal, like I did.
Happy vintage cool hunting.