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Purses, Satchels And Briefcases: Do You Know Where Your Favourite Leather Bag Has Come From?


Take a look at your leather bag. Have you ever wondered where this fine piece of designer accessory has come from? Who would have thought of tanning or waxing leather and sewing it into such a magnificent structure that it would become a favourite among generations to come. Be it your purse, your satchel, or your leather briefcase – they all have fascinating origin stories.

The leather purse

Even though a purse means a small bag to hold your money in Britain, in American culture it’s generally a handbag. Mostly popular among women, you may have seen a recent trend of man-purses in the last few years. However, it’s hardly a recent trend – purses were originally created for men and they go back to as much as 5000 years. Otzi The Iceman, Europe’s oldest mummy was found in the Alps in 1991 with a chamois leather purse with a strap attached to it. Several Egyptian hieroglyphs also depict men carrying purses.

leather purse

It was only in the early Middle Ages that purses became popular among both men and women. Made with round pieces of leather and sealed with a drawstring at the top, these leather purses were carried around the girdle as a belt instead of carrying cross the shoulder with a strap. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the trend of pockets in men’s clothes rendered the purses unnecessary for them. However, it continued to be a popular choice of accessory for women.

In 1841, a man named Samuel Parkinson observed that his wife would find it hard to carry her belongings in a small bag while travelling. So he ordered for a purse made of the same quality leather that he used for carrying his belongings. Thus, upon Parkinson’s orders, the first modern leather handbag was designed by a man called H.J Cave.

The leather satchel

leather satchel

The ever so trendy leather satchel came from an ingenious little invention by the ancient Greeks – the loculus. The word loculus literally translates to ‘the little place’, and it was the perfect size for all Roman legionaries to carry their lunches across miles and miles of terrain. A simple leather envelope-like bag attached to a long strap, this was the first ever version of the famous leather satchel. The trend travelled across Europe  and soon Scottish monks from 300 AD cottoned on to the usefulness of the leather satchel, and started carrying them around spreading the word of God around the country. The satchels were mainly used for one simple purpose – to carry the Bible. However, the leather satchels graduated from being the ‘messenger’ of God (pun intended) to being one of the most popular accessories among teenagers and children in the 17th century. It remained a popular choice for a leather school bag for centuries, and during the 1950s it was a task to spot a kid without using one.

Today, the leather satchel has become one of the most sought after leather bags thanks to the constant popularisation of it through art and culture starting from Shakespeare in As You Like It, where he talks about a whining school boy with his satchel and a bright young face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school to Flynn Rider in Tangled, and not forget the great Indiana Jones.

The leather briefcase

Let’s have a look at this 100% genuine leather briefcase made out of goatskin, it has polished brass used for the metal accessories, and comes with comfortable 54-47 inch adjustable shoulder strap - perfect for modern day business commute, right? Now think about where it came from. While the loculus can be considered the seed of the satchel, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that it also gave birth to the idea of leather briefcases. The first variant of the modern briefcases could be traced back to the era of Napoleon, whose soldiers are known to carry a haversack, a bit like leather briefcases and leather backpacks. The same trend was followed by the soldiers of the Civil War.

leather briefcase

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, iron and polished steel were added to these bags, making them sturdier and travel friendly. Leather corners, metal clasps and handles made the modern leather briefcases idea for an elegant business look. Soon it was extremely popular among the upper class as more and more doctors, lawyers, barristers and other white collar professionals were seen carrying leather briefcases with them. The trend was further popularized by the British bureaucracy who immortalized the classic red briefcase that held the papers of annual Budget Days since 1860. By the 60s and 70s, fashion changed and square edged briefcases gave way to more personalized, designer leather briefcases. It continues to be one of the most preferred bags of choice by businessmen all over the world.