One of my all-time favorites is the Counterfeit Mailbag, from the J. Peterman Company. In fact, it’s one of the first bags I ever wrote about and was sent to me by John Peterman himself – it can’t really get better than that.
The bag, based on the classic leather workhorse lugged across the country by a generation of letter carriers, is simple and classic. Unique enough to be modern and fit effortlessly into the current “heritage” trend it is also timeless enough to always look current.
A fantastic example of this staying power was brought to my attention by one of my readers in California. Though she asked to remain anonymous, this globe-trotting lady has had a 15-year love affair with her J. Peterman mailbag. For those of us who knew J. Peterman back in the day, those first Owner’s Manual catalogs, with the now iconic watercolor illustrations, were collector’s items.
Products like the Counterfeit Mailbag were and still are the core of Peterman’s unique and creative product mix.
With my sincere thanks, here is her story, in her own words (these are her pictures too, what a great looking bag):
Back in 1994 when I bought the Counterfeit Mailbag, $300 was a lot of money to me. I remember the year because I got it at the same time the Olympics were in Norway. It was almost a full month’s rent. I coveted the bag from the moment I first saw it in the J. Peterman Catalog. I tore the page out of the catalog, pinned it to my fridge together with an envelope. Every time I had an extra $1 or $5, I stuck it in the envelope. Eventually after about a year I had enough to buy it.
I remember being so excited when it came – I took pictures of it! They are right… when you first get it, you are afraid of every little scratch or the rain… but the fears pass away as the bag gets worn in. The leather becomes very soft and supple. Of course it is worn, dirty and has an ink stain on the side from a leaky pen — but that just gives it character. I still get compliments on the bag all the time.
The amazing thing is that this bag has really, truly stood the test of time. I am in awe. I have probably unzipped that zipper 30-40,000 times. It’s never once given me a bit of problem. It’s never needed repairs, either. All of the stitching has held beautifully, even the parts that get the most wear and tear. They just don’t make quality stuff like this anymore. The description in the catalog is right — it will most certainly outlast me.
My bag has been with me in all my travels over the years: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Jordon, Egypt, across China, Tibet, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Russia, just about every country in Europe, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru – and all over the U.S. It was even with me in a crowd of millions on The Mall when Obama took the oath of office.
Hint: When filled with clothing, the bag makes a perfect impromptu pillow.
I realize that some people like a bag or suitcase with lots of pockets – but not me. I find that the one deep pocket serves me well. I use 2-3 smaller zippered enclosures to keep toiletries and other small items organized, but that’s about it.
I travel extremely lightly. So light that you’d think I was going away for 1 night. On most of those trips, the only bag I took was this one and one smaller purse for those times I didn’t want to take the bag with me. I learned very early that you really don’t need much to travel. Most things can be purchased along the way.
Another hint: I keep a small fake wallet in my bag, right near the top. I keep a few bills of the local currently in there along with some business cards and such. It’s been pick pocketed 2-3 times in my travels and I handed it over when I was mugged once in Italy — but they’ve never gotten the real one which I keep in the zippered section and most passport/credit card/extra money in an around the waist money belt.
It’s an investment that’s been well worth every penny I spent.