Waterproof travel bag in canvas & leather forest green, handmade by Mackenzie Leather Edinburgh.

History of: The Gladstone

History Of The Gladstone Bag

It’s an icon. A bag full of character and crafted by our talented team year on year. But where did the design come from? And how did it become so popular? This month we take a look at the History of: (our most beloved) Gladstone.

The Leather Gladstone and it’s compact companion, The Gladstonette, have been firm favourites of the Mackenzie collection since we established our trade back in 1990. Sometimes known as a Doctor’s or Physician bag, our original design has been perfected over the years, using Mackenzie cuts, fastenings and flair to create our signature product. Even in the relatively short time since we adopted the name, it’s become a timepiece of history.

The origins are quite literally ancient – ancient Greek and Egyptian level ancient – with early medical writings documenting the use of specially fitted cases for holding all of the necessary items a doctor could need while visiting patients. During the 18th and 19th century these visits would have been made under considerably more challenging conditions than we’re used to today, including on foot, cart or horseback. The two vital requirements of a physician’s bag were capacity and portability – and in the mid 1800s a standout bag appeared and immediately began to fulfil these needs more than others…

The Gladstone Bag was originally designed by J. G. Beard at his leather shop in the City of Westminster. Beard was an avid admirer of four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone, so much so that he named this famous hinged bag after him. From 1859 onwards Gladstone’s new-world view and liberal approach to politics led to more opportunity for travel. When packing for these adventures it is said a row of Gladstone holdalls would line the hallway of No. 10 Downing Street before each trip, paving the way for a new trend. As an inspirational figure during his time, many political peers and other ministers of State followed suit. Towards the end of the 19th Century, and the end of Gladstone’s political reign, the Gladstone Travel bag became symbolic with British class and refinery, being sold to London’s elite in bespoke retailers on New Bond Street and Piccadilly.

Despite an improvement in travelling conditions over the past century (it may not seem like it during a Friday evening rush hour, but let’s be honest, the commute would have been worse on horseback) – the requirements and expectations of a traditional Gladstone bag have remained the same. Whether you’re heading on a relaxing holiday or needing a roomy holdall for more strenuous daily tasks, the Gladstone will always be the dream bag for travel.

At Mackenzie Leather, our take on the iconic Gladstone bag is centred around quality. We only use the best Spanish and Italian hide leather in our Leather Gladstone and Leather Gladstonette, that gradually gains character over time, giving your bag a beautiful and distinctive worn charm over the duration of it’s long-lasting life. We also craft a Canvas & Leather design using 18oz waxed cotton canvas, sourced and made in Scotland, providing this classic design with maximum strength and durability.

It’s iconic around the world and a pioneer in our workshop – we have a Mackenzie version of this British classic to suit everyone. Get in touch with our team in-store or online and discover your own variety of the historic Gladstone bag.

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