Here at OTC, we are lamenting the loss of one of our favorite bags – the No. 43 Mailbag – made by American leather goods brand Colonel Littleton. The design for the No. 43 was based on the iconic US Postal Service mail carrier bag, once a ubiquitous sight on America’s tree-lined streets.
This roomy and distinctive leather bag is beautifully crafted and exceptionally durable, ensuring that the more it’s used, abused, and put to work, the better it will age. The company sent us a No. 43, which we first reviewed in 2016 – loved it. So, we were quite saddened to recently learn that the Colonel decided to discontinue it.
To answer your next question, yes, there is indeed a real Colonel Littleton (he’s a genuine Kentucky Colonel). And while he may have a folksy demeanor and move on with the gait of a relaxed country doctor, don’t be mislead. He’s a sharp businessman who has turned what could have been a novelty idea into a rustic luxury brand that holds a deep respect from the cognoscenti of American craftsmen.
Based in the town of Lynneville, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive south from Nashville, Colonel Littleton the man, has created a company that reflects his values, sense of quality, and deep appreciation for history.
While they have a certain degree of theater about them, his bags stand toe-to-toe with any other brand we have reviewed when it comes to quality and construction. Colonel Littleton’s products have a distinctive, heritage-meets-steam-punk look that can speak to both Americana traditionalists and urban aesthetes; both key demographics in the high-end leather goods market.
In contrast to the clean and streamlined briefcases and bags we often see today, these have a decidedly functional and vintage look. Constructed with straps, brass fittings, military snaps, and engraved badges, Colonel Littleton bags are both beautiful and unmistakable.
Thick, full cut, naturally tanned leather hides are hand assembled, literally, under the Colonel’s watch. From product design to packing orders, his fixation on ensuring top quality and customer service is readily apparent.
To our mind, the No. 43 Mailbags embodied every aspect of what makes the Colonel Littleton brand so exceptional. While it captures the classic, form-follows-function elements of the original postman’s bag, it is very much a distinctively elegant heirloom.
For one thing, it’s made to last and last and last. It’s also just the right mix of practical and whimsy. The body of the bag is composed of a single large section and a full-length front pocket. Both are secured under a large flap by a single strap, secured by a very cool, and strong, military button snap.
Typically, this style of bag is prone to becoming a bit unwieldy and floppy when worn, but the entire structure of the No. 43 Mailbags are suspended from a cleverly placed copper tube. This unique, functional element adds some rustic elegance but also creates a support system for the detachable shoulder strap and handle and prevents the bag from buckling when placed down.
The shoulder strap is beautifully crafted and reminiscent of an old leather military belt. It can be adjusted to varying lengths by means of a solid brass double claw hook. While it is possible to wear this cross-body bag, we find it best suited for either shoulder or hand carrying – by means of a very comfortable layered leather handle.
As a briefcase, its capacity is enormous and can hold all manner of gear, from laptops to books to your gym clothes. The large, dry-milled leather flap is protective and also a defining feature of the bag. As this outer flap is not secured, it can be a little problematic on windy days. The addition of the secure strap with a snap closure underneath helps keep everything in its place.
While we hope he someday brings back the No. 43, every item offered by Colonel Littleton is worthy of consideration. The folks there are perfectionists and follow the lead of their boss.
Each aspect of the company’s interaction with a customer is built around Littleton’s stated awareness that he is in the “want” business, not the “needs” business. As a result, the company views their goods showing up on your doorstep as a privilege. You don’t need to buy their products, you want to buy them because you like what Colonel Littleton has to offer – and they in turn deeply value that trust.
Shipping boxes and even the packing tape are branded. Each box is carefully packed and each bag is lovingly protected in what we think is possibly the coolest dust bag we’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art in its own right. Lastly, they added a locally made Moon Pie – that iconic Tennessee treat – and a leather coaster embossed with the company’s motto, “Strive to be stellar.”
If you are looking for unique, rustically elegant, handmade American craftsmanship, Colonel Littleton is a brand about which you should learn more.
See below to take a look at how our No. 43 Mailbag originally arrived and how it’s been tested on the road.