I have been using the Rustic Leather Replica US Mail Bag for quite some time now. I reported on my initial impression some time ago—that the bag is beautiful and practical, and could be improved by slightly widening the top flap (which Rustic Leather intends to do). Today, I offer you my full review.
The TL;DR version of this review is simply this: this mailbag is classy, lightweight, and spacious. If the pictures and description already have you drooling and you are on the fence about whether to buy this sumptuous messenger, buy it. It feels even better in your hand than it looks in the pictures. So, if you already want it and you’re reading this like a person who asks for advice (eg. only looking to be affirmed in a predetermined course of action), then go for it. They are made in limited runs, so keep that in mind. This review will still be here when you get back.
Dave, Rustic Leather’s owner and leather craftsman, took great care in developing their Replica US Mail Bag because the project is close to his heart. His uncle Walter was a mail carrier when Dave was a child living in upstate New York, and Walter’s route would bring him by Dave’s family’s house every day. Dave was mesmerized by Walter’s leather mail bag and the fact that it carried letters from around the world. Walter passed away in 2004 (four years before Dave made his first bag), and Dave’s aunt, Fran, bequeathed Walter’s old mail bag to him, which he now keeps in his office. Dave was able to use this authentic US mail bag as a model for Rustic Leather’s rendition. However, taking the dimensions of a bag is one thing, while improving on a classic design and identifying the perfect leather for the task is another. Dave added a center divider, and mounted pockets, pen loops, and a key leash to it. He also added a newspaper pocket along the posterior of the bag. For the leather, he eventually selected a golden, waxy leather from the renowned SB Foot tannery in Red Wing, Minnesota. The result, as you can see, is striking.
Rustic Leather’s Replica US Mail Bag is made from 100% full-grain 5–6oz. bovine leather. Let’s break that down. “Full-grain” leather comprises the layers of skin closest to the exterior surface of the animal. The fibers there are knit together much tighter and are naturally better aligned, which results in the highest durability of any grade of leather. Additionally, full-grain leather tends to retain some of the appearance of the actual hide itself, including impressions from veins, and sometimes scars or brands, resulting in a ruggedly handsome look and feel. However, that is not all that matters. That this leather is 5–6oz. means it is especially thick. This makes the leather more expensive because the layers just under what can be considered “full grain” cannot be sold separately as “top grain” leather. This particular leather is tanned to a vintage mustard-brown hue and finished to a smooth, waxy texture that does not mark easily. The interior is a matching suede that I find difficult to keep my hands out of.
The SB Foot Tanning Company was originally founded by Silas Buck Foot and his partner in 1872. The urgent need for quality shoes had arisen among local farmers, to whom the company began selling moccasin-like footwear made from fur-on deer hide. Demand for their products outstripped their production, due in large part to the difficulty in sourcing quality hides, and so the cobblers forged their own upstream tanning company. During World War I, SB Foot became a popular source of leather for military footwear. Silas Buck Foot I’s unbridled passion for quality was passed down though his descendants and eventually inherited, along with his tannery, by Silas Buck Foot III.
SB Foot still “makes it like they used to,” although they’ve also upgraded their processes with the aid of some new techniques, combining proprietary family methods that have been refined over many generations with modern technology. They receive their hides in their”wet blue” state from feedlot cattle raised in Nebraska and Texas. That means the proteins in the skins have been stabilized in a chromium salt curing process. SB Foot grades the hides internally and then shaves them. From there, hides are stained all the way through by soaking them in tree and vegetable oils and tumbling them in wooden drums. Allowing the oils and dyes to penetrate the entire thickness of the leather enhances the longevity of both quality and color. From there, each hide’s life may take a different route at SB Foot, involving various oils, waxes, or finishes to achieve one of several different characteristic sets of properties. Finished hides may then be purchased by craftsmen.
Apparently, the correlation between being named Dave and being a leather-working artisan is almost as strong as the correlation between being named John or Jon and being a Reformed scholar. Rustic Leather’s own resident Dave originally got into leather work after realizing how discontented he was with the series of nylon and cheaply-made leather bags he had worn out through heavy use in business and adventure in Texas. He applied the industrial design skills he had acquired during 20+ years in the home automation industry to the creation of a one-of-kind messenger bag that could stand up to his purposes. After receiving one too many compliments on his bag, he sought out the mentorship of an accomplished leather craftsman and started Rustic Leather. Rustic Leather only produces heirloom-quality handmade leather goods, backed by their satisfaction guarantee, here in the United States, which means these pieces aren’t constructed using sweatshop labor (the leather is all sourced in the United States as well). If you are unhappy with a piece you purchased from Rustic Leather, you can return it within 14 days for a full refund
The Rustic Leather Replica US Mail Bag is 15” h x 11” w x 7” d, and the rear compartment snugly fits a 17” MacBook Pro. The bottom corners of the bag are rounded off, and the anterior panel widens toward the bottom where it is sort of pleated as it is sewn into the bottom panel, keeping the opening of the bag tighter and giving the whole piece a nice rounded look. I am able to fit the entire contents of my SBL backpack into it and more—which surprises me. The body comprises four panels total, which come together with additional pieces to form two interior compartments, three small pockets, a zippered anterior pocket, two pen holsters, and a key leash. There is then an adjustable/removable shoulder strap fastened onto it for transport. These pieces are all stitched together using a white, marine-grade, UV-resistant polyester thread. Polyester thread is comparable to nylon thread in terms of tensile strength, but boasts superior water resistance. While nylon stands up to exposure to water, polyester can endure frequent exposure while maintaining much of its tensile strength, resistance to abrasion, and resisting mold and mildew. Polyester is also remarkably resistant to heat (although certainly not a fire retardant—it melts at 483 degrees Fahrenheit). The rivets are composed of a high-copper alloy. Not only is copper beautiful, it is highly corrosion-resistant and “biostatic,” so bacteria will not grow on it. As it tends to be fairly ductile, it is alloyed to achieve hardness. In line with this level of quality, Dave used a trusty YKK zipper to secure the anterior pocket.
I’ve already mentioned widening the top flap to keep precipitation out—an improvement Rustic Leather intends to make—but there are a couple more points.
There is a strap that stretches over the top of the laptop compartment and fastens to a nice little post on the exterior of the bag. The opening in this strap has a hole large enough to fit over the bulbous end of the post, then a slit going upward, then a smaller hole, which cannot fit over the end of the post, but which is wide enough to accommodate the base of the post. It strikes me that this should be inverted to provide a kind of locking mechanism. I can’t figure out why it is the way it is currently.
The posterior of the bag is reinforced with a bag-length ultra thick leather strip that provides structure and enhances the carrying strength of the piece, which is where the handle is riveted. The rivets penetrate several layers of leather and are exposed to the laptop compartment. Why not have the innermost layer of leather cover these to protect the wearer’s laptop from scratches?
This piece is definitely a “buy it for life” item, without hesitation. Even prior to knowing the backstory, I could tell that this bag was something special, from the vintage color and style, to the leather choice, to the craftsmanship. The price makes this mail bag a strong value, especially given the fact that these are made in small batches by a well-trained boutique craftsman. I will check back in after the leather has had some more time to develop a decent patina.