Did you know you can buy leather bags that are up to 100+ years old? It’s true. The Swiss Army used leather bags on their army pack horses, particularly the Freiberger breed which were known for their endurance. The horses and mules lightened the load for soldiers and allowed them to cover much more ground in strong fighting condition.
While soldiers were never relieved of carrying their own personal fighting equipment, the horses carried the more substantial armament, such as extra ammunition, mortars, and light artillery.
These bags were well made to endure the demanding circumstances of heavy loads in wartime and often used over and over as Swiss citizens served their time and returned their issued military equipment. Hence they often served for decades and acquire a beautiful patina.
The Swiss Army uses a conditioner called FIX which stays in the leather for a very long time and frequently all the bags need is a good cleaning to rid it of mold and dirt.
Now, in these more sophisticated times, pack animals are much more rare in the military. Consequently the bag market sees vintage Swiss Army bags for sale. Here are some of the types of vintage swiss army bags in repair and original unrepaired condition, courtesy of Men A Werro from Leatherwerk, who is an excellent source for purchasing an original swiss army bag. Here are a selection of swiss army bags you can find.
As you browse through the selection of photos spend a moment to contemplate how old and how much abuse these leather bags have endured. Can you imagine a messenger bag from Target doing the same thing?
Here is mine, made in 1945. As I told you before, they were used by the pack train and attached with chains on the packsaddle. These come with chains but no strap so I custom made a strap from either Swiss Army rifle slings of the same age or leather straps that who knows what they were used for. I make optional straps or there is the desirable horse bit handle. Sometimes folks want a coin concho on the hinged flap. Oldest one I had in my hands was stamped 1918 I think, youngest one 1945.
It has a thick rear wall and thick leather hinged lid. Around 70 years old and tons of real patina that shows up only after many many moons of hard use!
Size is about 16″ x 12″ x 3 1/2″. It can carry bulky stuff too that is deeper than 3.5″. The picture below shows mine today in the rain.
The Medic Bag AKA Tailgate Bag
You can easily see the functionality of the medic bag. Required medical equipment is easily at hand without digging through things or having your bag fall closed while treating a wounded soldier. That would be a difficult problem to have while controlling bleeding.
I’m not exactly sure what these bags were used for. The officer’s bags were smaller so it is likely these were used by infantry, but for what purpose? Anyone know?
Demolition Meister Bag
Fuses and explosives go in here. This has got to be one of the coolest bags.
The horses had packsaddles designed specifically for carrying their veterinarian equipment. Some of these leather packsaddles are from 1895!
Earlier versions of the Packsaddle bag were put over the horses neck. Earliest one I had between my fingers was made 1895, latest one 1917. 2 versions as far as I know. The earlier once were a bit larger and slightly more boxy looking.
large gunsmith bag
The large Gunsmith bag is actually a Packsaddle bag with added flaps on the sides (inside) and two pockets for small grease tins. It has an alloy badge too and the added straps system (no more chains for the horses) makes the bag either a messenger or a backpack. I guess the Swiss Army copied it from SBL – just kidding!
small gunsmith bag
Size: 4.0″ by 12.0″ by 9-10″ tall. Under the flap pocket is 7.5″ x 5.5″
Many are stamped with MP41 and some with MP43 when used by gunsmiths that were working in the field on the machine pistols 41 or the updated version 43. Very early version didn’t have a MP stamp. Some were used again in the late 50s for the “Sturmgewehr 57” (automatic rifle) by the gunsmiths. Those got K14.1.110 stamped on the alloy badge. It’s a pretty small bag for a gunsmith, especially for working on that automatic rifle.
These are one of my favorite styles, few were made through 1937 – 1945.
Swiss Army Duffle
These are made of Swiss Military grade heavy duty green canvas with thick leather. Alloy bottom plate, reinforcements at all stress points. About 40 years old in like new condition. Will last a lifetime or two! Very tough stuff.
stamps in the bags
These bags have specific individual stamps that indicate things like the name of the maker and the year.
How to buy a vintage swiss leather bag?
I could not have put this information together without Men A. Werro from Leatherwerk. He sells these bags which are individually sourced in Switzerland. You can check out his current stock of Swiss bags on his site, www.leatherwerk.blogspot.com. Men also makes several other leather goods from scratch such as the Pouchun and accessories for Saddleback Leather bags.
Very well written article. I love hearing the history of some of these older leather bags!
Amazing article, and love the images, especially the medic/tailgate bag.
[…] bellows that are 40-60 years old that still work perfectly because they have been well maintained. The Swiss Army used leather bags in their pack trains and examples can be found in excellent condition over 100 years old. Is […]
[…] lives and works out of Oregon. BestLeather worked with LeatherWerk in the past on a review of vintage Swiss military bags. Besides sourcing and restoring vintage bags, Men makes custom accessories for bags and travel. […]
i love vintage swiss bags. so cool.
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I found a brown leather Swiss bag on the side of the street,in the trash,and was wondering how to tell how old it is. I love it. It’s so soft. Was well taken care of .
I have an old leather messenger bag circa WWII given to me as a gift from my wife’s uncle. Her grandpa served in WWII in the US Navy and had this bag until his death about 10 years ago. I am looking for someone to repair the broken straps as it still in very good condition. I would love to use this for my work. Any suggestions or others that might possibly repair it would be greatly appreciated.
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Please let me know how I can buy Swiss Army Leather Bag?
Please let me know how I can buy Swiss Army Leather Bag ?
I am really happy I’ve this information. Thanks!
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