Carpet bag

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This article is about the luggage. For the political term, see carpetbagger.
Reconstruction Era, carpet bag

A carpet bag is a traveling bag made of carpet, commonly from an oriental rug, ranging in size from a small purse to a large duffel bag.

1964 Vintage carpet bag, JT Carpet Bag

The “carpet bag” was not invented as a pocketbook or handbag for women — but rather, the day’s version of our modern “suitcase” that operated as a reliable traveling companion and carrier of a person’s possessions.

Such bags were popular in the United States and Europe during the 19th century. They are still made to this day, but now typically as women's decorative small luggage and purses, although typically no longer out of old carpets. Carpet was the chosen material also because during the time, carpet in homes was a popular accent piece and the “remainder” pieces were easily bought to use for the construction of carpet bags. In a sense, the carpetbag was a sustainable invention because it used remnants of materials which otherwise would have gone unused.

The carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War were given their name from this type of luggage which they carried from the Scientific American Supplement, No. 561, October 2, 1886 [1] "The old-fashioned carpet bag (Fig. 1) is still unsurpassed by any, where rough wear is the principal thing to be studied. Such a bag, if constructed of good Brussels carpeting and unquestionable workmanship, will last a lifetime, provided always that a substantial frame is used."

Carpet bags sometimes also served as a "railway rug", a common item in the 19th century for warmth in drafty, unheated rail-cars. The rug could either be opened as a blanket, or latched up on the sides as a traveling bag. From Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879): "... my railway-rug, which, being also in the form of a bag, made me a double castle for cold nights." [2]

One of the most popular carpet bag brands that revolutionized the U.S. fashion industry in the mid 60’s (known as "the California Carpetbagger" [3] is Jerry Terrence Original Carpet Bag, aka: JT Carpet Bag. These handbags differed from the standard European needlepoint carpet bags by its introduction to retro collaborative design vs. the common floral and tapestry patterns of previous eras. (Fig. 2) Jerry Terrence Original encouraged the use of brand new carpet material rather than old recycled bits. Even with the change in materials the tote bags, in comparison, carry the same strength, durability and storage capacity as familiar European “Mary Poppins” style bags but with a unique look of its own. More than 1 million of these bags were sold in the U.S. and are still being sold today. They are perhaps one of the only original manufactures of carpet bags still in the market who also use genuine carpet material rather than alternative substitutes.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Scientific American Supplement, No. 561, October 2, 1886 ebook: John T. Humphrey "Useful Bags and How to Make Them" Pg. 49
  2. ^ Robert Luis Stevens, "Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes" (1879)
  3. ^ The Salt Lake Tribune, "Jerry Terrence brings back his popular bags from the '60s for a new generation" (February 13, 2006)