A Gladstone bag is a small portmanteau suitcase built over a rigid frame which could separate into two equal sections. Unlike a suitcase, a Gladstone bag is "deeper in proportion to its length." They are typically made of stiff leather and often belted with lanyards. The bags are named after William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), the four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Hinged luggage was first developed in the late 19th century. The first Gladstone bag was designed and manufactured by J G Beard at his leather shop in the City of Westminster. Beard was an avid admirer of Gladstone, and named it to memorialise his name.
Though the Gladstone bag developed into the typical flat-sided suitcase of today, modern leather versions are marketed which in fact are not Gladstone bags. Often these modern bags are made with soft, rounded sides, only opening at the top. This incorrectly named Gladstone bag is actually a kit bag, or a square-mouthed bag.
Usage in literature
In J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfied mentions packing his "Gladstones", which are adorned with school stickers, and carrying his "Gladstones" as he walks to the train.
In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Man with the Twisted Lip, Sherlock Holmes carries some equipment in a Gladstone bag.
In Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat this reference is made while planning their journey: "We got a big Gladstone for the clothes, and a couple of hampers for the victuals and the cooking utensils."
In Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin, a reference to Pnin's "Gladstone Bag" containing, among other things, a "relatively new black suit" that Professor Pnin planned to wear for a lecture.
In H. Rider Haggard's "She", Mr. Holly carries his Gladstone bag all the way to the lost tombs of Kor.
In John LeCarre's novel "The Constant Gardener", some important documents are carried by one central character in a Gladstone bag.