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. They were a popular form of luggage in the United States and Europe in the 19th century. Some modern versions serve as handbags or purses.


The carpet bag was invented as a type of baggage light enough for a passenger to carry, like a duffel bag, as opposed to a wooden or metal trunk, which required the assistance of porters. It was a good traveling companion: in 1886, the Scientific American described it as old-fashioned and reliable: the carpet bag "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."[1] Its use implied self-sufficiency: in Jules Verne's 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg and Passepartout bring only a carpet bag as luggage, which holds a few items of clothing and a great deal of cash.

Carpet bags used to be made of Oriental rugs or the Brussels carpet referred to above, meaning one with "a heavy pile formed by uncut loops of wool on a linen warp".[2] Carpet was the chosen material because it was a popular domestic accent piece and the "remainder" pieces were easily bought. In a sense, the carpet bag was a sustainable invention because it used remnants of materials which otherwise would have gone unused.

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."[3]

The carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War—Northerners who moved to the South for economic or political opportunity—were given their name from this type of luggage which they carried.

The fictional nanny Mary Poppins arrived clutching her magical carpetbag, a motif in both the series of children's novels and in the famous 1964 film.


1964 carpet bag

Carpet bags are still made, but now typically as women's decorative small luggage and purses, and no longer out of old carpets.

One of the most popular carpet bag brands of the mid 1960s (known as "the California Carpetbagger") is Jerry Terrence: The Original Carpet Bag, or JT Carpet Bag.[4] The company encouraged the use of brand new carpet material.[5]


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