The Undisputed Original

This design of bag has been used in the transportation of mail and goods by numerous types of messengers, including Pony Express riders, postal workers, messengers on foot (especially in ancient times), and bicycle couriers. Some Royal Mail carriers in the United Kingdom currently use large messenger bags to deliver mail.

The design of the modern messenger bag traces its origin to the utility lineman’s bag of the 1950s made by De Martini Globe Canvas Company, which was founded by Frank De Martini and run with his two daughters, Kathleen and Marge. It was formerly located in an underground shop at 177 Mott Street in Little Italy New York City, and later Purchases by Rod Hanson.[citation needed] The original bags were handmade to order on the spot by the De Martinis themselves and cost $20 to $40. The present bags are mass manufactured, and for the large bag were $80 but recently were raised to $100. Custom work or additional frills are no longer done. The bags originally allowed lineman to carry necessary tools within easy reach while climbing utility poles.

Frank De Martini at work.

You probably don’t know that the originator of messenger bags, De Martini Globe Canvas, has been operating out of New Haven for the past few years. That’s because the founder, Frank De Martini, died and his daughter sold the name and company. Hopefully, the product hasn’t changed because it seems to be heavily endorsed by messengers. The web is full of comments praising De Martini bags as the originator of the style, and a truly reliable product.

Here’s my favorite review:

“Rode with Globe Canvas bags for two years in sunshine and in rain/snow in DC and RVA and never had a problem or delivered a soiled package.
It was a solid piece of gear, and in its ugliness dwells the beauty of nostalgic utility. It is not one of your metro-sexual bannana republic style totes.
It is a piece of working gear for folks who generally don’t have a need for modern chic in their gear.”

The New York Times even did a piece on De Martini in 1985:

A street hatch opens onto a steep well of crooked stairs. Below, large spools of colored canvas lean against old tables and sewing machines, while fluorescent lights vie for ceiling space with huge pipes. Scissors and awls lie about and pictures of schooners line the walls.

This is the underground shop of Frank Martini, the 76-year-old owner and sole employee of the Globe Canvas Company at 177 Mott Street. A sail maker by trade, he began making bicycle messenger bags 20 years ago. He has sold them wholesale to the more than 50 bike messenger services in New York ever since. No one else makes messenger bags, although some have tried.

“Everybody gets them from him,” said Glen Janus, a spokesman for Streetwise, a messenger service that has used the bags throughout its 10 years of business. “He’s a legend

While Mr. Martini labors below ground, .his work hugs the backs of speeding cyclists above who appreciate how the bag conforms to odd-size parcels, adjusts to unevenly weighted loads and endures heavy rains. Wearing his bag over his shoulder, Giovanni Headley, a veteran messenger, said. ‘If you take good care of it, it will take good care of you.”

If anyone has any experience with De Martini Bags, leave a comment below.

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