My Goodwill Outlet Center is a place of wonderment. Walking through the door one gets a feeling of infinite possibilities. What will I find in the over-stuffed bins? Will they be full of seldom worn but already looking tired fast fashion, or will there be pristine vintage galore?
Vintage and antique people seem to me to be the world’s worst lamenters over “the good old days.” I’ve done my share of it, whining over a closed flea market or an antique mall turned into a decorator marketplace. People even lament that the Goodwill is not as great as it once was, and the truth is, I haven’t found any early clothing there in a long time.
But I always say that treasure is where you find it, and if you don’t look, it is not going to be found. I can’t help thinking about what happens to all the unfound treasure at the Goodwill Outlet. It is bundled to go to a rag house where the stuff is picked through again, and hopefully anything of value is plucked from the piles before they are rebundled for transport to Africa, or even worse, to a textile recycling facility where the clothes are shredded for reprocessing.
On my latest trip to the land of vintage possibilities, I was going through a bin of used handbags and nylon backpacks. At the bottom of the bin I spotted a scrap of old fabric, and quickly uncovered what you see above. At first I thought it might be an old military bag, but the interior of the bag had a promising label.
That’s when I knew I had a treasure. The Abercrombie on the label was David Abercrombie of Abercrombie & Fitch, outdoor outfitters to the early twentieth century adventurers. The business was started in 1892 by Abercrombie,who was joined in the business in 1900 by Ezra Fitch. In 1907 the two parted ways, with Abercrombie leaving the business he had started. The following year he went on to manufacturer and sell camping supplies, and even made items that were sold in the Abercrombie and Fitch store and catalog.
Abercrombie set up his new business, Abercrombie’s Camp, at 311 Broadway. The company also sold through a catalog. The earliest I could online find was dated 1912. It seems a bit odd that Abercrombie’s name was continued to be used by Fitch, as the two were competitors for the same market. I imagine they were often confused for each other, as I was when I first saw the label. I thought it was an odd A&F label, but instead, was an entirely separate company.
Lucky for me, I do have that 1910 A&F catalog, and it does have my bag, or a very similar one, pictured. They called it a ruck sack, also known as a Swiss mountain pack. Mine is the gabardine version.
“The best pack ever devised for the carrying of light loads and the small personal belongings. Makes an excellent pack for a woman’s use and is handy for carrying a few necessities when ‘going light’.”
One big problem that collectors face in an object like this one is how to best preserve it. Does one wash it? Should it be returned to a “better” condition?
To me, one of the charms of a piece like this one is that it shows that it was used. I’d much rather have it than a pristine example that did not go on numerous hikes across the Southern Appalachians.
And it was obviously used a lot. One of the leather straps has about seven inches missing off one end, and the little leather piece that fastens the top flap is partially missing. I thought about either replacing the straps, or having a leather crafter replace the missing bits, but ultimately I’ve decided to leave them as is. If I ever display it I may make temporary repairs with brown fabric to show how it would have been used.
I did decide to use a bit of leather cleaner and conditioner on the leather pieces. I also gave the bag a quick mild detergent bath to loosen any dirt or oil that was not set in the fibers. I can’t tell that it improved the appearance, though it did produce a very dirty tub of water.
A bonus with this bag is that there is a name. I can’t decide if it is M. Clark II, or McClark II, but I’ll be searching the records of the local hiking clubs (which go back to the late 1920s) to see if there is a match.
And here is the bag after the little bit of cleaning. You can still see all the years of hard use this bag was subject to.
I really can’t narrow down the date of the ruck sack very much. I know the earliest possible date would be the year Abercrombie’s Camp was established, 1908. The missing information is how long was this bag in production. The next A&F catalog that I have is 1939, and the style is not in that book. Still that is a range of thirty-one years, and I’d really like to do better than that. If you have an Abercrombie’s Camp or an Abercrombie and Fitch Catalog dated before 1939, I’d sure appreciate hearing from you.