This is Waterfield’s Franklin Tote and I l-l-love it. It’s an open-topped leather bag with hand/shoulder straps and a bunch of pockets inside and out, and it’s just about the most practical daily carry-around I’ve ever used. Does is replace a backpack? Of course not.
Does it do the job of a messenger bag when on the bike? No frikkin’ way. But can I reach into my backpack as I walk to grab sunglasses, or drop in that sweet cantaloupe I just bought from the fruit store on the high street? I think you know the answer to that one.
Let’s get the price out of the way first. The Franklin costs $290. But then again, you will only ever need the one. The bag is named after Benjamin Franklin, because after he invented a stove and bifocal spectacles, he invented the tote. Wait, that’s not right. It’s called the Franklin Tote because Franklin once said:
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.
Then again, the man flew kites in thunderstorms, so maybe he can’t be trusted.
The bag justifies its price tag with sturdy, beautifully aging leather. The straps, end-panels, top and bottom of the bag are fashioned from full-grain leather, and the straps (riveted and stitched into place) have rubber grippy strips at their apex. The bag, as they say, will improve with age. It’s like the George Clooney of shopping bags.
The side panels are made from nylon, and can be had in one of six colors. These panels not only look good, but they save weight on the parts which get the least battering.
But the best part of the Franklin is the pockets. There are tons of them, but not too many. On the outside, one of the nylon panels is actually a magazine pocket, with another zippered pocket inside. These are both lined with microfiber so plush that it might be padded with foam. You know, like if George Clooney (GeoClo as we call him/her in the Cult of Mac chatroom) used a manly moisturizer on his face to plump up the dermis and smooth out the wrinkles (except the crinkly laugh-lines around his eyes — those can stay).
Inside, both sides have pockets let into the silky, gold-colored lining (the light color makes it easy to find things in there). On one side, the pockets are open, and just big enough to squeeze in an iPad Air with Smart Cover (just – it’s a tight fit, so I prefer using the magazine pocket on the outside). These pockets are also perfect for Kindles and paper books.
On the other side is a long, zippered pocket with a couple of smaller patch pockets inside. These are good for wallets, travel passes and so on.
And finally, there’s a ribbon and clip for your keys.
In use, the bag is great. You can hang it over your arm or dangle it from your hands. I love that you can just reach in to grab things, or drop stuff in there. I use it at the supermarket, filling it up with groceries as I go. It’s also good for a location shoot: Pile it up with camera gear and things like flash umbrellas can be left to stick out the top.
Or you can take it on picnics. It really is versatile.
One of my favorite uses is on the bike. The Franklin Tote fits perfectly in the front basket of a Brompton folding bike, and because it’s always open at the top I can grab water or sunglasses as I ride.
That’s all there is to say about the bag, really. It’s simple, but very well considered, design-wise. It’s also tough, and yet not too heavy (thanks to those nylon panels). Sure, you could buy 10 $30 shopping totes, and they’d probably last you as long in the end. But throwing away nine bags after you broke them is pretty bad for the planet (unlike Clooney in ER, where he was saving the planet). Buy a Franklin Tote instead, and enjoy a bag that actually gets more attractive with each passing year.