A 16-inch Gladstone bag made of ox leather
Traditional medical bag

A portmanteau is a piece of luggage, usually made of leather and opening into two equal parts. Some are large, upright, and hinged at the back and enable hanging up clothes in one half,[1] while others are much smaller bags (such as Gladstone bags) with two equally sized compartments.[2]

The word derives from the French word portemanteau (from porter, "to carry", and manteau, "coat") which nowadays means a coat rack but was in the past also used to refer to a traveling case or bag for clothes.[3][4]

Portmanteau mail bag

Portmanteaux used to carry letters

In the 1700s the term would also have described a Mail bag.[5] This continued in the 1800s for bags used by the Post Office.[6][7] An 1823 resolution in Congress further stated that "locks...will be placed on the portmanteaus containing the principal mails (which) can only be opened...at the distributing offices."[8]


  1. ^ "Portmanteau definition and meaning - Collins English Dictionary". Collinsdictionary.com.
  2. ^ "A History of Vintage Luggage". Achome.co.uk. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
  3. ^ Petit Robert: portemanteau - "malle penderie" (suitcase in which clothes hang)
  4. ^ "PORTEMANTEAU : Définition de PORTEMANTEAU". Cnrtl.fr.
  5. ^ Chmara, Agnieszka (March 26, 2018). "Portmanteau". Eighteenth Century Lit.pbworks.com. Retrieved September 2, 2023. A 1726 dictionary defines a portmanteau as a Mail or a Cloak Bag...
  6. ^ Marsh, Allison. "US Postal Bag Prototype". National Postal Museum. Retrieved September 2, 2023. In the 19th century, both newspapers and letters were placed in a portmanteau, a round, side-opening, leather bag.
  7. ^ "Mail bag". Shaker Museum and Library. October 19, 2016. Retrieved September 2, 2023. This style of bag, sometimes called a portmanteau, was used by the Post Office Department in the mid-1800s to transport mail...
  8. ^ "Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Nation, Georgia set up Rural Free Delivery mail routes". Statesboro Herald. May 27, 2017. Retrieved September 2, 2023. It directed that here, All letters...are placed in a portmanteau (or) principal mail bag...