Archival Totes: Steele Canvas Basket Co.

Steele Canvas Basket Tote (AC edition)

We’re tote bag fans and Steele Canvas Basket Co. is one of our favorite brands. I am almost never without a bag. For my daily bike commute, I carry a shoulder bag plus a (sometimes empty) tote to handle more cumbersome loads or or end-of-day debris (library books, 5 lb bags of coffee, rain gear, etc). I prefer oversize totes since they fold down easily but handle ungainly loads (a weekend’s worth of cycling gear, a month’s worth of newspapers, a load of packages for FedEx). We’re on the fence about tote bag handle length. Some of us prefer full, over-the-shoulder straps while I like a short strap (matching my short arm) that permits me to carry a heavy load without causing the bag to drag on the ground. But again, as an unofficial bag library, Archival Clothing owns many totes with both handle lengths.

Vintage Steele Canvas Basket catalog

We thank Andy over at Reference Library for putting us in contact with Steele Canvas. Here’s Andy’s mighty black Steele Canvas tote. While there are many fine totes on the market (examples here), we prefer versions that have an established commercial use. Steele has been making industrial canvas baskets, hampers, trucks and buggies since 1921. One of their clients is Brink’s Incorporated. While other companies have transitioned from canvas to synthetic carry bags, Brinks insists on using a heavy duty canvas for all their cash delivery bags. I’ve been told that one of the specifications for a Brink’s bag is that it stand up and stay open on its own.

We’ve been working with Steele on two different totes for Archival Clothing. The first, a modification of a stock Steele tote, will be made from the most stout cotton canvas army duck available. While Steele bags are made from #6 (21 oz.) duck, ours will be produced in natural, untreated #4 (24 oz.) canvas duck. We’re adding a simple internal pocket and requesting a 7.5″ handle length that will permit folks with short or long arms to comfortably carry the tote by their side. Paul at Steele has helped us develop a simple 2″ U.S. stencil for the bag. Bag dimensions: 17″ L x 10″ W x 17″ D.

2″ U.S. stencil

Made in U.S.A. (Chelsea, MA, to be exact)

Simple inside pocket

Our second bag will be a re-issue of the original, square bottom janitor’s bag. The bag will likewise be made from untreated, natural #4 canvas duck. Dimensions: 14″ L x 14″ W x 24″ D

Vintage Steele Canvas Basket Janitor’s Bag

We’d also like to point out that we’re now offering our own Archival Clothing tote in 22 oz. gray waxed twill (in addition to ranger tan twill and navy waxed cotton).

13 thoughts on “Archival Totes: Steele Canvas Basket Co.”

  1. Any chance these’ll be ready for July?

    The stock Steele tote will be perfect for holidays/airport schleps – snacks/ books/ toys/ small child if he refuse to move.

  2. Mr Brown–

    We’ll see about July delivery. Our order is in the queue with Steele. Stock tote would definitely be the perfect transport tote.

    Here are the tote dimensions:

    Item: Sp. White Canvas Bag in #4 Duck w/7.5″ Handles / Inside Pocket on 1 Side
    Dims: 17″ L x 10″ W x 17″ D

  3. I drive by Steele Canvas every week on my way to the grocery store. I’ll stop and take some pictures of the factory for you next time I go.

  4. I love it. And want one; but: I’m not feeling the U.S. stencil. And I wish the Made in USA label was sewn on the edge of the inside pocket and not on the outside of the bag. Maybe same for the stencil.

    Maybe rather have an A.C. stencil.

  5. We talked about doing an AC stencil but felt like bag was really a Steele–not AC–product and didn’t feel right with a rebadge. I like the plain US stencil. We can explore placing flag tag on inside of bag. We might also do some vintage Steele stencils in the future.

    Total white mare to RL black stallion (smaller scale, for certain, though I’ve come around to the shorter handles on Andy’s bag).


  6. Nicely done LL. And of course extra points for American made. I’d be more than happy to carry my many made in England Hardy fly reels in one of those…

  7. Hi Lesli,

    I found out that the plain navy musettes have been sold out by you guys. Hot property indeed. Any idea when you guys are gna manufacture the next batch?

  8. last few days our class held a similar discussion on this subject and you show something we have not covered yet, thanks.

    – Kris

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