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The Golden Age of Luggage

Sep 9, 2022 | Tales from Asia

Cobmaster (2)Millets and Army & Navy Stores were the main suppliers of camping equipment in 70s Britain. Rucksacks were either army surplus, canvas with metal A frame or the popular Cobmaster brand in primary colours and distinctive external frame. Both had limited storage capacity designed for bedrolls and sleeping bags to be tied to the frame or under the flap. Water bottles, shoes and even pots and pans could be seen dangling from backpacks.

Youth hostelling, camping and caravaning were popular and foreign holidays generally meant package tours. Solo travel before the internet and the gap year was for the well off or modern day tramps on the hippie trail. Experienced backpackers identified themselves by sewing colourful patches from youth hostels, camp sites and country flags onto their rucksacks. For Scouts this was anathema, only amateur outdoorsmen would ruin the nylon waterproofing and clothing was always packed inside dustbin liners.

During the era of travel from the 1920s to the 1960s shipping companies, railways, hotels and airlines designed luggage labels to stick on guest’s steamer trunks and suitcases. Globetrotting travellers would leave them on luggage as a souvenir of their visit and a status symbol to show off their adventures. These miniature works of art are now highly collectible either as ephemera or on vintage brown leather suitcases. The most famous collector was Gaston-Louis Vuitton who joined his family trunk making business at 14 and spent a lifetime collecting hotel luggage labels.

In 1946 two ex-wartime pilots, Australian Sydney de Kantzow and American Roy Farrell purchased several Douglas DC-3s forming Cathay Pacific Airways (CPA) in Hong Kong. Two years later John Swire & Sons Ltd. became the major shareholders and the airline developed from an air freight operator to a scheduled passenger service. Britain’s key carrier – British Overseas Airways Corporation dominated the most important routes from London leaving Cathay confined to its home region (‘the airline that knows the Orient best’). In 1961 Cathay bought its first pure jet Convair 880M but it was not until 1980 that they were allowed to fly to London and in 1983 to cross the Pacific.

Cxpeninsula (2)

Cathay Pacific’s first reservation office was located inside the Peninsula Hotel. The flight network can be seen displayed on the paneling. A shuttle bus was provided to transport passengers between the hotel and Kai Tak Airport that operated from 1925 to 1998.


In 1953 Cathay Pacific Airways was a regional airline operating services from Hong Kong to Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, Haiphong (then French Indo China), British North Borneo (now the country of Brunei, two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Malaysian federal territory of Labuan) with connections to Taipei, Tokyo, Rangoon, Kuching and Jakarta.


The company purchased a Douglas DC-6 in 1954. The routes were then being operated by DC6, DC4 and DC3 aircraft. By the end of 1957 Phnom Penh, Vientiane and Kuala Lumpur had been added. The first DC-6B used by Cathay is still flying today ferrying cargo around Alaska for Everts Air Cargo.

Luggage labels were mainly developed by the ‘Grand Hotels’ and the legendary hotels of Asia are still open for business on these airline routes from Hong Kong.


Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel opened in 1928 opposite the quays (now Ocean Terminal) where ocean liners once disembarked and close to the last stop on the trans-Siberian rail link. On December 25th 1941 the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young surrendered to the Japanese on the third floor of the hotel.


In 1994 the hotel was extended by adding a 30 storey tower and helipad on the roof.


The Manila Hotel located along Manila Bay was opened in 1912 at the northwestern end of Rizal park opposite Intramuros the historic walled area. Construction of the walled city began in the late 16th century and was considered by the Spanish to be the entire city of Manila. The label depicts the watchtower of the Baluarte de San Andres on the defensive wall.

Baluartesanandres (2)

Intramuros was destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Manila . The moat was later filled in and is now a golf course.


The Manila Hotel’s penthouse suite was the residence of General Douglas MacArthur whilst Military Advisor of the Philippine Commonwealth from 1935 to 1941. The hotel was set on fire by the Japanese during the Battle of Manila and the shell of the building was reconstructed after the war. According to legend the airline’s name was chosen by Farrell and some foreign correspondents at the hotel bar.



Singapore’s Raffles Hotel was established in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkies brothers. The National cocktail the Singapore Sling was invented in its Long Bar in 1915 and the latest refurbishment was in 2019.

Hotel Luggage Labels Majestic Kl


Kuala Lumpur’s Majestic Hotel opened in 1932 and is located directly across from the historic railway station.

Hotel Luggage Labels E And O Penang

Penang’s Eastern & Oriental Hotel was established in 1885 by the Sarkies brothers. The label depicts the view from the hotel garden to Kedah Peak / Gunung Jerai on the mainland.


Orientalluggage Label

Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel located on the Chao Phraya River opened as The Oriental in 1876. The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand representing royal power and has a special significance for buddhists.

Oriental Hotel Bangkok

The original 19th century Authors’ Wing. The famous Bamboo Bar was opened in 1947.


Ho Chi Minh City’s (formerly Saigon) Hotel Continental is located in the central business district next to the Opera House.

Saigoncontinental (1)

During the Vietnam War the hotel renamed the Continental Palace was popular with journalists who nicknamed the ground floor bar ‘The Continental Shelf’. Graham Greene stayed in Room 214 where he began work on his novel ‘The Quiet American’.


Yangon’s (formerly Rangoon) Strand Hotel was built by the Sarkies brothers and opened in 1901. The label shows the old palace moat at Mandalay around 575km from Yangon.

Mandalay Palace Myanmar Wall Moat

The old palace moat at Mandalay. Mandalay Hill is 240m high and the area was devastated during fighting between the Japanese and the British Fourteenth Army in 1945.

Strand Hotel

The Strand Hotel, Yangon.

Grandtaipei (2)

Grandhotel (2)

Taipei’s Grand Hotel established in 1952 at the request of Chiang Kai-shek was Taiwan’s first five star hotel. Dragon motifs are incorporated throughout earning the hotel the name ‘The Dragon Palace’. South facing rooms offer a panoramic view over the Keelung river and Taipei City.


Tokyo’s original Imperial Hotel dates from 1880 but more famous was the second hotel (1923-1968) designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was demolished and replaced with a high rise structure in 1968 but part of the central lobby wing was disassembled and rebuilt at a museum near Nagoya.

Imperialtokyohotel (1)

The third Imperial Hotel is a modern 17 storey hotel tower that opened in 1970.



Jakarta became the national capital of Indonesia in 1950 after full independence from Holland. The Hotel Indonesia opened in 1962 was the city’s first five star hotel. In Bandung 150km from the capital two heritage hotels – the Grand Hotel Preanger & the Savoy Homann are still operating. The Grand Hotel Preanger, opened in 1897, has been rebuilt whilst retaining the art-deco style facade and the Asia Afrika Wing.


Hello from the 1950s !

About The Blog

About Blog In March 2020, after 28 years in Hong Kong, I moved to Penang as a base to travel in the region. The Covid 19 pandemic ended that plan and I spent much of the time re-reading books I had collected over the years. The only new book I bought was ...
Palm Hand Draw


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