The backstory series : messenger leather journal

Inspired by the stagecoach journeys and Pony Express Riders of the Old West, the Messenger Leather Journal takes on some timeless characteristics. Read the history, as told by Matt Shurtleff, of what started as a custom project and turned into a popular Rustico design loved by many.

This is a story about the original version of the Messenger Journal, a former project that evolved into one of Rustico’s best-sellers.


What’s the story behind the creation of this product?

This was designed to be a representation of how the Pony Express delivered letters and telegraphs. The Pony Express delivered mail out West when it was still a frontier or the Wild West Days. Basically what they would do is you’ve got an outpost where people come in and out. And there was a postal stop at each of these little outposts and wherever you were coming from you would get all the letters that go to Cove Fort for instance and they would stick those letters in a piece of leather and wrap it up. They would then go in saddlebags on the horse. The rider would arrive at an outpost and exchange the wrapped bundle full of letters for new ones with a new destination. The people receiving the rider would provide a hot meal that evening and a place to stay for the night.

So their bundle was not an actual journal like what we created, but the design was based on the Pony Express and the letters and telegraphs that were leather bound and carried from one outpost or town to the next.

What’s so unique about this specific edition of the Messenger and the story inside?  

The story inside is titled, Three Miles from Providence by David Bruce Smith and details the stay of Abraham Lincoln in a soldiers’ home. Written by a fictitious veteran of the Mexican-American War who is asked to guard Pres. Lincoln at the White House and then at the Soldiers’ Home where Lincoln spent a quarter of his presidency. It was here he wrote a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The insert is custom and we printed it here in-house and used the saddle leather that we were using at the time. The paper on the front and back of the insert is a handmade paper that we used to use at Rustico when we were just starting out. It has a very unique and authentic look and feel to it. This is a product that is very old to Rustico.

Then we changed it up recently as we’ve gone from crafting the binding of the journal with waxed nylon to waxed linen now. Our newer Messenger Journals that customers buy today are “fatter” and not made with the same “primitive” materials that we used when Rustico was still a new company. It was designed for this project probably 11 or 12 years ago.

You’ll notice the leather wrap around the Messenger goes completely around it twice whereas most of our journals just go around once and that’s just a function of securing it from the old days. That’s so that you wouldn’t have to tie knots, but if you did that would hold it together just as well.

This journal has become somewhat of a collectible for us because we no longer sell this version. It’s pretty ostentatious to walk into a meeting with this journal and make a scene by unwrapping it. But it’s pretty cool and if you’re the type of person that can rock it then, by all means, rock it.

This particular example that I still have on my bookshelf is really cool in the way that it has developed a patina on the leather over time by the way the sunlight has hit it and change the leather. This one doesn’t even have a Rustico logo on it and this was back in the days before we were branding and had a real identifier to use. A few years ago we had 20 of these left over and we slowly sold them at some local festivals. Then we put this vintage edition of the Messenger with one of our nicer fountain pens into a gift set and called it the Revere. We sold a lot of them! It was one of our best selling gift sets.

 What changes have been made to this product since its launch?

We’ve obviously stopped selling this version that has the story inside and changed the paper and the binding from nylon to waxed linen. We also changed and upgraded the leather. The paper liner that is found inside the front and rear cover of the journal was handmade and is now hard to find and get produced in large quantities.


Was this a collaboration with another brand?

This was in collaboration with David Bruce Smith. He was doing a project and he came to Rustico and asked if he could get a leather journal and this is the design we decided on. The journal for his story needed to do x, y, and z. The actual journal went on to be so popular we added it to our lineup.



Matt actually has a unique connection to the early Western Riders as his grandfather William Hegsted Shurtleff was a member of the Weber County Sheriff’s Posse which is a group of horse riders that trace their beginnings back nearly 100 years.


So what is the Weber County Sheriff’s Posse?

I gave one of these vintage Messenger Journals to my Grandpa who was on the Weber County Sheriff’s Posse. The Posse is more of a tradition now, but a group of horse riders from the Ogden area that still meets together. So the railroad came through Ogden back in the day and there’s still a Union Station there. It was a crossroads for the West and brought in many people to the city. When I was young I thought Ogden was a rough town. It’s definitely a diverse place and that happened because of the railroad.

What was the challenge issued by the riders from California?

So the Weber County Sheriff’s Posse got in a friendly squabble with a rival posse in California and they bet that they could ride from Ogden to Sacramento before this other posse could do it coming from the opposite direction. So they raced and they rode 24 hrs. each day and it took them a couple of days and they ended up beating California by 8 hours. There’s this picture of my grandpa galloping on his horse down the interstate in California with state troopers on either side of him.





Matt is always brainstorming new products either at his desk, in the production warehouse, and even when he leaves the office. We appreciate him taking some time to give a short history recap on the Messenger Journal, the Old West and the story of his grandfather and the Weber County Sheriff Posse.

Stay tuned for more products that will be discussed in the Backstory Series.  



You can purchase a Messenger Journal or maybe you’d enjoy our Courier Leather Journal which is smaller but has also been given the Messenger treatment. Both are great journals that are inspired by the Old West.

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