Bag History 201 | Page 50 | Newberry

Bag History 201

One of the mainstays of the Book Fair has been the little plastic bag with “Potash Bros.” on the side. We’ve been handing those out at the door and throughout the Book Fair for a couple of decades, each of us with our own smile and line of patter. (Mine has always been “You NEED one of these! Otherwise your purchases are limited by the length of your arm!” People chuckle, possibly so they can hurry away.)

Potash sends these over in the thousands and we give away thousands. I consider them recyclable, myself. Once you have unloaded the books from them they can be used again for any number of purposes, from rainbonnet to wastebasket liner to lunch bag. (I cannot attest to the story of the woman who is said to have twisted several of them into a bikini top when her tube top suffered serious structural damage. I’m always in another part of the library when these things happen.) And we get these bags because Potash is a good neighbor (they’re at 875 N. State, 875 N. Michigan, and 1525 N. Clark, all within walking distance, so all their stores are neighbors of ours.)

You may or may not know that there is a technical term for these plastic bags. (Yes, I know a lot of Chicagoans who call them “Walgreen’s bags” but that’s a regional colloquialism and not authentic jargon. Anyway, they’re from Potash Bros.) One of the volunteers told me many years ago that these are called T-sacks or T-shirt Sacks because, when held up, they look like sleeveless T-shirts. I have had this confirmed by people in the trade. (It isn’t that I don’t believe EVERY WORD the volunteers tell me, it’s just that…that…but we were talking about bags, weren’t we?)

People from outside the neighborhood have been confused by the bags, asking about potassium carbonate or about Montague Glass. We do not sell potassium carbonate, but we do sell books by Montague Glass when we get them. (That joke is understandable only by people who study Saturday Evening Post literature of the pre-war era, but there must be at least one in the audience.) We used to send them down the street to check out the store and buy an apple fritter, but sometimes they wouldn’t come back, so we gave that up. 

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