Traveling Colonel Style

Originally published in the April 2015 issue of DeSoto Magazine/Exploring the South. Story by Mary Ann DeSantis. Photos supplied by Col. Littleton, Ltd.

Ask anyone who travels a lot about the best bags to carry, and you are bound to hear the name Colonel Littleton. The purveyor of fine accouterments (notably leather) is known throughout the world, but his traditions are rooted in small-town America.

Opening a box from Col. Littleton Ltd., Inc., is a memorable experience. First, there’s the smell of genuine leather even if all you’ve ordered is the Colonel’s new “Tales & Tunes” CD, which comes in an embossed leather case. Next, you’ll find a journal featuring a few “colonelisms,” a small leaflet explaining his philosophies about such things as condominium cows, and a story card about Moon Pies and Caviar. Finally, a miniature Moon Pie tumbles out of the package, giving you an actual down-home taste of Tennessee.

“Every order gets a Moon Pie. They are made right here in Tennessee and they take me straight back to my childhood,” says Colonel Littleton, the founder of the Lynnville, Tenn., company whose products exemplify Americana. “I want the package to look as good as it can. I want to make a good impression and tell a story. Everything we do is about a story.”ColonelLittleton2_WEB

Indeed stories are significant part of the Colonel Littleton aura, including the one about becoming known as the “Colonel” instead of Garry, his given name.

“Which story do you want to hear?” he asks with a chuckle. “When I started the company, I thought every small town had a colonel. Since Lynnville is a small town (current population: 327), it sounded right. After all, people would rather buy something from a Colonel, not Garry. Most people don’t know my real name. Even my wife calls me Colonel.”

A native of Tennessee, Colonel Littleton started his business in 1987  when he was in the men’s apparel business and calling on stores throughout the country. Although those stores had quality clothing, Littleton believed they needed unique, high quality accessories and gift items. He bought 17 pairs of vintage cuff links and carefully hand designed the packaging. He took them to a few of the stores and came home empty handed. Pocket knives became his next passion, and he designed them to be family keepsakes with Mother of Pearl and bone handles, much like those made a 100 years ago. His business expanded to include leather goods, home and business accessories, and even walking sticks  – all personally designed by the Colonel himself and created by local craftsmen.

“He has to shut himself away and block out time to design,” says his long-time assistant Lynn Stevens. “We might not see him for two weeks when he’s designing.”

He says new ideas just come to him, usually while he’s sitting on a wooden swing on the front porch of his Lynnville headquarters, located about an hour south of Nashville. Occasionally a customer will suggest an idea.

Expensive but synonymous with quality craftsmanship, Colonel Littleton products are known for their rugged Americana look. Well-heeled businessmen and U.S. presidents have traveled with his bags. Actor Tom Cruise owns a Colonel Littleton leather fly swatter. Even rich people, says Littleton, have to swat flies.

“I always say there are only two things that determine what something sells for — the materials you use and the time it takes to make it,” Littleton explains. “No secret to it. That’s why momma makes a better apple pie. Sure, you can buy a cheaper one that was made on an assembly line but it won’t be as good.”

Moon pieMore than 500 retail stores, including Omni Hotel gift shops, carry the brand as do high-end catalogs like Orvis. In addition to the Colonel Littleton website, there are two retail outlets in Lynnville.

“Our products are built to last for a long time,” he says. I fully intend for them to belong to a family’s children some day as heirlooms.”

He’s believes in promoting small-town America and preserving the past. He’s gets more excited talking about a restored 1871 schoolhouse used for his company meetings than he does about the $10,000 alligator saddlebag briefcase offered on his website. He is currently is restoring a tavern where Andrew Jackson recruited soldiers for the War of 1812.

Exuding charm and sporting a thick, handlebar moustache, Littleton really is the epitome of a Southern gentleman… and colonel. His down-to-earth witticisms — known as colonelisms — are the basis of his new CD, “Tales & Tunes: It Ain’t a Story… Until You Tell It.”

“The South is about the story,” the Colonel says. “It’s also about doing the right thing. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It works every time…no exceptions.”

Col. Littleton

Colonel Littleton of Lynnville, Tenn.


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