Monday, March 16, 2009
Every lady has one
The other day I stumbled upon something pretty that was new to me. But it was almost one hundred years old.
Dealer Nancy Fink collects vintage handbags. She carries vintage alligator bags, beaded bags, and also sells a line of beautifully tooled new bags that I admired, a Chilean artisan's line called Leaders In Leather. Full disclosure - I carry a Leaders in Leather handbag Nancy sold me a year ago.
"If you like these," she said, "You might be interested in these vintage tooled leather bags I have."
Nancy had perhaps a dozen bags on display. They're small, between six and 12 inches, generally, usually made of sturdy brown calf-skin, tooled with decorative patterns in an Art Nouveau style. They are all frame handbags; built with a metal frame that hinges open at the top. The closure hardware is intricate, with decorative latches. Most of Nancy's bags are lined with suede on the inside, and some have tiny pockets that hide little flat mirrors or coin envelopes.
They were originally made with a short leather handle, so a lady would carry it like a satchel. Nancy has altered her bags' handles, adding longer beaded chains so you can wear them as a shoulder bag. They are small enough that they would be elegant worn this way at an evening event - as long as you like your elegance with a bit of vintage, artsy funk.
Most of Nancy's bags dated from between 1915 and 1925. When I asked her what this type of bag is called, she said they are called "Arts & Crafts" bags.
If you're into antiques, it's funny when you "discover" an item you've never heard of before. And suddenly you're madly searching for anything you can find out about it. So of course I googled and searched, and found some information about these.
Because many of Nancy's bags carried a manufacturer's stamp, it was easy to search. Handbags like these were made by U.S. companies such as Mastercraft, Justin, Meeker, Amity and Cordova. The closure hardware was a patented design by Turn-loc, and the metal frames were made by Jemco. Some bags had carved bakelite buttons or decorations, too.
This bag has lovely detail on the metal frame and clasp, and an exquisite anemone pattern on the leather.
New Mexico antique dealer Jane Haley Clarke at Morning Glory Antiques has a very informative website about these interesting bags, including this advertisement showing several styles by Mastercraft.
If you go to e-bay, you can find similar bags, some at very low prices, but it's hard to judge the condition they might be in. I know how tough I am on my handbags - I'm sure the ladies of our grandmothers' generation were just as tough on theirs. Nancy Fink's Arts & Crafts bags were in excellent condition, and priced around $300.00 - which seems to be the range I find on most fine dealers' site.
Nancy also carries vintage fabric bags and beaded evening bags. What is it about handbags that we ladies love so much?
Note: Nancy Fink doesn't have a website, but if you are interested in contacting her, email me.