Bling & Things: Novelty Handbags

Costume Jewelry Collectors
an original publication by RCJ and Dorothea Stringfield

Bling & Things: Novelty Handbags
by Susan Klein Bagdade    ©2010


That you can actually answer a phone call or check the time directly on your purse, but without actually opening your purse? No, it’s not some new-fangled data device. These are the features of some rather unique, but strictly vintage novelty handbags! Vintage novelty bags are hot collectibles, but can be really quite useful. I have featured some of the more notable and iconic novelty bags of the 20th Century.

The Phone-Bag was manufactured in various styles and colors by Dallas Handbags in the 1970s. The phone in the handle of the bags actually works. It does needs to be plugged into a phone jack (Remember, this is before the advent of the cordless telephones!). Their value ranges in price from about $300-700. The fabulous watch bag was made in the 1960s by a company called “Lavalize”. The watch itself is marked “Genova”. In pristine condition, it has value of about $300-500. Another incredible and notable novelty handbag is the “magazine clutch”. Originally made by Mr. Ernest Handbag, Inc., it like the “Phone Bag”, is quintessentially 1970s vintage and retails for about $75-200, depending on the condition and magazine cover.


Dallas Handbags iconic Phone-Bag. Ca. 1970s.
Photography by Allen Bagdade.


Lavalize watch bag, ca. 1965
Photography by Allen Bagdade.


1970s Magazine Clutch, Photograph used with the permission of the Tassen Museum Hendrikje of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

My very own Judith Lieber handbag! An incredible 50th birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law. Photography by Allen Bagdade.

The most famous of the decorative, but non-utilitarian novelty bags have been produced by Judith Lieber. Since 1963, these Swarovski bejeweled bags have been produced in about 3,500 styles, including cats, dogs, birds, fish, snakes, flowers, pineapples, strawberries and even cupcakes. According the Wall Street Journal, Lieber, 89, is buying back her bags in order to stock her museum. Located in East Hampton, New York, the Lieber Museum has about 200 bags on display. Lieber and her husband Gerson, 88, presently have about 900 bags, but would like to have an example of each of them. Lieber sold her company in 1993, and today new bags sell for between $925-$5,000. The vintage novelty bags sell between $1,000-$5,000. More simple Lieber bags sell for less.

Sandi Berman, owner of “Deluxe”, a store that sells vintage costume jewelry and handbags in New York City, says that purchasing a figural handbag can be a smart buy. “It’s like real estate. It will hold its value.” Berman also adds that most of the figural handbags in her store, sell to collectors. “Figural handbags, they speak to people with subjects they personally like… be it a champagne bottle, a fan, it’s something someone has a personal connection to,” Berman said.


The Tassen Museum Hendrikje of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, The Netherlands:
The Lieber Museum:
Antique Purse Collector’s Society: Deluxe, 979 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10021

“Fun Handbags” by Desiree Smith, Schiffer Books, Atgeln, PA, 2006
“Popular Purses: It’s in the Bag” by Leslie Pina and Donald-Brian Johnson, Schiffer Books, Atglen, PA, 2001
“Judith Lieber, The Artful Handbag”, Enid Nemy, Harry N. Abrams, new York, NY, 1995


Galalith Pin


Tell me about this pin. I think it’s jade. It’s marked “Fab on Fse, Paris, 725, Depose”. Do you have any idea what all that means and is it valuable? From S.P. of Wausau, WI

What you have is a lovely pin, made not of jade, but Galalith, a milk-based early plastic. Galalith could mock valuable mediums for jewelry, like jade and ivory, but for a fraction of the cost. First, “Fab on Fse” is abbreviated French for “Fabrication Francaise”, which translates to “Made in France”. According to Ginger Moro’s book “European Designer Jewelry”, Schiffer Books, 1995, “The “Paris 725” was a trademark used in the 1930s and 40s. Finally, “Depose” is a registry mark. In the 1920s and 30s, much fabulous Art Deco, Galalith jewelry was produced in Europe. Your pin, which dates from the 1930s, based on its style, has a retail value of about $200-250.

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