This post came about because I am in the process of shooting YouTube videos to share The Vintage Purse Gallery’s collection and to educate people who are interested in vintage handbags.
The first video, which I will release in a few days (barring any technical issues), is owl-themed. I chose owls because it is a current popular motif, and was also quite popular in the hippie era. I start off the video with this cute little white purse, which has a trio of embroidered owls.
It is by Bags by T.J., and, at the time of purchase, and when I shot the video, I believed it to be from the late 1960s to early 1970s. Tied to one of its straps is the original paper-and-string price tag from Peltz Shoes. $24.99 seemed kind of steep to me for the 1970s, and I even say that on the video.
It was the price tag that made me curious about the purse’s origins. A new-with-tag (NWT) midcentury purse is a pretty rare find. And there was just something about that $24.99 that didn't seem very '60s/'70s.
After shooting the video, I did some online research and found Bags by T.J.’s website, which hasn’t been updated since 1999. However, the site had an online catalog featuring purses very much like mine. It seems the company had been making vintage-style purses up until at least the late ‘90s.
Screenshot from the website.
I also have one very similar to it, which at first I thought was another Bags by T.J. purse. This one, however, has a label that says “The Original Bag by Pat, Columbus, Mississippi.”
I can’t prove it, but I believe these two companies are somehow related.
The problem is that I occasionally see T.J. and Pat purses for sale online and they are always identified as 1960s/1970s purses, when I am fairly certain they are more modern, meaning 1990s.
I tried calling all the phone numbers related to Bags by T.J., including the 800 number on its website, but that number now goes to a scammy-sounding “congratulations, you have won…” commercial-type voicemail. The phone numbers for the president of Bags by T.J., Don T. Lemon, have been disconnected. From my research, I believe he was born April 1935 and had his business for a time at 121 Butler St. in Florence, Alabama, selling many of these purses to golf course gift shops, then moved to Metairie, Louisiana, where he passed away in March 1999. Efforts to reach his family members in Louisiana failed.
I also phoned the marketing department of Peltz Shoes, where an employee named Steve very kindly assisted me by consulting with the company’s owners, who have been in business since 1957 and still work at Peltz Shoes’ corporate headquarters. There are no inventory records for the purse as it has since been purged from their modern system, but they believe that it did sell in their store in the 1990s.
I didn’t want to have to re-record my Vintage Purse Gallery Channel inaugural video, so I added captions to clarify what I learned after the fact. Of course, I wish I had done the research beforehand, but I don’t know if that would’ve stopped me from buying the purse—although it definitely would’ve changed the narrative on the video. The purse is very cute and it fits in well with the gallery’s collection, however, it is not from the 1960s/1970s.
The lesson here is that it doesn’t hurt to check out the background—if at all possible—of a vintage handbag prior to purchasing. I often see purses referred to as being from the wrong era, but this particular type of bag is consistently advertised incorrectly, and its retro style adds to that illusion.
I still believe you should buy what you love, regardless of era, and as long as you can afford it. My main concern is that a lot of the history of these purses is gone or will go away soon, so if you were in the purse business, or if you know someone who was who would like to share their story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to do an interview!