Cash and carry: '50s pocketbooks worth $125 to $150


January 09, 1994|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers

Q: I have a collection of plastic pocketbooks including a black trapezoid-shaped one with a simulated tortoise shell top and a loop handle; another is pail-shaped, and two are made of translucent pink plastic with a cut-glass pattern. I have a gun-metal oval pocketbook with a clear cut plastic top that looks elegant, and one of my favorites is red with a clear plastic top and handle. How old and valuable are they?

A: Your plastic pocketbooks likely were made in the mid-1950s in Miami or New York, although some may have been assembled recently from old parts. They're worth about $125 to $150 each, according to dealer Frank Maresca, of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, 152 Wooster St., New York, N.Y. 10012; (212) 780-0071.

Your pocketbooks assembled from old parts are worth about the same, said Mr. Maresca, co-author with Robert Gottlieb of "A Certain Style: The Art of The Plastic Handbag, 1949-59," (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988, $35), which is filled with gorgeous photos of some of the best-looking bags of the period. Another helpful illustrated volume is: "Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear," by Kate E. Dooner, (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1992, $24.95).

Plastic pocketbooks, made from materials left over from World War II military production, became a fashion boom in the 1950s when they sold for about $1.98 to $50 each. Women lugged around these heavy, hard-edged pocketbooks until soft vinyl arrived in the '60s. They returned to fashion in the last few years, and prices peaked about 1992 when some of the finest and largest sold to European collectors for about $650 to $850 each. Prices generally have retreated to the $150 to $350 range. Rialto, Llewellyn, Wilardy, Patricia of Miami, Myles Originals, Florida Handbags and Maxim Originals are some of the leading manufacturers' names to look for on hinges or plastic labels.

Q: We've had an unmarked art pottery vase for a long time. After reading your article about the valuable pottery by William H. Grueby, I was curious if he made my vase.

A: Your sunflower vase with embossed flower head, stems and leaves is from one of the most collectible lines mass produced by Roseville Pottery, of Zanesville, Ohio, circa 1930, not by Grueby's Boston pottery. Its mottled green, yellow and terra cotta glaze differs considerably from the mat green glaze for which Grueby (1867-1925) is famous.

Assuming your vase is about nine inches tall, it could retail for around $650, according to art pottery dealer David Rago, of David Rago Arts & Crafts, 9 South Main St., Lambertville, N.J. 08530; (609) 397-4104. At a recent New York antiques show, Mr. Rago exhibited two similar sunflower vases: One was priced $625 and the other, slightly larger, was $750. The costlier one had some blue in the green glaze. "The bigger, the better, and the more blue in the glaze, the more desirable," said Mr. Rago.

Q: I have six postcards framed under a mat imprinted: "The Greatest Moments of a Girl's Life." Research at my local library revealed they're from the turn of this century, were printed and matted by Reinthal & Newman Publishing Co., of New York, and the images were featured in Scribner's magazine. Are they collector's items?

A: Your complete set of six postcards by artist Harrison Fisher is worth about $50 to $75 depending on the condition of the cards, according to dealer Martin J. Shapiro, of Post Cards International, P.O. Box 2930, New Haven, Conn. 06515, who sells through his own catalogs, mail auctions and mail approval service. (While decorative, the frame doesn't add much to the cards' value because the mat has browned and needs to be deacidified.)

Fisher began his artistic career sketching accidents for the San Francisco Call and the San Francisco Examiner, and later was known as the "King of Magazine Cover Artists." Many of his magazine and book illustrations were reproduced as postcards published by Reinthal & Newman. Your "Romance" series was particularly popular and often hung framed in living rooms.

Collecting postcards is popular because it's generally an inexpensive hobby. According to Mr. Shapiro, about 80 percent of postcard collectors want views of their local region, the rest collect thematically, or seek the work of certain artists.

Collectors' clubs which publish journals include: The International Post Card Association, c/o Ms. Connie Skillman, P.O. 617, Milford, Ohio 45159 ($21 dues); and the International Post Card Exchange, c/o Jennifer Batt, 7960 N.W. 50th St., 108, Lauder Hill, Fla. 33359. The International Federation of Post Card Dealers publishes a free directory of dealers: Send a large (No. 10) self-addressed envelope with 75-cents postage affixed to Post Card Dealers, c/o Charles Collins, 19 Empire Place, Greenbelt, Md. 20770.

Among the publications following activities in the postcard world are: Barr's Post Card News, 70 South 6th St., Lansing, Iowa 52151, (800) 397-0145, and the Journal of Post Card Collectors, 121 North Main St., P.O. Box 337, Iola, Wisc. 54945, (800) 331-0038.


Recent auction prices (including any applicable buyer's premium) at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 215 West Ohio St., Chicago, Ill. 60610, (312) 670-0010:

Regency style mahogany dining table, rectangular top on three turned pedestals with reeded legs ending in lion-paw brass casters, 29 inches high, 138 inches long, 46 inches wide, probably American, 20th century, fine condition: $5,750.

Georg Jensen three-piece sterling silver coffee service, "Blossom" pattern, comprising coffee pot and creamer, each with ivory handles, covered sugar bowl with blossom finial, Denmark, 20th century, good condition: $2,760.

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