Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview with Wendy Dager, owner and curator of The Vintage Purse Gallery

Tell us a little about yourself and your collection.

I’m a professional freelance writer, newspaper opinion columnist, and author of a humorous mystery series. You can read more about my day job by going to my writing website.

As for being a collector of vintage—that’s way more interesting! I started collecting about twenty-five years ago, going to local vintage clothing stores and antique malls. I’d get a few pieces here and there for super-cheap, mostly to wear rather than display. My favorite items were ‘50s beaded, sequined, appliqu├ęd and embellished sweaters, and novelty circle skirts. I still have a ton of them, and my collection has grown to include ‘40s evening dresses, ‘50s daydresses, ‘60s Hawaiian dresses, Pendleton suits and more. I don’t wear the circle skirts as much as I used to—mostly because my size 4 days appear to be over—but I wear my vintage sweaters a lot.

What about the purses? How did that collection start?

I don’t remember when I started my obsession with purses. I just know that my collecting got much more intense with the advent of online auctions. In the early days of eBay, you could get some fabulous deals, and, man, did I ever! In fact, I went a little coo-coo. My husband had to add a wing on to the house just for my collection. (See 2015 note in red below on how the gallery has more than doubled in size!)

"The Pink Room" - Home of The Vintage Purse Gallery. As of 2015, it is a lot more crowded than this!

How many vintage purses do you have?

Not sure. Over two hundred. Maybe even close to three hundred. I should really count them to get a more accurate number, but I don’t think I have the patience. Also, I would spend too much time admiring each one. It would take me days!

Which is your favorite?

My favorite type is the 1960s kit purse. Some dealers refer to them as Enid Collins’ knockoffs. I don’t care if they’re not made by a famous designer. I love them. I love the beadwork, the craftiness. I love that they’re roomy enough to hold all my stuff. I also love that you can still find them reasonably priced.

On The Vintage Purse Gallery you mostly feature handbags of the mid-century. Why not some of the fancier metal mesh purses from an earlier era or other museum-quality bags?

The early purses are so beautiful and delicate. I definitely appreciate their art, and I do have a few antique purses, but I’m more into the ones I can use day-to-day. I tend to favor purses that are fun or funky or have silly or whimsical designs. Every purse collector has his or her “thing.” There are those that collect Mandalian purses and some only wanting 1940s alligator-skin handbags and some that crave classic Kelly bags. Me, I’m all about the wacky. They go with my style. And, some might say, my personality.

Do you consider yourself a purse expert?

Not really. I do know a lot about vintage purses, but I don’t believe it’s possible to be an expert on all of them. People find my personal purse blog, Vintage Purse a Day, and e-mail questions about their purses. Some want to know about specific manufacturers, but mostly they want to know how much they can get for their bag. While there are price guides out there, there’s definitely a range for every purse. Price depends on the style of the purse, the maker, the condition, its rarity, where you’re selling it (metropolitan area, country store, etc.)—but it mostly boils down to what someone will pay you for it.

As an example, look at the popular Midas of Miami purses, which are among my favorites. Like everything else, they’re more expensive than they used to be, but their prices can get crazy. They run $35-$150 (and some of the rarer, wicker animal-shaped ones can go for around $250-300), but I actually saw a Midas box bag online for $699. I doubt someone will pay that much for it, and can’t understand why the seller was asking that. Maybe he or she didn’t really want to sell it.

What is your biggest purse peeve?

What I find troubling is that there’s so much misinformation. For instance, I’ll see a purse labeled “rare” for sale online, when I have four of them. Or, they’ll be misdated—like a ‘60s bag called ‘40s. Much of it is simply an honest mistake or just a guess—sometimes based on what a relative or friend may have told the seller about the bag’s alleged history. It’s not hard to check around online and gather information from more reliable sources, such as an established vintage clothier or Bag Lady University.

Are you planning to sell any of your purses?

I should—particularly some of my duplicates—but no, not right now. I’m continuing to collect and am creating a traveling purse exhibit for museums and other venues.

What advice do you have for collectors?

Buy what you love, but don’t break the bank, unless you can truly afford it. Sometimes you may regret passing up a unique bag, but then, magically, another just like it—or even better—will come up for sale!

2015 UPDATE: Wendy received a certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies from California State University, East Bay, after completing a year-long course.

Also, since this article was first published, the gallery has increased to 400-plus vintage purses, accessories and ephemera. 

Wendy and her husband Mike are currently working on creating a traveling purse exhibit, the Rolling Vintage (RV) Purse Museum, inside a 1961 Land Commander, Where the Handbag Meets the Highway.

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