SPECIAL POST! 1950s Straeter Lite-On Handbag Photos and Information UPDATED AUGUST 15, 2017

The Straeter Lite-On Handbag: Mystery, Myth and What We Know So Far

We wanted very much to add the Straeter Lite-On handbag to The Vintage Purse Gallery's collection after seeing this 1955 video (credit British Pathe').

The exterior of the bag looks, innocuously enough, like your average 1950s purse. However, the inside is a remarkable confabulation of utility and art. Meant to help a stylish lady light up her front door's keyhole when she arrives home from the club after a martini or two, it is a combination of handsome handbag, fancy flashlight, and beauty compact. Bonus: the compact is 24-carat (sic) gold plated! It has ornate stylized etchings of nude women on the gold part, and a (painted?) Grecian woman statue on one side of the mirror. There are vintage makeup mirror-style bulbs underneath the compact and it operates by pushing the buttons on either side of the clasp. You can lift the mirror to check out your makeup or light up your doorway.

We've seen this bag in different materials and colors, and with slight adjustments to the interior. The Vintage Purse Gallery's Straeter is brown suede and currently in need of serious repair. It is also missing certain things, such as the original instruction booklet, cigarette case and comb, and but has the lipstick holder and perfume bottle. Hidden inside its workings is the original enormous (and actual flashlight) battery, which tested live, but the connections don't seem to be operable. No matter—we were still happy to get it for the collection. It also inspired us to learn more. (More photos below.)

On several websites and other sources we found online, it is stated as fact (or distinct possibility) that this purse was originally a collaborative design in the 1930s by Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali, who were friends. We contacted both the Schiaparelli and Dali organizations, and were basically told by the Dali representatives that there is no evidence of this. The Schiaparelli people never answered.

Here is a screenshot of an excerpt from "Frocking Life: Searching for Elsa Schiaparelli," in which the author, Billyboy, indicates that the engravings on the gold portion of the bag represent the goddesses of day and night.

Because the Lite-On's inventor Leonard Friedrich William (L.F.W.) Straeter was Dutch, we contacted the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam to see if he'd left any descendants in the area, or at least some info about his life and work. They said they'd try to help, but at the time of this posting, we hadn't heard back.

We did find the Oct. 5, 1954 U.S. patent applied for by Straeter, which you can see here: https://www.google.ch/patents/US2691091

Here are sketches from the patent application.

We also learned that he was embroiled in some sort of lawsuit, but it was a single document, in Dutch: https://www.navigator.nl/document/id3601de78d375633b920fb78508d84fbb/nj-1960-648-ktr-amsterdam-05-08-1960. We can't access the rest of it, but it may have been about patent infringement. In researching bags of the 1940s/1950s, we've learned that manufacturers sued each other frequently over patent and copyright issues.

Our unproven theory is that L.F.W. Straeter was perhaps an engineer or in a similar profession, and only made the one type of purse, the Lite-On, albeit in different sizes, shapes and materials. We believe he held patents in both the U.S. and Europe (possibly France, per Billyboy). The narrator of the 1955 video said the handbag was a product of "Anglo-Dutch cooperation," which may have meant Straeter created the bag in the Netherlands, where he was from, but had it manufactured by an English company.

There is a definite U.S. connection, per the American patent number. Also, according to the website of the Bag Lady Emporium, "Straeter Lite-On America" was among the exhibits at the January 1954 Accessories Show at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City. This event was put on by the editors of Handbags & Accessories (magazine?): http://www.bagladyemporium.com/BLU/index.php?n=Main.1954JanuaryHandbagsAccessoriesShow.



  1. There is a similar one on eBay US

  2. Hi. All very interesting. I have one. The comb is original. It says made in Holland on it.
    Awesome handbag.

    1. Fabulous! We're currently trying to acquire the original instruction booklet, so if you see one for sale online, please let us know. :)


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