SPECIAL POST: The History of Magid Handbags
|Magid straw (wicker) box-style bag with jeweled and painted poodle design. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum. Fri, Mar 13, 1964 – 18 · Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) · Newspapers.com|
|Anna Magid. Photo courtesy of Bette Levy, Anna's great-granddaughter.|
According to the 1910 US Census, Anna Magid (pronounced muh-JID) and her husband Isaac were living in the Bronx with their five children, Augusta, Sadie, Frances, Morris and Leon. Anna was 38 at the time and had her own millinery shop. Isaac’s job was listed as “foreman” at a “cap factory,” although the Magid family says he worked in a factory that reprocessed rags. (“Cap” instead of “rag” may have been a spelling or attention error on the part of the Census taker.) The Census says both were born in Russia, but other documents show Anna’s place of birth as Lithuania or Poland—possibly due to ever-changing geographical boundaries. It’s probable her birth name was “Hannah,” and was Americanized to Anna when she emigrated to the US around 1892.
A genealogy website and other online resources* say that in 1915 Anna was president of Hygrade Ornament Co., 4 W. 37th St., New York, NY. It doesn’t indicate if she and Isaac ever owned this company, but one website says she worked for others while at Hygrade (a millinery ornaments company, per a 1918 classified ad). She left Hygrade in 1916 to form her own company.
The earliest Magid newspaper classified ad we found was a 1917 advertisement for beaders and crocheters, with an address on Flatbush Ave., a famous street in Brooklyn, NY. This is likely when Anna’s company, “A.I. Magid,” began to flourish. These ads continued over the years as they moved to larger locations. Per a 1920 advertisement, they were also repairing handbags.
It’s not clear if the “I” in “A.I. Magid” stood for her middle name as there is no evidence that she had one. Perhaps it was for Anna’s husband Isaac, who, by all accounts, was more of a passive partner, with his wife the primary architect of the business. (Her 1922 passport application indicates the “I” is for “Isaac.”)
What’s also unknown is how she came up with the logo for her company, a stylized “M” inside a circle, between two wings. This flying M is still visible as a painted sign on the side of the building at 30 E. 33rd St., the Magid company’s longtime former factory, warehouse and showroom address. It also appears on some of the labels or ink-stamped inside older Magid handbags.
|An example of the Magid flying M logo on a label from a bag from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum. This logo was also sometimes stamped on the lining of Magid handbags.|
Per the 1920 Census, Anna was owner of a handbag business, her husband was a manager (in an unnamed industry), and their son Morris (later changed to “Maurice”) was manager of a handbag business, presumably A.I. Magid.
|Delicate green Magid evening bag with white beads. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|
|Stamped Magid logo inside green bag above.
Sun, Dec 18, 1949 – Page 76 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com
Anna’s daughter Augusta (Gus) was also an important part of company management, as well as a talented designer who took out several handbag trademarks with the US Patent Office under the Magid name. The Vintage Purse Museum was fortunate to speak with textile artist Bette Levy, Anna’s great-granddaughter and Gus’s granddaughter. She gave us permission to use the following paragraph from her artist’s statement.
“Fine arts and needlecrafts have permeated the lives of women in my family for generations. At the turn of the century, my great-grandmother, Anna Magid started a beaded handbag company in New York City, and her daughter, my grandmother, was the designer. Two of my earliest memories relate to Magid Handbags. In one memory, I am sitting on the floor in one of the workrooms, playing with thousands of seed beads, self-strewn all over the floor, while Pia, the Italian beader, minds me. In another memory, I am lying at the foot of my grandmother’s bed while she designs and pricks out bead patterns on tissue paper attached to a wooden board. My mother also was a creative woman...a clothing and interior designer, as well as an exhibiting painter and sculptor. I learned about creative art and needlework from these two women, my grandmother and mother. They were always creating with their hands, and I grew up surrounded by exotic fabrics and clothing, as well as sparkly trims, beads, and sequins - magical stimuli that delighted my senses and spurred my imagination. Throughout my life, I always loved and created things with textiles.”
|Two quilted Magid handbags using the same fabric, but with different styles of topstitching. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|
|Magid evening bag that also has a sewn-in Joseph Magnin department store label.|
|Pictured, top and bottom, a pair of gold Lurex fabric Magid evening bags, one with purse accessories, from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum. Both bags likely from the 1960s-1970s.|
During Anna and Isaac's retirement and after their passing, the company was run by sons Maurice and Leon and son-in-law Leopold Sneider. Maurice’s son Paul Magid says this (via email) about his father, who passed away in 2001 at age 102: “He only retired to Florida with my mother when he was in his sixties and no longer active in business. He spent his working life in the New York area. After my grandmother died, or not long before, he left the company and went to NYU and completed the college education that he had begun in the 20's when my grandmother pulled him out, luring him to come to work at Magid's by making him a buyer. Hence his frequent trips to Europe. He then began his real estate activities. He was a businessman first and foremost, and I do not recall that he had any interest in design or other artistic endeavors. He enjoyed his travels and was probably good with people. That was his strength as a buyer. I think his contribution to the company in other respects must have been exclusively in putting it on a successful financial footing.”
In the early years, when Anna and her family ran the factory, their products consisted of hand-beaded bags made in the US. During the mid-century, Magid was, and still is, known primarily for straw handbags and evening bags, first made in the US, but later imported from all over the world. Another notable style was a brief collaboration (1968-1969) with handbag artist Stella Jolles Reichman (1922-1997; see our 2016 interview with her great-nephew). While we were unable to confirm how this partnership came to be, we know that Stella was a designer of whimsical handbags in the 1950s for her mother Ida Jolles’s company (known mostly for its 1930s-1940s petit point purses). After the Jolles company ceased operations, Stella went on to style funky hippie-era bags for Magid, then had a career as an author, body positivity activist and spokesperson for Lane Bryant.
|Stella Jolles for Magid metal lion bag from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum. Similar in shape to the advertisement below. We have a number of Stella Jolles for Magid handbags, which appear to have been limited in production from 1968-1969.|
Mon, Feb 10, 1969 – Page 23 · Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) · Newspapers.com
The Vintage Purse Museum found a 1964 article about the Magid company that cites Jerry Lederer (1908-1994) as a co-partner and designer for the business. We spoke with Suzinn Weiss, granddaughter of Jerry Lederer. Suzinn is a professional artist working in numerous forms including jewelry, painting and landscape gardens. She shared with us a memory similar to that of Bette Levy’s, where, as a young girl—perhaps a decade or so after Bette—she went to the Magid factory and saw women doing elaborate beadwork on evening bags. Suzinn has very fond memories of her grandfather and his second wife, Blanche, a jewelry designer, and cites Jerry as being a tremendous influence on her, encouraging her to travel the world as he had done.
|Jerry and Blanche Lederer appear uncredited in an undated (1950s) photo in the 2003 cookbook The Palm Restaurant Cookbook by Brigit Legere Binns. Blanche is in the lower right corner and Jerry is the man looking adoringly at her on the far right. Photo sent to us by Suzinn Weiss, Jerry's granddaughter.|
|Pink straw Magid bag with gold-tone hardware and chain from the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.
Wed, May 8, 1968 – 17 · Wausau Daily Herald (Wausau, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com
|Whimsical straw Magid tote with vegetable basket and original hangtag. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|
One of The Vintage Purse Museum’s goals in writing this article about Magid was to fill in the timeline from 1916 to its current ownership. We were able to discern via online records that the company eventually came under the chairmanship of Lester Sebold (1925-2013). We spoke with Lester’s son Gary, who worked for the company as controller from the mid-1980s to the late-1990s and cites his time there as a great experience and excellent work environment, with friendly salesmen coming in after a long morning of sales calls to have lunch and play cards. Their offices were across the street from the Empire State Building, although they eventually warehoused their products at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which charged more affordable rent than pricey Manhattan. Gary told The Vintage Purse Museum that his father was a wonderful man who’d started at Magid at the bottom, sweeping floors. He traveled quite a bit for work, says Gary, who didn’t know until years later that some of the politically volatile countries required that his father be accompanied by an armed guard while on handbag buying excursions. This didn’t stop Lester, however. It had become too expensive to produce handbags in the US, so they had to be imported from Milan, Barcelona, the Philippines, Guam, China and other locales, meaning he made many trips in order to keep retail customers supplied with the latest fashions.
|Magid basket bag with circus animal theme. It also has a De Pinna department store label. De Pinna was in business from 1885-1969. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|
We also spoke with a former employee and company partner who asked to remain anonymous. The employee, who started working at Magid in the late 1960s after leaving another well-known mid-century handbag maker, explained that the company’s leadership during this era, including Jerry Lederer and Lester Sebold, were able to work their way up the ladder over their years of employment while buying partner shares. This led to the sons and son-in-law of Anna Magid eventually phasing out their ownership.
|Magid straw (wicker) bag with floral fabric front. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|
The former employee told us he filled in wherever he was needed at first, and then became the warehouse and shipping manager. He was eventually brought into the showroom at 30 E. 33rd St. and became the liaison for the many buyers from department stores, boutiques and other types of retail outlets. He describes his years there as the kind of environment that made you happy to get up to go to work every day. He relayed to us a fun anecdote regarding the popularity of the “Kenya bag,” a straw tote that was all the rage in the 1970s, and variations of it are still popular today. He told us that May Company was a very difficult store for manufacturers to get into, but May Company management had heard that Magid was the originator of the desirable Kenya bag. In charge of the showroom at this point, the employee told us he created an elaborate display of Kenya bags to present to the ten buyers and two merchandise managers from May Company. He opened the doors of the display with a flourish and the May Company people simultaneously gasped at the beautiful collection of Kenya bags. Of course, they wanted to purchase them for their chain of stores. The employee made a deal—he told them they could have the Kenya bags at cost, as long as they also stocked Magid’s other lines of straw bags. It was then, said the employee, that he made friends for life.
Wed, Jun 14, 1989 – 8 · The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California) · Newspapers.com
|Y&S-era Magid red sequined clutch. From the collection of The Vintage Purse Museum.|