Wendy Dager decided to open her extensive vintage handbag collection to the world via an online-only exhibit in 2012. Two years later, her goal was to have a brick-and-mortar museum near Los Angeles, California, where she lived at the time, but after consulting with seasoned business executives, she realized that such an endeavor would be costly. So, she expanded the museum’s social media presence, which garnered a global and enthusiastic audience. When the pandemic hit in 2020, a virtual museum became an idea seemingly—and unwittingly—ahead of its time.
Currently composed of approximately 2,000 pieces including handbags, accessories and purse-related ephemera, the collection is now housed in Tucson, Arizona. It is not open to the public, however, there are thousands of photos on the museum’s website, as well as painstakingly researched articles sharing the histories of a variety of handbag manufacturers—some with input from the makers themselves, former employees and relatives. The growing collection mostly dates to the mid-century, although there are a large number of both older and more recent bags. Many of the handbags in the collection are unusual, whimsical or rarities, including some by the mysterious Anne-Marie of Paris, the Straeter Lite-On, Flexiclogs wood purses, Wilardy Lucite painted poodle, Midas of Miami wicker elephant, Ingber safety pin handle and more.
The Vintage Purse Museum is in the process of creating a mobile exhibit out of a 1961 Aristocrat Land Commander trailer. It has been completely remodeled inside with Plexiglas shelving, new lighting and industrial flooring. The removable viewing window allows for the exhibit to be seen by visitors without entering the trailer. When it is complete, it will be available for exhibits in the Tucson, Arizona area. As the collection is extensive, exhibits can be customized by theme, including time period, material or motif.
Main website: https://vintagepursemuseum.com/
Photo archive page: http://vintagepurse.gallery/
Instagram, Twitter, TikTok: @vintagepursegal
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Wendy Dager is curator of The Vintage Purse Museum. She has a certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies from California State University, East Bay. Wendy was a professional freelance writer for 30 years, including a nearly two-decade stint as a newspaper stringer, before focusing on writing about handbags and the people who created them. Her book, Pain in The Purse: The Tax That Changed Handbag History will be published in the fall of 2021. Her email is email@example.com.