I have been a collector of Lucite and Bakelite purses for some years now. What exactly is Lucite? Bakelite?
Bakelite is the trade name used for one of the first plastics made from synthetic components. It became main stream in 1930’s, but was developed by the Belgian Dr. Leo Baekalite in 1909.
Bakelite had many uses throughout the 1920’s to 40’s. Also under the name Catalin, it was introduced to the world through radios, then later telephones, cameras, and colorful carved jewerly. It would eventually make it's way into the fashion world with purses. Bakelite became known as "the first modern plastic", however after the second World War other options of plastics became available. So while the widespread use of Bakelite is no more, it still has some use today in automobiles, space shuttles, and recreational games.
Lucite is also a trade name for another early plastic. Lucite was developed by the DuPont chemical company in the 1930’s. It is also referred to as acrylic & Plexiglas by other companies.
Plastic Finds It's Place In Fashion
It was post World War II and time to move forward with renewed optimism. The use of plastic in fashion felt very futuristic and modern. Plastic and Bakelite were already being used for trim in handbags, however it wasn't until the early 1950's that the first full plastic handbag was born. The manufacturer Gilli was one of the first to do this, followed by such companies as Tyrolean, Llewellyn, Wilardy, Myles, Khan, Dorset Rex, and Rialto. These magnificent purses were hand carved. They came in an array of bright colors and intricate molds. They were often bejeweled with rhinestones or a metallic confetti. They were literally pricey modern works of art that could be worn on a woman's arm for all to admire.
In the beginning only the well to do could afford such luxury handbags, until the manufacturer Rialto figured out how to produce machine made, injection molded versions of the Lucite bag. This process made the handbags more affordable and easily available to all classes of women. This eventually killed the demand for plastic handbags, which brought the craze for Lucite purses to a halt!
These rare designer Lucite originals can easily fetch a hefty price tag
They say the greatest form of flattery is imitation. Being the avid collector that I am always on the prowl for interesting vintage handbags, especially Lucite & Bakelite. Well, it appears that the plastic handbag is making a comeback!
I must admit I absolutely luv Chanel's take on the plastic clutch purse
Even this reproduction vintage style Barbie chooses to be in vogue with her acrylic handbag
Don't be fooled by these lovely colorful Lucite handbags...they are vintage reproductions!
It is bit of a wonder that the plastic handbag has found a place in today's modern times, but for me I will always be in love with vintage. I am a die hard vintage collector. However I do realize that these plastic handbags can be very fragile. They can break, crack or warp fairly easy. So perhaps in 30 years or so I will grow to appreciate the modern reproduction bags because they may be all that remain of the beloved plastics of the yester-year.
Oh goodness...let's hope that is not the case!
Check out a video I did last year on Bakelite & Lucite Handbags