Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Handbags by Caron of Houston, Texas

A few years back I found a beautiful vintage handbag, peeking out from under piles of tacky purses, at the grungiest of thrift stores. Shining like a pearl inside an oyster...there she was...
The cute label inside said "Hand Decorated by Caron of Houston, Texas". I still have her. Here she is:

My first Caron bag

I'm not sure what it is I like about these bags so much...they really are kind of tacky & almost ugly, in a way. I think it's best described by the french phrase 'jolie laide", which means "pretty/ugly".
Since then I've run across many bags from this maker, but never saw much about the company or designer in any book. No one seemed to know anything about this company! I did manage to find one 80-something year old lady who said that back in the 50's, Caron bags were "all the rage" and she just "had to have one!"

Here's what the tags look like:


Two more Caron beauties

I'm thinking about selling one of the two above in my Etsy shop. Anyone have an opinion as to which one I should sell? I like them both equally, but they are similar enough that I think I should sell one...I can't decide!



Here's the most recent addition to my collection. This little golden cutie was a filthy wreck and I got it on Ebay for about ten bucks. A little TLC, and she cleaned up nicely!

My new baby...I love the boxy shape!


The most common pieces are black wool jersey, with a single top handle. One side is encrusted and bedazzled with a thick layer of all kinds of gewgaws...beads, needlepoint flowers, rhinestones, metal and/or plastic leaves, three-dimensional fruit...all framed by a strip of coordinating braid or gimp. There are other colors out there, most commonly navy blue, brown, tan, taupe, and occasionally metallic gold or silver.
Here are some nice & somewhat unusual examples from Ebay.

Current eBay auction Very unique (and overpriced)
The straw ones are fun, too! Another Ebay auction
There are other companies that made similar bags during the 50's and 60's, notably Soure' New York.
I have a couple of those, too. Here they are:

Two bags by Soure' Bags, New York
These bags are frequently beaded on one side and sort of a mesh-type fabric on the other, whereas the Caron bags are most frequently knit fabric. I've also never seen a Caron bag with a lucite, faux-tortoiseshell handle like the ones above, but it wouldn't surprise me if one existed! I'm going to list one of the two above in my Etsy shop sometime soon.

The Caron company was started in Houston, Texas, by Mrs. Velva Pepper (great name, huh?) who began embellishing handbags in her garage in the mid 50's and selling them to her friends. Soon, her daughter joined her in this enterprise, and soon thereafter their respective husbands joined in as well. Caron, Inc. of Houston was formed in 1957.
According to an old Kiplinger's report, Velva took her little garage enterprise to pretty great heights...in 1963 they had 65 employees and annual sales of $2,000,000. Impressive, I think!
I haven't been able to find out when the company shut down, but my best guess is in the late 60's or early 70's. Mrs. Pepper passed away in 1982 at the age of 68. I wish I could find a picture of her...if I do, I'll post an update.

I think that's a pretty cool story. It would be a big deal nowadays, but back in the 50's? You go, Velva!

7 comments:

  1. I love all those pretty Caron bags but the best for me would be the one on ebay with the leaves cause it has my beloved autumn colours. Unfortunately you said that it's overpriced. So I must be content with looking at the nice photo. Thank you for sharing! Hugs from Germany!

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  2. I have one with leave on it if your interested.

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  3. Hello,
    I am Velva Peppers grand daughter; Caron was my mom. I would be more than happy to show you some pictures of my beautiful family and share some of my story with you. I have never blogged before; we will see if this posts.

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    1. Hello, Velva's Granddaughter!
      What fun to hear from you :-) I'll be sending you a note, via Etsy, shortly.
      Thanks so much for contacting me :-)

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  4. JI have 2 caron of Houston handbags. Need to sell them. Shere can I got to do this? I also have an Adele of Miami handbag. could someone email me a location? Am at gaba1@peoplepc.com

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  5. I just got one from my grandmother and I am in love and looking for more caron bags. texdarlin@yahoo.com

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  6. I love these handbags and like you I am not sure whether they are beautiful/or ugly , I use my collection daily and people always love them so they must be beautiful. I would love to know more about the family also who started this business

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