Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vintage Handbags! The Caro-Nan Baskets

Are you familiar with Caro-Nan bags? These handpainted basket bags were made in the 1960s and 70s and sold in dress shops throughout the South (and maybe beyond?). My mother had a few Caro-Nans in the mid-70s and I had totally forgotten about them until I stumbled upon one on eBay. It brought back so many memories - they way things from your childhood can when you see or hear them for the first time in several decades. But, the bags aren't just nostalgic - they are also cute and practical. You can guess where this is headed - I found myself bidding on one, then another one, on eBay.

The Caro-Nan signature bag has buildings painted around the bottom - these are labeled with the names of real places in the towns where they were sold. My large bag was sold at a shop called 'Lady Jane' in Savannah, hence the Savannah landmarks: The Herb House, Colonial Dames House, Independence Presbyterian Church, etc.). It also features one of the cornerstones of 1970s crafting - decoupage. (Remember Mod Podge?) Many of the Caro-Nan bags also had a penny, from the current year, decoupaged on the top. I'm keeping an eye on eBay for one that has a penny from my birth year.

The bags have gingham linings and are very sturdy and roomy and are signed on the inside lid. There are bags featuring lots of different cities and towns, plus many other charming motifs (turtles, golf, tennis, flowers) - I'm sure there's one that's perfect for you! (And, in these lean times, these bags can be a great deal - much cheaper now than when they were new! Watch eBay for a few weeks and you'll see several in great shape for less than $30 - if you're not worried about the condition you may find one for under $10.)

I've used the 'Savannah' bag the whole summer and am using the 'Turtle' bag to store stationery in my office. I'd love to find out more about Caro-Nan, but there is very little information online. Was she a mom who painted purses as a sideline? Did she visit all the cities represented on her bags, maybe for signings? Did she start out to paint a bag for herself and end up with a successful business? We may never know, but we can enjoy her work.
If you're hooked on other vintage bags, I'd love to hear about them!


  1. I love your bags! I know what you mean about that nostalgic thing. I bought a vintage wicker bag a few years back that still had the tags on it. I do believe it is my favorite purse and I only paid $5!

  2. Amy - how exciting to find a vintage bag that was brand new (not the mention the great price)! Thanks for stopping by. Leah

  3. I have one from Albrecht's in St. Paul, Minnesota.

  4. Just got a 1964 Caro Nan purse featuring Cincinnati locales. I was sooo excited to see it at a local consignment shop and had to have it. My Mom and all her friends carried these purses....good memories.

  5. I own 4 caro-nan purses. I'm from Oklahoma and found them all in the same town, but they are from various locations. I too have been trying to find out more, but haven gotten very far yet.

  6. I remember my Mom saving up to purchase her Caro Nan purse. She actually had the purse in lay-a-way in a little dress shop in Nocona Texas, where we were living at the time. I was always fascinated with her purse and the little penny stuck on top (which I tried to pry off but couldn't).

  7. I just googled about these purses and found your blog! I was intrigued because I found one in great condition at a thrift store today for less that $5 and didn't get it!

  8. Thank you for starting this, I'm hooked too! I remember admiring a display in Andrade - an upscale dress stop in Honolulu. Now I own two and am still looking for a Hawaiian theme in any size.
    WHO IS CARO NAN?! I'd love to know more about this artist. Aloha, Dawn

  9. I now have two of these bags - One of them has been carried every spring and summer since I bought it (and two others for gifts) in 1973. It seems that everywhere I go someone starts talking to me about it - everyone loves it! I have been told that these purses were done by 2 ladies (Carolyn and Nancy) and were customized for the locations where they were sold. I have also been told that the 2 ladies were living here in Houston, Tx, but have not been able to confirm that fact. I absolutely love my purse and recently bought another one in a garage sale but haven't switched over to it yet.

  10. My good friend, Anne Steele Riley, glued the lucky penny on each bag. Her mom, Nancy Steele, and friend Carolyn McDaniel of Jackson, Mississippi, started the Caro-Nan purse business in their garage as a hobby in the mid 60's.

  11. Caro-Nan was based out of Jackson, Mississippi.

    Caro= Carolyn McDaniel
    Nan= Nancy Steele

    The two owned and operated the store in the 60s and manufactured, distributed, and sold their purses with the help of local housewives needing to make some money at the time,were hard working, and who possessed a creative mind set in MS at the time. Nancy’s daughter Anne Steele Riley had the honor of placing the lucky penny on certain bags during the mid 60s, adding a unique touch to the bag before they were hand signed Caro-Nan on the inside and later occasionally on the outside as well. They became very unique and popular must have items and began to circulate to specific shops around the State and then around the Nation.

    The two currently still reside in Jackson but have not made purses for some time now. These are truly very unique and timeless pieces. I grew up seeing them around Nancy’s house for ever and always knew that they were quite unique. - RR

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. My parents were good friends with the Steeles and McDaniels in Jackson. My mom was one of the original painters, before the ladies started the business. We had purses all over the house for years! Mom made one for each of the grown-up women in the family. The purses were each unique and personalized to the owner. It was fun to read the purses, see all the local businesses, and the fantasy businesses with our names on them. I usually got a pet shop or a horse stable :). My sister got a dance studio or art gallery. Great fun - so many memories. Thank you.

  12. I heard that the penny on top is the year the purse was made. Does anyone know if this is true? I have one with a 1957 penny.

    1. Barb in Kokomo INJune 28, 2012 at 1:54 AM

      Do you still have that purse? I love unique purses! That is the year I was born. I resently found a purse in a Kokomo IN Treasure Mart. It has no paintings, but it did have the "Caro-Nan" signature with "Hartmeyer's". It has 4 photo frames on the outside and on the inside a mirror and a quilted lining. How cute? I think it was probably an early purse. Please let me know! I would love to know the "Hartmeyer's" story. If you know any thing about "Hartmeyer's", please let me know.

  13. I found a Nan-Caro at a local consignment shop that was made for Fedway in Longview, Texas. It features local businesses, many of which like the Fedway Department Store, no longer are in existance. It's like a scrapbook of my town.

  14. I love the story behind these bags. I've begun collecting them. I'd love to find one from Charleston WV. I'm also looking for a round one. I've been seeing them for sale on Ebay and Etsy.

  15. I love Caro Nan- I used my little bags for years while I was a waitress at a 50's theme restaurant. They have been in storage, never thought about actually using them for practical reasons.. very cute. I have one from Scottsdale, AZ that is darling. I will have to check the penny. So happy to find out some information. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I HAVE A Carp-Mam purse with Owls painted on it. Excelent condition. Will sell for $50.00 you pay shipping.

  17. The purse above is a Caro-Nan with owls. not Caro-Mam. contact

  18. I found a Carolina Nan Dallas themed with a 1959 penny. Any chance that is was made that year?

    1. no. they weren't made until the mid-1960's

  19. My mom used her San Antonio, TX Caro-Nan purse for many years in the 70's. She finally decided to let it go a couple of weeks ago after having it in a box in the garage. I was going to take it to Salvation Army but after researching the purse I am going to hold on to it as well as the memories of my mom using it when I was a child. It's in good shape so I will find a clever idea to use it in my home. Thanks for all the information!

  20. Enjoyed reading about the origin of these purses. I just unearthed mine from 1964 while clearing out a closet. The shops depict the village of Hinsdale, IL where I grew up. Anyone else from Hinsdale still have theirs?

  21. I have 3 Caro-Nan purses that were custom made for a woman from Lasalle-Peru IL and her daughter (Joan Flemming) 2 were the mothers, and one the daughter's (Joan) I found them at the Salvation army store for 95 cents each! They are personalized with home address hobbies, husband's business name, friends, children.. 2 are tall ones and one is a shorter. The shorter one is very unique- monogramed on the lid, but matchbook covers from hotels and restaurants around the world! I am using one - was thinking about putting on ebay- but having found the history of the owners really don't want to separate the 3 and have thought about the historical society since they cam from LaSalle-Peru IL residents?
    What I was wondering was where did Carolyn and Nancy buy the baskets from originally?
    Does anyone know?? Karin

  22. I do not think the purse I have is a Caro-Nan original. The paintings of the buildings from Monore, La. are different than those I saw on the Caro-Nan purse from Ebay. My Mother-in-law was from the Monroe, La. area and she had several of these purses. I think she had someone local in Bunkie, La. where she lived paint the purse. Her Mother-in-law also had several. In cleaning out her home, I found a blank one in the closet after she passed away and would really like to do something with it. But am stumped on how to proceed.
    I understand the feeling of nostalgia. When I use the purse, I feel really close to her. I feel she would approve. Kimberly

  23. Barb from Kokomo INJune 28, 2012 at 2:03 AM

    Why is this web site called "Who Moved My Cheese Straw?"?

  24. I have three Caro-Nan's. One of them is dogwood blossoms and another is antiques, but one is a little unusual. It is the reason I started buying Caro-Nan's. The lid is a calf with a butterfly that was a print by FC Murphy the artist of the American Angus Association. Inside the lid is says Tennessee Angus Auxilary. I feel that this was probably an auction or raffle item. Can anyone tell me anything about it or it's value? Thanks, Amber

  25. I recently acquired a Caro-Nan basket purse at The Longest Yard Sale in either Alabama or Georgia. It's red and white, in an Alabama Crimson Tide football motif. Alabama is on the front and the elephant is depicted on the lid. The lid is signed on the inside along with Birmingham Trunk. I have not seen any like this on the Internet. Does anyone know if Carolyn and Nancy designed purses with this kind of design. You can reach me at

  26. I can remember these purses being sold at Cole's in Natchez, MS. I always wanted one, but didn't have the money. Would love to find one made for Natchez. Please email me if you hear of one.

  27. I found a bag this weekend in a Corbin Ky shop and it is Churchill Downs theme with the racing horses and packed stands and the two steeples on the front. It looks like a fifties bag. So cute and interesting.

  28. Were any of the Caro Nan basket purses made with lucite handles instead of straw? I have one and was wondering if it is original. Thanks.

    1. All of the REAL caro-nan bags were signed inside the lids.

    2. no, all the original handles were made of WOOD... not straw.

    3. The inside of mine is signed KAD, not Caro-Nan. Could it be a fake?

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  72. This is so awesome! I just found a Caro Nan basket bag at an Estate Sale! Mine is not in nearly as good of a condition as yours but they are so beautiful and unique that I could not resist!!

  73. I am writing an article about Caro Nan baskets and I would love to hear from those who have personal anecdotes about them like those described in the comments above. Please contact me via my blog: Thank you!

  74. Here is the blog post I wrote about how I discovered Caro Nan Baskets, and a little bit more about them:

  75. I purchased a Caro Nan in 1964 from Neiman Marcus in Ft. Worth, Texas. I still have the purse. It was so fun to carry and was such a conversation piece.

  76. HI, I found a "Caro Nan" styled bag that has a 1967 penny on the top but is signed on the inside lid as "Miriam". Does anyone know if these two gals hired others to paint for them? The bag has Norway, Ski,and Special Delivery, decoupaged on the top. On the top rim it has, Colorado, Round-up, Hot Spots,Arizona, Broadway, Aspen and Market Place. Buildings painted all around the base.

  77. Hi. My Mother passed away a year ago and we found all her purses packed away. One of them was a Caro Nan purse, signed and had the penny on top 1975. I'm sure that was the date when she received it as a gift from my Father. He bought it at Jacobson's Dept. Store in Jackson, Mi. It's just adorable. She carried it of and on for many years. I just love it! It has landmarks in Jackson painted on the buildings as well as other places in Michigan

  78. I have one from a boutique called Ann Irwin, in Elm Grove, WI, where my aunt worked in the 1970s

  79. I have a large wooden woven basket purse from the 70s. It has a thoroughbred racehorse in pasture, diorama on the top, topped with glass. Quilting inside. Velvet top layer around top rim.
    Definitely for the Kentucky Derby crowd. No idea who made it.

  80. I have a 1964 bag that has made for Jane Smith on the inside lid. Anyone know who Jane Smith might be?


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