Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vintage Baby Alligator Handbags (1940's- 1950's)

Good morning! My trip to Louisiana had me really thinking about an alligator handbag I saw once in the sadly no-longer-in-business Flashback Vintage. Not THIS kind of alligator (though, if someone wants to give me an early birthday present, let it be known I am totally cool with this):

 1940s Elegant Alligator Handbag (Genuine) 

But THIS kind:

Rare Antique Alligator Hornback Leather Edwardian Handbag

Is it wrong? The schema of the purse I had in mind, from way back around 1998, was sitting in a place of pride at the aforementioned shop, and was oriented like those bags shaped like stuffed poodle dogs, except it was a real baby alligator which opened and closed like a clutch purse. I learned from this appraisal article that alligator bags that actually used the bodies of the baby alligators as part of the design were sold as souvenirs in Florida and Cuba in the forties' and fifties'. What do you think? Much less macabre in my mind than the fox stoles with the poor baby's feet and heads still attached, yet I still get a little goosey Jeffrey Dahmer vibe from some of the bags. At the same time as I want one. What does it mean, this conflict of feeling?!

Vintage 1920s purse authentic alligator with skull


I learned from the hilariously titled "", online home of the Louisiana Fur Advisory Council and Alligator Advisory Council, that there are actually three different things you may/may not be getting when you try to get a "genuine alligator" purse (even these, which are definitely from SOME kind of reptile, 'cause you can see his dad-durned head!). One is an alligator, which is the highest quality of the three, and thus probably the most expensive. The next down from that is a crocodile, and one down from that is a caiman. Gharials, native to India, are another type of reptile from the family "crocodilian" (add that to my stage name list) which look like a cross between a swordfish, an alligator, and my nightmares. Who knew I would get all pumped up about learning to tell an alligator from a crocodile? You can't say the seed that a childhood subscription to RANGER RICK planted in my imagination has not come to some fruition. More about the differences at the San Diego Zoo website here. Most of these may be the lesser quality, smaller caimans, but it could be a gator!

Vintage 1940s alligator with baby alligator purse handbag

Like the alligator head I actually ended up taking home as a souvenir (I love you, Snappy!), there's a weird attraction to both the kitsch and the Museum of Natural History-ness of the whole thing. However, like my crab-encased-in-Lucite earrings, is it simply too gross to carry around in our ultra-sensitive modern day? I'd hate for someone to get all PETA up in my face. While I really don't see the need for creating more fur/animal cruelty based products in this, our twenty-first century when faux is so finished and refined you can't tell the difference, I really ALSO can't see the harm in purchasing a less-than-humanely-produced leather handbag or ermine coat when the unfortunate in question shook free his earthly bonds forty years before I was born. Just sayin'.

Alligator Purse with Full Body Alligator
The ones that are in poor condition due to age and alligator battery are REALLY spooky, but even some of the well done and well preserved ones still have that "used to be a living thing" stigma. It gives you a chill! And, again, being the secretly semi-thrilled at ghoulish things gal that I am, I can't decide if I like it enough to get one, or if I like it enough to appreciate that such things exist and leave it at that.

Classic 1940's Genuine Alligator Purse

Vintage Genuine Alligator Ladies' Box Purse
 (this may be the creepiest one)
Vintage Alligator with Claws and Feet Handbag 
(j/k, this is the creepiest one. WHAT IS WITH THE HANDS?!)
What do you think? Would you bite the bullet in the name of letting your weirdo flag fly? Or are sicked out? Cos, admittedly, some of these are too far off the taste-o-meter for even me. Most of these are in the sky-high-insane-o-Etsy price range, but if I ever see one under the fifty dollar never know. I need your opinion!                         

Here are some less controversial alligator themed vintage items. Maybe I can fill the gatorless hole in my collection with one of these!
Raffia Embroidered Alligator Purse

Homeward Bound, Florida postcard


  1. i got one at a thrift store when i was 14 and used it all the time. i have no idea what happened to it but i wish i still had it!!

  2. Oh yes, those bags are totally too much for me. Fascinating definitely but they'd make me too sad. Especially the one with the little feet hanging off. I knew a girl in high school that carried an armadillo bag. It was an entire taxidermy armadillo with it's body hollowed out and a hinged top that closed. It was super macabre to me. A little armadillo with a handle on it's back. I'm sure it never could have imagined that it would spend it's afterlife with a torso full of lip gloss, tampons and kleenex. And Van Halen tapes since this was the 80's.

  3. p.s. Oh Lawd. I just google image searched armadillo bags. I don't see one like she had - it looked like a complete armadillo just walking around...but now a purse. The ones that google did bring up - BLECKKKK.

    1. OMG, THE GOOGLE IMAGE RESULTS FOR VINTAGE ARMADILLO BAGS! I think it was worse than any of these! But the one you described, Van Halen tapes and all, does seem to toe that same line of "awesome/totally creepy". Maybe that's the kind I saw in that vintage store all those years ago? The size/shape seems more conducive to purse-making. Look at this guilt free but way out of my price range Kate Spade wicker armadillo purse...!!

    2. wow some of these bags are really weird, that one with the hands i think i would be afraid that the little alligator leave it while i´m sleeping haha but the first one is really beautiful!
      love and kiss,mary

  4. SO COOOOOOOL!!!! My friend has one with the head on the flap, but I think the bags with the entire gator applique are the creepiest!

  5. i really cant' decide how i feel about owning vintage fur/animal items. i have been hemming and hawing over a jackalope at the franklin antique mall for over a year. travis says he found an aligator bag at the outlet and DIDN"T GET IT! i'm still mad, over a month later. i don't know if i would have carried it, or would have gotten freaked out and given it away. i obviously think the fur industry is disgusting, but i'm not sure how i feel about buying something old, second hand, when none of my money will go to the maker. i did see a box of those creepy little mink with the legs and faces at an antique mall recently, and the sign side all profits from their fur would be donated to the humane society. i kind of loved that. so to conclude, i don't know how i feel. and i think about it A LOT. more than a normal person I'm sure.

  6. Oh, hey..I have an aligator bag AND a lizard bag. The aligator has seen better days, but Miss Lizard is immaculate. You see, 20 years ago these things were NOT cool and could be had for a dime a dozen. I had three little boys and I'd dress up in heels, homemade dresses and jangling bakelite and prance around the junk stores with them in tow. Those dumb boys of mine thought I was a model or something. Ha.

  7. Uh, I think I shorted my "aligator" an "L"

  8. I've always been simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the bags featuring alligator heads or feet (I feel the same about mink heads and paws too), but if I found one for a decent price, I would definitely bite the bullet and buy it.

  9. How much you think one of those goes for?

  10. We have one that my mother-in-law left us and we don't know what to do with it. Any ideas? Looks like the picture 4th from the top.

    1. Depending on the condition, you could probably sell it on eBay or even your local buy-sell-trade/Craigslist type deal for at least $75-100. They're SO BIZARRE but great! I'm sure some fashion forward or vintage loving person out there somewhere would love to give it new life! My only caveat is that any of the, uh, appendages (tail/leg/etc) have snapped off since it was a new item back in the day, that takes the value down considerably. Good luck!!



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