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One Tank Trip: PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History

November 14th, 2019 |

November 13, 2019 | In The News

Written by Karin Mallett for WFMZ 69 News

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – There are bags to put your things in, bags for an evening out, bags that catch your eye. Part function, part fashion.

“What I love about purses is I love the way they look,” said Ilene Hochberg Wood, a handbag historian and private collector. “I find them objects that are almost pieces of art. They are beautifully created and, in many cases, they are made one-of-a-kind by artists.”

Wood has a few to choose from. She has more than 3,000 in her private collection, with 300 of them on display for the first time at the Kemerer Museum in Bethlehem. One-hundred needlepoint bags are at the Moravian Museum, and 150 travel bags are at the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown.

“Purseonality: A Stylish Handbag History” started with a red one when Wood was about 9.

“My mother gave me a choice of two handbags,” Wood recalled. “She brought them home, and my mom said, ‘Pick one and tell me why.'”

She chose a red leather bag over a brown vinyl one.

“I passed the test with flying colors,” Wood said.

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Handbags are part of our history, evolving over the years. The earliest dated back not to a woman, but a man. The oldest in Ilene’s collection is a Victorian carpet bag from the 1800s.

The most expensive is her Kelly, because it’s an unusual size. It’s worth more than $100,000 and kept in the museum’s vault.

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“These are some of the ‘it bags,'” Wood said.


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