If space-age fashionista Jane Jetson ever needed a new handbag, she’d time-travel straight back to the middle of the 20th century


Why? To shop fashion-forward Lucite purses. More than any other accessory of that well-accessorized era, these dazzling geometric gems epitomize the futuristic optimism and thoroughly modern mindset of the postwar boom years.

A VINTAGE PINK LUCITE PURSE HANDBAG WITH CLEAR ETCHED LID displays the whimsical touches that made Lucite pocketbooks so popular after the deprivations of World War II: an angular Art Deco body featuring shiny strands of gold and silver lame embedded between laminated layers of pink Lucite, lollipop handle, and transparent carved lid through which the bag’s hot pink lining is visible. It sold on eBay for $355 on May 5, 2020.

From the late 1940s through the 1950s, Lucite handbags and clutches were produced in an amazing array of novel shapes, colors, finishes, embedments, and embellishments. Priced anywhere from $5 to $75, they appealed to mid-century modern women of all ages and social classes — from Wilardy’s high-end Handbags of the Stars (carried by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Ida Lupino, and Jane Wyman) to inexpensive nameless knockoffs by lesser firms.

Today, Lucite handbags and clutches are recognized as masterpieces of modern design. They’re highly collectible yet still affordable. A keyword search of WorthPoint for “lucite purse ” (without quotation marks) pulls up over 5,000 results at prices ranging from $8.50 to $1,500.

What’s most amazing about these purses is that they still look fresh and futuristic, yet they were very much a product of their time. Lucite was invented back in the 1930s when “plastic glass” was not an oxymoron but an aspiration. Crystalline, shatterproof, more transparent, and lighter than glass as well as inexpensive to produce, DuPont Corporation’s patented polymethyl methacrylate was — quite literally — clearly superior to earlier forms of plastic such as Bakelite or celluloid.

Trademarked as Lucite, this versatile new material was introduced to the public at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It was showcased there as the glitzy, glamorous embodiment of DuPont’s advertising slogan (1935-1982): “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.”

Then World War II broke out, and production was diverted almost entirely to the military. Bullet-resistant Lucite replaced glass in periscopes, windshields, gunner turrets, cockpits, and the noses of bomber planes.

Meanwhile, on the home front, handbags were becoming an ever more important and essential accessory, while the metal and other materials necessary for manufacturing them were in increasingly short supply and quite expensive. This meant that many middle-class women couldn’t afford leather or fabric handbags.

It was a true fashion challenge because a lady’s ensemble was just not complete without the right purse. Furthermore, numerous and very specific criteria dictated the choice of what bag went with what outfit. There were even social conventions regarding how to hold one’s handbag in relation to one’s body.

Fantastic Plastic

As the war came to an end, handbag manufacturers sought alternative materials. At the time, plastics were becoming ubiquitous. They also had considerable cachet as the wave of the future. Modern materials and geometric forms were all the rage in interior and industrial design, which spilled over to the fashion world.

Innovative designers and manufacturers quickly discovered that Lucite embodied the very definition of “plastic”: easily shaped or molded and offering scope for creativity. Resembling rock crystal in its pure form, Lucite could be dyed in a wide range of colors and opacities — and that was just for starters.

Nowadays, red Lucite purses are the rarest and desirable, followed by turquoise, emerald green, purple, powder blue, yellow, and pink. Tortoiseshell, gray, clear, and white handbags are not as valuable.

Wilardy’s SIGNED1950S ICE CREAM COLORSHARDYLUCITE HANDBAG PURSE featured marbleized seafoam green, pink, aqua, yellow, and cream stripes that glowed green and lavender in the dark. It sold on eBay for $95 on April 10, 2010,

The manufacturing process for these trendy new purses was relatively simple: Sheets of clear or colored Lucite were cut to size, then heated in an oven until they became flexible enough to wrap around a wooden form and clamp until they were cool enough to handle.

Then each purse’s various components were glued together using a cohesive (as opposed to adhesive) solvent called methylene chloride. This caused the conjoined parts to literally melt and bond to the adjacent surface, creating a joint as strong as the Lucite itself.

The shapes thus produced ranged from traditional rectangular, square, and oval boxes to wildly imaginative flights of fancy: There were purses shaped like barrels, baskets, birdcages, globes, guitars, hatboxes, pagodas, parallelograms, trapezoids, triangles, rocket ships, a Conestoga wagon, a schooner, and more, including two- and three-decker accordion models.

Modeled after a jewelry box, VINTAGE SIGNED 1950’S WILARDY GOLD MESH LUCITE CLUTCH ACCORDION PURSE sold on eBay for $99 on April 15, 2020.

Finishing the Look: Embedments and Embellishments

And the finishes! Lucite could mimic marble, mother of pearl, satin, or tortoiseshell. It could be carved with sunbursts, flowers, and other motifs, using tools and techniques learned in the ivory trade. Many of these purses featured elaborately carved clear lids and/or end panels. Strips of Lucite also could be woven into a basket.

This VINTAGE LUCITE BASKET WEAVE OVAL PURSE, CLEAR AND GOLD WITH SPARKLE CONFETTI features a wishbone handle, carved lid, and the 24-karat gold-plated rod-and-three-orbs clasp typical of Lucite handbags made in Miami. It sold on eBay for $100.65 on August 6, 2020.

Miami-based Artistic Display Company’s Myles Originals, which were launched in the late 1940s, favored a form of Lucite called Lamoplex, which gave the effect of crushed crayons. Their patented 1953 MYLES ORIGINAL “THE DUET” LAMOPLEX HANDBAG, comprised of two interlocking cylinders hinged together at the bottom and topped with a rod-and-three-orbs clasp plated in 24k gold, sold on eBay for $434.99 on January 16, 2013.

Even more exotic effects could be achieved by laminating materials such as silver or gold or multicolored glitter, stars, or confetti between sheets of clear Lucite. Silver and gold threads were another popular embedment, as were plaid, mesh, and basket-weave fabrics and lace. An unsigned UNIQUE ’50s VINTAGE GOLD THREAD BASKETWEAVE LUCITE BAG sold on eBay for $250 on November 11, 2010.

Additional embedments included flowers and butterflies. This triangular 1950s CHROME & LUCITE BUTTERFLY & FLOWERS PURSE HANDBAG is embedded with real flora and fauna along with gold and silver strands of confetti. It sold on eBay for $85.70 on October 30, 2010.

The outsides of Lucite purses lent themselves beautifully to adornment as well. They could be set with beads, pearls, rhinestones, or seashells, overlaid with metal filigree, or even handpainted. A transparent Vintage Painted Poodle Purse sold for $435 on October 30, 2020.

Clearly Fashionable

Purses made from clear Lucite might seem counterintuitive, but in fact they sold very well. Women would line them with a scarf, then hide their purse’s contents inside the scarf. Because she could change scarves to match her outfits, a woman only needed one purse (at least in theory). So clear handbags actually sold very well.

Featuring a peaked handle and a signature rod-and-three-orbs clasp, SNOWFLAKE CARVED LUCITE PURSE could have been made by Charles S. Kahn, Rialto, or several other Miami manufacturers. It sold on eBay for $81.60 on May 17, 2020.

One Word: Plastics

In 1946, a father and son launching a joint venture called Handbag Metal Specialties salvaged their raw materials from damaged airplanes scrapped after the war. Hard-nosed businessman Charles William Hardy and his artistic designer son, William Hammond Hardy, combined their names to brand their handmade Lucite handbags and clutches as Wilardy Originals. Their catalog eventually grew to encompass more than 50 styles in 15 colors.

WILARDY MODEL 1478 ROWS OF RHINESTONES LUCITE PURSE in black sold on eBay for $495 on January 18, 2021; on November 20, 2014, VINTAGE RARE WILARDY ROWS OF RHINESTONES LUCITE PURSE in white shown below sold for $795.

Acknowledged as the pinnacle of Lucite purses, Wilardy handbags and clutches were sold by designer boutiques in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. Will Hardy also designed bathroom accessories, lighting fixtures, sculptures, a dresser for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a chandelier for the White House, and a VERY RARE VINTAGE WILARDY LUCITE PURSE NECKLACE SIGNED WILL HARDY !!!! that sold on eBay for $128.55 on November 3, 2016.

A WorthPoint search for “wilardy” yields 557 results, including an iconic combination ice bucket/purse shaped like a block of ice held by silver tongs.

Other manufacturers likewise saw the possibilities of plastic purses early on. In 1946, Associated Plastics of New York City was making “shell” (cellulose acetate) frames for handbags; they quickly retooled to produce all-plastic purses dubbed Gilli Originals. A WorthPoint search for “gilli lucite purse” brings back 85 results at prices ranging from $3-$725.

More New York-based companies soon followed suit. Maxim was advertising its clear, tortoiseshell, butterscotch, white, and black Lucite handbags as early as 1947. WorthPoint offers 19 search results for keywords “maxim lucite purse” at prices ranging from $24.50 to $200.

NYC’s Lewsid Jewels by Llewellyn was the result of a 1951 merger between Jewel Plastic Corporation and Fre-Mor Manufacturing. Known for his elegant, understated hand-carved handbags, Llewellyn Bley’s legendary LLEWELLYN LUCITE BEEHIVE PURSE HANDBAG is considered by many collectors to be a Holy Grail of Lucite purses.

Dorset Rex 5th Avenue’s distinctive bags utilized metal meshes, basket weaves, and overlays in combination with Lucite. There are 227 search results on WorthPoint for “dorset rex lucite purse” at prices ranging from $10-$300.

Tyrolean’s stunning Lucite purses were also known for their ingenious metal accents. One FABULOUS VINTAGE LUCITE PURSE TORTOISE & BLACK STRIPES 1950s TYROLEAN NYC sold on eBay for $149 on August 18, 2020.

Another New York name to be reckoned with is Rialto. In addition to carved and bejeweled clear and colored Lucite handbags, the company made multi-compartment jewelry boxes in tortoiseshell, gold, and pearlized white Lucite, as well as fanciful stylized animal statues and sculptures.

Only in Miami…

The year after the war ended, in Miami, Florida — where affluent Americans were increasingly flocking for fun in the sun — Miami Handbag Company came out with two new lines: Bags by Benné and Patricia of Miami (named after the owner’s wife).

Unfettered by New York’s more stringent safety regulations, their polymer purses were made from highly flammable cellulose nitrate, a.k.a. Everplex. A worker using a dull cutting tool sparked a fire that burned the factory to the ground, making these bags especially hard to find today. There are 72 WorthPoint search results for “patricia of Miami lucite purse” but only 1 for “bags by benne everplex purse”.

Still bearing its original tag, this pristine and very rare VINTAGE BAG BY BENNÉ / BENNE TIGER MOTIF EVERPLEX LUCITE PURSE HANDBAG VHTF 1952 sold on eBay for $1,199.99 on April 23, 2020.

To meet the burgeoning demand for resort wear, more Miami-based companies jumped aboard the Lucite bandwagon. Look for extraordinary handbags and clutches by Florida Handbags, Charles S. Kahn, Majestic, Nelson Originals, Stylecraft Miami, Suki Originals, and Weisner of Miami.

Weisner took clear Lucite purses to the next level with VINTAGE 1950s 7 PIECE SET WIESNER OF MIAMI TRICKETTES ( LUCITE PURSE ). A transparent oval handbag edged in pavé rhinestones visibly holds half a dozen matching pavé rhinestone essentials no lady should ever be without: a mirror, compact, lipstick holder, comb case, perfume bottle, and cigarette lighter. It sold on eBay for $455 on November 16, 2014.

Competition drove many Lucite purse manufacturers to double down on their designs’ fabulosity with matching accessories. Wilardy, Maxim, and Myles Original, among others, built compacts and cigarette cases right into the lid of some handbags. Some were removable, while others were integral to the purse.

This extremely rare WILARDY RARE VINTAGE EMBEDDED GOLD STARS CLEAR LUCITE PURSE W/ BUILT-IN COMPACT includes a mint-condition powder puff with powder, a comb in a case, and a place for lipstick. It sold on eBay for $1,250 on January 5, 2021.

Lucite purses ultimately fell out of favor nearly as fast as they fell into it. By 1960, designers had discovered a new form of plastic: vinyl, which was easier and cheaper to work with. Injection molding also made it possible to mass-produce plastic items very inexpensively. In addition, fashion was trending away from formal, fully accessorized ensembles toward the informal, free-spirited styles of the soon-to-be-Swinging ‘60s.

The heyday of handmade Lucite handbags was over. They were relegated to thrift stores, the backs of closets, and — eventually — estate sales until a new generation of aficionados rediscovered them during the 1980s and ‘90s. Three-quarters of a century after they were first produced, Lucite purses are still functional, fabulous, and futuristic.

What’s It Worth?

The value of MCM Lucite handbags and clutches depends on design, style, color and finish, trim, and condition. First, check the metal hinge and the bottom of the purse for the designer’s name. If the original paper label is still intact, so much the better. Are there visible seams in the Lucite? High-end bags were handmade (no visible seams) and are therefore more valuable than their machine-made counterparts.

Clutches tend to be rare and may command a premium. Black, brown, white, and pearlized gray are all common hues; red, pale blue, jade green, and yellow are all rare. Features such as inset diamanté gems, internal fittings and/or mirrors, and fancy clasps all add to a purse’s desirability.

Lucite clutch purses are more difficult to find, and red ones are particularly rare. This VINTAGE LUCITE STERLING’S MIAMI BEACH MINAUDIERE CLUTCH HANDBAG PURSE sold recently for $79.99.

As for condition, bags with cracks, crazing, or warping cannot be repaired. These and other flaws, such as fogging, reduce the purse’s worth. In addition, Lucite has no odor. If a purse smells like chemicals, it may not be Lucite, but a different form of plastic; if it smells like vinegar — or, worse yet, is oozing anywhere — it means that the Lucite has begun to deteriorate. This process cannot be reversed.

Additional considerations are the state of the hardware and trim: Are all parts present and working as they should? Is the metal corroded, discolored, or damaged in any way? Finally, is anything missing (rhinestones, an interior mirror, etc.) or broken (especially mirrors)? Any scratches or chips?

Run your fingers gently over the purse to ascertain that other than intentional carving, the surface is perfectly smooth. Visible glue on the inside at the joinings is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but if it’s visible, say, through the lid, where it once held (or still holds) an interior mirror in place, the purse may be less appealing.

Care and Maintenance

The best and safest way to clean your vintage Lucite purse is with lukewarm, soapy water, gently applied with a soft cloth (preferably microfiber). A mild soap such as Ivory Liquid is best. Lucite does not discolor, so any stains are most likely only on the surface.

Dry using a second soft cloth. Don’t use hot water, as exposure to high temperatures can cause acrylic surfaces to become cloudy.

An even bigger no-no is using any household cleaner that contains ammonia, which also turns acrylic cloudy. In addition, Windex, 409, Fantastik, etc., will make Lucite deteriorate over time, causing crazing. Vinegar is likewise verboten, as it is so acidic.

Lucite scratches easily, so avoid using textured sponges. Your vintage Lucite purse is best stored in a soft cloth bag and kept away from too much exposure to heat or direct sunlight.

By the Book

A Certain Style: The Art of the Plastic Handbag, 1949-59 by Robert Gottleib and Frank Maresca (Knopf, 1988) – no longer in print, but available on eBay/Amazon

Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear, Revised 2nd Edition by Kate Dooner (Schiffer Publishing, 2004)

Carry Me! 1950s Lucite Handbags: An American Fashion by Janice Berkson with photos by John Bigelow Taylor and Dianne Dubler (ACC Editions, 2009)

Betsie “eBetsy” Bolger is a freelance writer/editor, former eBay Education Specialist, and Top Rated Seller on eBay. She sells new, estate, vintage, and artisan jewelry for a client’s account as well as Converse sneakers, vintage jigsaw puzzles, limited-edition Teddy the Dog merchandise, and select consignment items in partnership with her husband. Betsie is also a longtime WorthPoint fan who previously wrote WorthPoint’s commercial spots for eBay Radio. Find her via,, and

WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth®
The post They Loved Lucite: Purses from the Atomic Age first appeared on WorthPoint. #Collectibles

Older Post Newer Post