Caro Nan Basket Purses: Mid-Century Treasures

Caro Nan basket pursesUpdated January 2017  I found out about Caro Nan basket purses while I was having lunch at my favorite little co-op last week, lamenting my lack of inspiration for blog posts. As I ate my free range, organic soup, a woman sat at the table next to mine and took out a little picnic basket. As she ate her free range, organic soup, I eyed up the little basket. I’d never seen anything like it. It was very obviously vintage and had clearly seen better days, since its little painted houses were chipped and the wooden lid worn. I summoned up the courage to approach her and interrupt her lunch (which is pretty uncharacteristic of me, but anything for the sake of blogging).

The woman told me that it was a Caro Nan basket and she’d bought it at a local vintage store. She showed me a penny with the year of its manufacture glued to the top. I let her return to her lunch and ran home to research this adorable new discovery.

History of Caro Nan Basket Purses

Very little information exists on Caro-Nan baskets, and the information I did find was anecdotally sourced from people who remember buying the baskets, or whose mothers had one, or were friends with the basket makers themselves. Piecing together this information, it appears that they were created in the 1960s and ‘70s by Carolyn McDaniel and Nancy Steele out of Jacksonville, Mississippi. The two friends started making purses as a hobby which then grew into a business that employed local housewives. Nancy’s daughter had the job of gluing  the pennies to the top of the baskets. The baskets enjoyed wide popularity in the South and soon were sold throughout the U.S.

One distinguishing feature of Caro-Nans is the village painted on the sides. Many of the baskets were customized for the places they were sold, and the paintings depicted actual shops and buildings in the town. Other designs were custom painted for the owners and include motifs of animals, mushrooms, insects, fruit or flowers. Decoupage elements were sometimes added to the lid or rim of the baskets, and a floral lining covers the inside.

Caro Nan basket purses with pennyHere’s the top of a 1968 Caro Nan basket purse and the close of up the penny. Find similar styles for sale on Etsy.

One distinct characteristic of Caro Nan is images of streets and buildings, but they can have other designs as well, such as this one of flowers.  As long as the signature is there, it’s a real Caro Nan.

Buying Caro Nan Basket Purses

Caro Nan basket purses sell for $10-40, depending on the condition. I’ve seen them even higher, in the $100+ region. This whale Caro Nan is an example. If you want a pristine basket you might have to look harder since these were created to be used as purses and naturally sustained wear and tear. If you’re just looking for a unique lunch box to have passerby admire at the co-op, you’re in luck as they are relatively easy to find online and at vintage shops at a reasonable price point. I know I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye out for one so I can eat my lunch in vintage style. If you see any for sale, let me know.

If you have a story about Caro Nan basket purses or have more information about the history of the baskets, I would love to hear from you!

Updated 3/2016: A reader kindly informed me of an article in her local newspaper about the founders of Caro Nan and an upcoming show at the ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thank you so much for keeping up informed on information on this subject!

If you’re interested in Caro Nan and other vintage finds and vintage-inspired style, follow along on Facebook!

Love basket purses? It looks like some designers are bringing out updated basket purse designs for spring.
 

38 Comments on Caro Nan Basket Purses: Mid-Century Treasures

  1. Pam
    March 29, 2014 at 5:38 pm (4 years ago)

    Very interesting looking bag! Never seen anything like it!

    Reply
    • Gwen Hitt
      March 28, 2016 at 7:22 pm (2 years ago)

      Just one correction–it is Jackson, Mississippi, not Jacksonville.

      Reply
  2. admin
    April 1, 2014 at 10:24 am (4 years ago)

    I hadn’t either but I think they’re pretty cool. Thanks for stopping by and reading the post.

    Reply
  3. Susi
    April 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm (4 years ago)

    That was ME. I saw your card on the co-op wall and thought it might be the woman who asked about my purse. Well about a week later my purse finally lost its bottom and is no more. I miss it terribly and will be looking for a replacement soon. It lasted 10 years of year- round constant use and I believe finally succumbed to my 4 year old twins using it as a bench or step stool. I LOVE that purse and am glad you thought it was unique and fun enough to write. About.

    Reply
    • admin
      April 28, 2014 at 10:10 am (4 years ago)

      Wow! This is so cool! I’m thrilled you found my blog. Thanks for the inspiration for this post. That’s hilarious that your twins use it as bench and step stool haha. I hope you find a cute new one for cheap. Send me some pics of it when you do!

      Reply
      • Toni
        November 20, 2015 at 11:03 pm (2 years ago)

        I have one maybe two for sale

        Reply
  4. renee
    June 27, 2014 at 10:27 am (3 years ago)

    I have a Caro Nan basket that I found second hand in the Los Angeles area in the 80’s. It does not have any buildings or a penny, but instead has flowers and a little girl carrying a basket of flowers painted on the lid. I always had assumed it was a one of a kind basket that someone had decorated. I had no idea that there were others like it- until I just researched the name written inside the lid. The construction is outstanding and has held up remarkably well given its potential age (I’ve owned it nearly 30 years!). I never used it as a purse, however over the years it has been the container for a variety of things such as my daughters toys or sewing supplies. It is interesting to learn about this basket after so many years!

    Reply
    • admin
      June 27, 2014 at 3:44 pm (3 years ago)

      Your bag sounds adorable! If you have photos you’d like to share I could add them to this post. Yours is different from all the others I’ve come across. Feel free to get in touch by email or Facebook.
      Using a Caro Nan as a sewing basket is a fantastic idea. Thank you for sharing your story!

      Reply
    • Joshua Ward
      June 30, 2014 at 9:41 am (3 years ago)

      Hello Ladies,
      Seems that I may have found the site I was searching for! I have found a Basket at a local estate sale from one of the most Wealthiest Ladies in our Town. This basket has never been used and has all original Tags still intact. Including original sales receipt and this basket was signed to Higbees! Very Pristine Basket and actually looks like it belongs in a museum. It is Natural wood color with a Golf bag on the lid and a tee on the side.
      If any lady here may be interested in this fine piece of History with all tags from the Sixties still attached please call me anytime(419)677-9931
      Thanks for your site and info,God Bless!!!

      Reply
  5. Jen
    July 9, 2014 at 2:21 pm (3 years ago)

    Love to hear about other Caro Nan admirers!! I have two baskets (one with a 1962 penny, and the other with a 1965 penny). One of the baskets depicts scenes from Oklahoma City, and the other from Tulsa, OK.

    I also have a smaller basket (maybe 3/4 size) that is also signed, but has no penny. This basket has paintings of owls on the top, and a leather band around the top. All are in excellent condition.

    I use one as my purse and I am stopped at least once a day by people commenting on them.

    Lucky for me, my baskets didn’t travel far. I live in Norman, OK. I found all my baskets at auctions or thrift stores!! I adore them!!

    Reply
  6. Pam Wilson
    July 14, 2014 at 9:09 pm (3 years ago)

    Found my mama’s 1961 Caro Nan largo basket purse aftershave she died. The purse was made for a shop in Shreveport, La. I watched her window shop for weeks looking at that purse . I got the money from Daddy and went to the Snart Shop and bought it for Mother’s Day. It is one of the treasures she kept.

    Reply
    • admin
      July 15, 2014 at 8:30 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you for sharing your story, Pam! I love hearing about the beautiful memories readers have with their Caro Nans.

      Reply
  7. Debra
    March 29, 2015 at 9:01 pm (3 years ago)

    Found one thus weekens junking for $5.00 1963 Penny adore!

    Reply
    • admin
      March 30, 2015 at 10:57 am (3 years ago)

      Fantastic find, Debra!

      Reply
  8. Kathie Teslaw
    May 27, 2015 at 12:02 pm (2 years ago)

    My Mom knows I enjoy vintage handbags. She gifted me her Caro Nan bag a few years back. I love it!! We both worked at a small gift a china shop in Superior Wi. the owner wintered in Fl. and brought the basket bag back from her trip! It was signed and Personalized “To Edelsteins” the name of the shop! I do get interesting comments, all positive, but mostly,” Where can I find a bag like that?”

    Reply
    • admin
      May 27, 2015 at 2:49 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks for the comment, Kathy! What a wonderful heirloom piece (and conversation piece!)

      Reply
  9. Rebecca Smith
    July 13, 2015 at 2:07 am (2 years ago)

    I bought one from a little old lady at a yard sale for two dollars. I didn’t know exactly what it was, just that it looked interesting. I couldn’t figure out why someone would glue a penny to the top and planned to remove it and paint the purse. She had removed part of the lining to put in a flower arrangement at some point. I think I will restore it now. Do you know what they originally cost?

    Reply
    • admin
      July 16, 2015 at 1:02 pm (2 years ago)

      That’s an amazing deal for a collector’s item like a Caro Nan. I haven’t heard what they originally sold for, but if I find out I’ll update this page. Thanks for sharing your shopping find!

      Reply
      • kelli kellogg
        February 7, 2016 at 11:32 pm (2 years ago)

        My mom carried this purse for many years the penny says 1962. The year I was born. My mom took very good care of her purses so the one I have is from Houston and I don’t even think the paint is chipped. It looks brand new. I can remember sneaking a kitten into our apartment because we didn’t want them to know. She passed 5 years ago today. This purse is very special. I would like to know how much it is worth.

        Kelli

        Reply
  10. Jacqueline Smith
    September 20, 2015 at 7:25 am (2 years ago)

    I love my Caro Nan! I found it at an antique shop and fell in love with its unique look. I’d like to start collecting them. Mine is band new with the tag still. The tag has seen better days but I’m in love! Wish I knew how to share a pic here!

    Reply
    • admin
      September 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm (2 years ago)

      Great find, Jacqueline! I don’t think my comments are set up for sharing pics. If you email me one to pinkpaperdollblog@gmail.com I’ll feature it in the post!

      Reply
  11. Clarisse Andrus
    October 18, 2015 at 12:32 am (2 years ago)

    I bid on vintage Caro Nan purse at our local quilt show silent auction and won.It was originally sold at the local Jacobson’s Department store and depicts Dearborn landmarks. It was made in 1980. It is very unique to our city.

    Reply
    • admin
      October 19, 2015 at 9:38 am (2 years ago)

      Congratulations on your win!

      Reply
  12. Belle
    January 5, 2016 at 4:16 pm (2 years ago)

    Thanks for this fun post! I picked up a Caro Nan this morning at my local Goodwill “weigh and pay” for 59 cents…Love!

    Reply
    • admin
      January 6, 2016 at 11:16 am (2 years ago)

      Congratulations, you scored the best deal on a Caro Nan I’ve heard of yet!

      Reply
  13. Judy
    January 8, 2016 at 2:03 am (2 years ago)

    I just got my first Caro Nan in the mail today! I was searching eBay for basket purses in general, and tons of Caro Nans were there, typically in the $25-50 price range plus shipping (another $10-$15). There was one red one that popped up with adorable birds on the top, and one on the side. I won it for $2.95! When it arrived today I was amazed at how perfect it is…nearly mint, although missing its penny. I hopped online to learn more about Caro Nan and found your blog. Thanks for doing all the research! xo

    Reply
  14. Aimee McGee
    January 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm (2 years ago)

    It’s interesting these have a brand name. I have one but my mom actually made them for people in her life.. It’s not an actual “Caro-Nan” but she said that it was a trend to make those back in the day and hers looks identical to the one posted… My mother in law then saw mine (the one my mom had made in 68 and gave to me this year to keep my crocheting in) and freaked out saying it was all the rage back then. She said everyone would make them and she wasn’t crafty enough to make one. So I think you may find non “Caro-Nan” ones out there.. I think Caro- Nan just sold theirs, therefore the name. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • admin
      January 19, 2016 at 3:25 pm (2 years ago)

      What a fascinating piece of the story! I know brand name Caro Nans have a signature somewhere on them. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  15. Margaret
    March 28, 2016 at 9:03 am (2 years ago)

    This article about the two ladies who founded it from Jackson, MS was in our newspaper this morning. There is a short video clip on the page, too. They started out in Jackson just locally and then started making them for other areas as demand increased. I can remember seeing these in the 70’s for sure. In MS, Handcrafted items were “big” in the 70’s. Purses, wood crafts, you name it. Enjoy! I found your article through google this morning! http://www.clarionledger.com/story/life/2016/03/27/basket-case-caro-nan-purses-and-their-jackson-founders/82188528/

    Reply
  16. Tina Bedwell
    April 5, 2016 at 7:45 pm (2 years ago)

    I grew up in Jackson, MS and my mother had one of these purses that she bought in the latter 1960’s and continued to use it occasionally throughout the ’70’s. As a young girl, I loved admiring the buildings on her purse. I wish she still had it!! It was probably donated to a local Goodwill. Such a fun memory though! Thanks for the nostalgia!!

    Reply
  17. Jo Ann
    June 24, 2016 at 2:13 pm (1 year ago)

    Thank you for all the info. I have one pained Blue with sail boats on the sides and a ships wheel on top. No penny though. I’ve been cleaning out boxes that have been packed away for quite a while. I’m pretty sure I purchased this one in Bath, Maine – probably in the 80’s. It’s so cute, I decided not to sell it. One problem – the inside smells musty – does anyone know of a way to clean that – or remove it to replace with something else. Thanks

    Reply
    • admin
      June 27, 2016 at 10:46 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks for finding The Pink Paperdoll and sharing your Caro Nan story, Jo Ann. It sounds cute! Try airing it out open in the sun when you’re sure it isn’t going to rain. There are natural enzyme sprays for mildew you can try like this one just make sure to spot test to see how it will affect the fabric before you use it on the whole thing. Let us know if you find something that works!

      Reply
      • Kim
        September 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm (1 year ago)

        I have been an antiques dealer for over 40 years. Place a new dryer softener sheet inside the purse to remove a musty smell. You may need to place the purse in a large plastic bag with another dryer sheet and seal it with a twist tie. Leave it there for several days.

        Reply
        • admin
          September 9, 2016 at 11:18 am (1 year ago)

          Thanks Kim for your advice!

          Reply
  18. Kay
    December 27, 2016 at 1:27 pm (11 months ago)

    My mom who is about to turn 90 has carried a Caro Non basket ever since I can remember….I have even repainted the handle for her several times… as it seems to get the most wear. She gets comments on it wherever she goes! This year for Christmas, my daughter found a similar one at a marketplace in Boston, and gave it to me as a gift. 🙂 I didn’t know there were so many varieties and sizes. My moms is specific to Santa Barbara, and mine has a nautical theme. It was fun to search them on line and see that others love them as much as we do!

    Reply
  19. Sari
    June 22, 2017 at 3:57 pm (5 months ago)

    Hi, Thank you very much for all the research you did on these crazy purses and sharing it all with us! My mom loved her collection of Caro Nan purses and was well known in our little town for them. She rarely used any other kind of purse in my entire lifetime. When she died at the age of 90 a couple of years ago she was still carrying around one of her small CN purses to hold her tissues, lipstick and mailbox keys. I have all of her purses, about 9 in total, all different from each other some tall, short, white, natural, mostly with buildings of different southern California towns, but one is a seashell design. Most are pretty beat up, a testament to their years and years of use. The sound of that lid slapping shut and the metal clasp rattling will always remind me of my mom.

    Reply
    • Abbie
      June 23, 2017 at 10:06 am (5 months ago)

      What an amazing collection of Caro Nan memories, Sari! Thank you so much for sharing. I love hearing all these stories.

      Reply

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