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