Monday, March 15, 2010

Judith Leiber Bags: How Do You Find Her Oldest Designs?

I was at the Antiques in Alexandria show last weekend (March, 2010), and saw a wonderful variety of items. One of my favorites was the vintage handbag display. The vendor there had many gorgeous vintage Judith Leibers. Leiber is known as one of the top, if not the top, handbag designers of all time.

What I did not know was that Leiber designed first for other companies, such as Nettie Rosenstein, 1948-60; Richard Kort, 1960-61; and Morris Moskowitz Co., 1961-62. She launched own firm in 1963.

It pays to talk to the vendors, as you can learn a lot..that's how I learned about Leiber's history. Here's a bag she told me Leiber designed for Rosenstein:


Isn't that fun?  

She had some other fabulous pieces such as this Faberge egg-style clutch:


Leiber emigrated from Budapest, Hungary after World War II. What was interesting to me was that she managed to survive the whole war and Nazi occupation in Budapest by "staying in a building designated for Jews and then in a house set aside for Swiss citizens. Her father, an Austro-Hungarian who managed the grain department of a bank, obtained a pass for himself and forged the words 'and family,' using the same typewriter used to issue the pass," according to

She was born Judith Peto in 1921 in Budapest, and married Gerson (Gus) Leiber, a Brooklyn native, who "was a Signal Corps sergeant in the United States Army serving in Eastern Europe," according to jwa. They married in 1946 and moved to New York City in 1947. "Gerson Leiber is an abstract expressionist painter and a member of the National Academy of Design. His paintings hang in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and other institutions."

I have not has so much luck finding Leiber handbags at estate sales, but I once came across a stash of Leiber-designed belts at one. They were all in one box, mixed in with all kinds of other belts. I was lucky to find them.

You can read more about my belt finds in this back issue at my Yard Salers web site at:

The vendor at the show told me Leiber did not like her belts as much because a lot of customers returned them. They were self-adjustable, a nice feature, but when some customers bent over the belts came undone. This vendor joked that the ladies could simply have readjusted the belts but they chose to return them instead.

You can find gorgeous examples of Leiber's belts along with her handbags at the company web site at

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