My dearest friend, Carole Glaser, has long been a collector of many things, none of them precious. There is the great grouping of candlesticks on her dining table, quirky handmade ceramics in her kitchen, and a most notorious collection of hats and pins. And finally, there is the outstanding collection of shopping bags accumulated over many years. Many of her prized possessions trace the development of graphic and palette preferences as well advertising trends.

I thought this would be an easy post to photograph and write. But, Carole arrived at my office with 2 huge boxes of the most amazing bags and I could not decide which were my favorites; so this may be a 2 part series.

The great thing about shopping bags is that they are on every street in the world. They are portable works of art, status symbols, come in every size and shape imaginable, and designed and illustrated by the finest commercial artists. And, they are free! They are the ultimate homage to the much loved art of shopping. They can be classically simple (like the Colette bag) or highly stylized (like some of the early Bloomingdale’s bags).

Containers for hunting and gathering have been with us since prehistoric times. There were woven reed baskets, earthenware pots and animal skins. Skip a few thousand years to the mid-1800’s when the industrial revolution made the mass production of paper feasible and more available for wrapping packages. There is a bit of historical discrepancy about the inventor of the current sack we now call a shopping bag. It is clear, however, that it was developed to carry groceries and was made of brown paper. Early in the development process handles were added as well as pasted on decoration.

The bag continued to improve especially as logos became integral elements and printing techniques continued to improve. Like the ubiquitous tee shirt, matchbook cover and record album cover, the bag became a walking billboard. Leading artists are drawn to the medium (think the Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup can) and museums realized that they could not only offer reproduction gifts for their patrons but send them off with appropriately decorative shopping bags.

From sack to bag, from brown paper to highly decorative, the shopping bag has had a remarkable journey in a short period of time. How I wish I had saved some of my favorites, but alas they have been recycled!

Please note that next week is Thanksgiving and I will be busy getting ready for a family visit and the holiday. See you again on November 30th. Happy Holiday!



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