I love “antique” anything, from old desks to pocket watches. I never seem to tire of information and history about the fabulous items from the days long gone. As I get older, I find antiques even more intriguing. I am constantly researching to learn more about the various items I find in neighborhood rummage sales or local thrift shops.
I began to recognize that, only occasionally, will I come across an antique purse. Thus, my quest began, to seek out the elusive antique purses and dig into their past. Little did I know then, that antique purses are very rare to find, in any condition. And, if you happen to own one, it is probably worth more than its own weight in solid gold. If you own several or an entire collection, you are most likely sitting on a gold mine.
Very few books have been published about antique purses. The few books which I did find, helped guide me towards understanding what to look for, and enlightened my perspective about their monetary worth. Most of the books were outdated by ten years and older, but the purses are even harder to find with each year that passes. The few purses I have acquired are usually in very bad shape, so it is understandable why most were thrown away, rather than stored as keepsakes to pass down to the next generation. Yet, these elegant relics of past generations, are so beautiful and such a treasure to behold. It is nearly impossible to find any clear or solid information about them.
Older purses were handmade, so their styles and design differ quite broadly. Each purse took on the personality of its creator. Nearly all were embellished with some sort of beading or embroidery, whether crocheted, knitted, tatted, or sewn.
Few people have seen, or even remember antique purses.
• Silk embroidered purses are extremely rare, as the delicate silk ribbons did not survive the ages, well. When these types of purses wore out, women simply made another and sentenced the old one to the trash.
• The crocheted and knitted purses seem to have weathered the years a bit better, with all their teeny, tiny, beads still intact. These are most desirable, showing off beautiful images of flowers, scenic pictures, and graphical designs. I have been able to acquire a few of these types for my collection, but they are in needed restoration and repairs.
• The old chain mail metal mesh purses are exquisite, indeed. But, most have corroded, have huge holes with missing links, and have faced a similar fate as the others.
Fortunately, my grandmother taught me how to embroider with silk ribbon when I was young, though I doubt if few know much about this beautiful craft, today. I was fortunate enough to have been taught how to crochet and sew, as well. All of this knowledge is useful to me in my quest to rescue and restore these wonderful antique purses for future generations to enjoy.
Few are interested to learn and pass on these techniques. Most, only want to marvel at the intricate skill and patience it took to create one of these fine relics of fashion. I will do my best to preserve what remains, and try to record the techniques and document their history, if I can find it. As I stumble upon only shreds of information, I realize that it is only a matter of time before all is lost, and the background of the elusive antique purse becomes only dust in history, itself.
Further reading on this subject can be found within the following books, although, some are out of print, must be special ordered, or are as elusive as the purses, themselves.
Vintage Vanity Bags & Purses, by Roslyn Gerson
Restoring and Collecting Antique Beaded Purses, by Evelyn Haertig
100 Years of Purses, 1880s to 1980s, by Ronna Lee Aikins
Mueller’s Overview of American Compacts, by Laura M. Mueller