The Accidental Purse Collector

I never set out to collect vintage purses but it appears that I have. As a vintage seller there are just some things that I come across that I can't bear to part with. So I have accidentally acquired a small selection of purses, each interesting to me for different reasons. 

So when I say purses, I mean small bags, evening bags and coin purses. I'm aware that in the US the term "purse" means any kind of handbag, but in Australia we have large handbags or bags and small purses.

Beaded purses are top of the list with me. Most of my small collection is beaded. 

I picked up this little treasure at a local garage sale. It has a celluloid frame and chain and a push button closure. Late 1910s or 1920s.

I was so curious about this next item that I spent quite a lot of time researching it. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a miser's purse, it is actually a Victorian string purse.

It's tiny, only 5 x 8 cm, and beaded with bronze colored metal beads. But inside is what makes it so curious.

It's crocheted so that the handle strings thread through the inside at the mouth of the purse, making it quite tricky to extract you coins. You can see why it might have been called a miser's purse. This was sold to me in an antique shop as a 1920s purse. It just goes to show that while antique dealers may know loads about furniture and china, they don't always know about fashion items, and there are sometimes bargains to be had.

I don't have a Victorian miser's purse, unfortunately, but I read up on them. Laura Camerlengo has written an interesting thesis on the history of miser's purses for her Master of Arts in the History of the Decorative Arts and Design, called "The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse" (not so ubiquitous because I don't have one). I was absorbed with the history - who knew you could do such fun things for a thesis? Thanks Laura. I notice this is now available as a Kindle ebook.

Trivia 1: Green was apparently the most popular color for a miser's purse, and the color most favoured by men, followed by blue and red.

Trivia 2: Women would commonly wear their miser's purse pushed over a garter, which they would reach through a pocket. 

Here is Laura demonstrating how a miser's purse worked:

But I digress. Back to my collection.

I have a second little string purse:

 This one is a little larger, but even so, just designed to take a few coins. Maybe this size could take a ticket or a hanky, if you could get them out. 

I call this one my gingerbread purse. It's a handmade silk purse beaded all over. I think it's a 1920s or '30s pochette, or pocket book, the forerunner of the clutch. 

I have a number of beaded 1930s evening purses. I call them dance purses because they have a little finger strap on the back, just so you can slip 2-3 fingers through and continue to hold your partner and dance. No worries about anyone stealing your lipstick while you nailed the fox trot. There are also a few of these for sale in the store.

So Art Deco

1930s Czech purse with wooden beads available here

1930s dance purse available here:

1930s dance purse available here:

Some more interesting antique items include this sweet little Edwardian coin purse.

I love the 10 shilling and 20 shilling buttons and I wish I knew how to repair the catch.

 Here's another Edwardian purse from the store. This is a homemade embroidered linen purse on a silk ribbon, just sturdy enough to hold a ticket and a hanky.

Embroidered Edwardian purse available here:

This purse is beaded with steel beads of different colors. You can see the faint remains of a design on the back. 1920s I think.

This was the first purse I accidentally collected. Micro beaded with little blue stones on the clasp - 1930s, I think.

1940s beaded purse available here:

This sweet little beaded purse is likely 1940s, based on the type of strap. 

Here is another 1940s evening purse of the kind made famous by the brand Corde. Soutache ornamentation, but this one was made in Australia by Park Lane.


 1940s soutache trimmed purse by Park Lane available here:

It was very common for bags from the 1940s and 1950s to come with their own little companion coin purse, and often a little mirror as well.

Petit point is a style of needlepoint stitching, like a miniature tapestry stitch, petit point literally meaning little stitches. The best pieces certainly have tiny stitching. It was commonly used on evening bags and other accessories in the 1950s. I also have a cigarette case, hand mirror and make up compact from this period decorated with petit point stitching. 

1950s petit point bag available here:

And one final beaded bag. This is a 1960s bag and I love it because the design gives it an Art Deco feel.

1960s Art Deco style purse available here:

Yes, it's a random collection but I guess that's because it's accidental. And one of the things I love about vintage fashion is it's eclectic nature. So there we are.

1 comment

  • Kerri Diegel

    I was gifted some amazing purses from a semi-retired co-worker. They were his mother’s and I plan to carry the saks at my handfasting this October.

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