Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Antique Purses

While planning this blog, I realized that I have always been a collector.  Please do not confuse this with hoarding!  Yikes!  For example, I don't ever remember going to a beach and not collecting rocks, shells, or flotsam and jetsam (yes, I collected seaweed, driftwood, and sea glass!).  I always had either shoe boxes or cigar boxes in my closet full of "treasures."  These "treasures" included, among other things, a long folded garland of Juicy Fruit gum wrappers, over 200 potholders that I made one summer (the loops on the metal weaving loom type), costume jewelry that was given to me, a ton of acorns in a New Era Potato Chip can, dried and pressed leaves, foreign coins from my Dad, pine cones, catalpa pods, etc.

I come from a family of collectors, I married a collector who came from a family of collectors, and my children are collectors!  Again, please do not confuse this with hoarding!

My antique purses comprise my first"serious" collection.  I started this collection when my great grand father died and my great grand mother was living in a nursing home.  My great grandparents both died when I was in college, and yes , I was very lucky to have them in my life for about 20 years!  Because of a legal mishap with my great grandparent's wills, their house and belongings had to be auctioned, and not dispersed to the family.  It was accepted that my great grandmother, Nana, would not be returning to her home.  The auction was particularly upsetting to my grandmother, Mere, because she would be losing all of her parents belongings and mementos.
My Great Grandmother, Nora (Nana to me!)
My great grandparents were born in England.  My great grandfather came to the United States prior to WWI and settled in the Detroit area as a brick mason.  My great grandmother, Nana, followed with my grandmother, Vera (we grand kids called her Mere), and her sister, Olive in 1914.  Nana was about 27 years old at the time.  Mere, then 8 years old, often spoke of traveling across the ocean at the beginning of WWI, with frequent "blackouts" on the ship due to enemy ships near by.  My great grandparents were quite successful in America.  My great grandfather became a contractor, and established his own business.  From what I've been told, my great grandmother raised her children, managed her home, worked with my great grandfather for the business, and was quite active socially.  She was beautiful and very stylish.  She enjoyed entertaining in her home, and knew how to have fun!

When the auction company was preparing my great grandmother's home for the auction, my grandmother had to go to the house to meet with the auctioneers.  She invited me to go with her.  As we walked through this magnificent house for the last time, the auctioneer had determined that there were some items that they had decided not to auction.  These items included some dresses, purses, shoes, some furs, etc.   Mere asked me if I wanted a few of the purses and dresses.  She let me pick three.  My collection was started!

     This first purse of Nana's, and my all time favorite, is a micro petite point evening handbag.  This handbag shows a man on horseback surrounded by towns folk.  The back of the handbag shows a beautiful mountain scene with a home nestled into the hillside with a forest in the fore ground.   The frame is embellished with tiny enameled flowers with marcasite centers and an ornate pearl scrolling.  The clasp is of metal filigree with more enameled flowers.  The inside of the handbag is cream colored silk.  There is a metallic lace around the inside edges of the frame.  A small interior pocket holds a matching coin purse.  Inside, Nana also left a beautiful handkerchief and a matchbook from the Detroit Golf Club.  The handbag was probably made in either Germany or France, but I was unable to find a stamp on the frame.  I love this hand reminds me of Nana!

The second purse that I picked is Nana's black velvet purse with an intricately beaded, double opening clasp.  The mauve beaded flowers are actually three dimensional.  You can open just the middle section for a quick look in a small beveled mirror, or you can open the entire top of the purse to access the interior.  The inside of this purse is a beautiful golden satin/silk.  This purse is a Dofan handbag made in France.  The Dofan company began making purses in the 1930's.  I should add that all of my Nana's purses had delicate handkerchiefs tucked inside, but this purse also had a match book from Las Vegas, a small matching change purse, and business advertisement cards.  And, even more exciting, this purse had a pair of striped gloves inside.

The third purse from Nana, was another micro petite point evening handbag. The petite point is comprised of a flower garland, with an interwoven lace ribbon and bow.  The frame is etched with flowers and the clasp has a black gemstone.  This purse had a lace handkerchief  tucked inside.  I love all of these purses, not only because I think that they are beautiful, but because I can picture Nana carrying them to parties, dances, the country club, or a night on the town.
After I was given these three beautiful purses from Nana, I started noticing vintage purses in antique stores.  I have never seen another micro petite point that equaled the ones that I had. So, I was initially drawn to beaded handbags, especially brightly colored hand bags.  I can't remember where I obtained this beautiful  green beaded hand bag, but I love it!  This handbag is in perfect condition.  The frame is adorned with etched flowers.  The interior is a golden silk, again with a metallic lace at the inner edge.  There is no indication of when and where it was made.

I purchased this beautiful blue beaded handbag in the 70's in an antique store in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I remember feeling guilty that I spent $35 for it, way back then!  This handbag is is in perfect condition, no missing fringe, beads, etc.  This handbag is unlined and there is no manufacturing information on the purse.
This hand bag caught my attention because of the unusual pink color, and long beautiful looped fringe.  The pale gray fiber is finely crocheted.  This is a small bag, I can only get two fingers in the top of it.  I have always wondered how the owner was able to get what she needed out of the the bag.  There is no manufacturing information on the handbag.
This is  another beaded purse with a beautiful flower design.  I have four similar purses, different colors and designs, but the same shape and interior.  This type of purse seems to be easier to find.  The interiors are a soft leather.  The beads include opaque and translucent glass and metallic beads.  The fringe is intricate, each ending in a beaded loop.  There is no manufacturing information on the handbag.
This reticule is another favorite!  The beading is metallic, and the fiber is finely crocheted.  There is no lining.  Again, no manufacturing information available.
This beautiful beaded handbag is very heavy.  I think the beads are all metallic; gold, silver, and pewter in color.  It is in perfect condition, no missing beads or fringe.  It has a plunger clasp; you push down on the plunger and the purse opens.  The frame is adorned with hearts and flowers.  It is lined with a creamy silk and has a matching small mirror that fits in the small interior pocket.  The fringe is a beautiful 2.75 inches long.  There is no manufacturing information.
Another beaded reticule.  The blue beaded loops are attached to a satin/silk lining.  There are celluloid rings in the inside of the top of the handbag where the braided cord handle is inserted to gather the bag when closed.  The bottom/base of the reticule is a large oval piece of celluloid, which has a shell pattern.  The handbag is stitched to the celluloid bottom.  There is a large carved bead at the end of each "handle."  Again, this is a heavy, securely constructed handbag.  No manufacturing information available. 
This pale green beaded handbag has beautiful long beaded looped fringe.  The handle/opening is unique.  To open the purse, the handle is slipped out of the little beaded ring at the top of the handbag.  To close the bag, the handle is slipped back into the ring.  The inside is lined with a Kelly green silk, and the lining of the handle and top of the inside of the purse is the same pale green as the exterior.  The beads are a very pale green translucent glass.  There is no manufacturing information.
This pretty reticule was a gift from my husband.  Each amber glass bead is indented with a flower design.  The large beaded drop on the bottom of the reticule and at the end of each handle are multiple beads crocheted together.  There is no manufacturing information.
This is a beautiful black beaded Walborg handbag made in France.  There is an amazing black beaded design on the front of the handbag and another smaller design on the back.  The interior is black satin.  I love the small hanging beaded "bob" on the front, which opens the purse.  It is in perfect condition.
I have always displayed my antique purses on the walls of our bedroom, but the pictures I tired to take did not do them justice.  So, I have displayed a few against our fireplace to give you an idea of size and color.   The brown, blue, and orange striped enamel mesh purse is a Whiting and Davis (see below) purse, as is the mauve and yellow enameled mesh purse with the ornate Art Deco frame.
As I became a little more informed regarding antique purses, I began to notice mesh purses.  There are different types of mesh purses; enameled, basic mesh, baby mesh, and colored fine mesh.  Whiting and Davis Company (W & D) of Plainvillle, Massachusetts, is famous for their mesh purses.  W & D began making mesh purses in 1892.  Mandalian Manufacturing Company of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, was also famous for it's mesh purses.  It closed in the early 1940's, selling the company to W & D.  The above enameled mesh purse was made by the Mandalian Mfg. Company.  The frame is inscribed with flowers, a bouquet at the top and a line of flowers around the edges.  This mesh purse is unlined, like most mesh purses.  The drop beads at the bottom are enameled metal.
This is another enameled mesh purse made by the Mandalian Mfg. Co.  The frame is gold and so is the hanging gold chain fringe.

Here are eight of my mesh purses, each one unique.  I will describe them left to right:
1. This is a small gold mesh change purse.  Each piece of mesh has a raised "gold" dot.  "The "cap" top flips back and the mesh expands to enlarge the purse.  No manufacturing information.  See picture below for another purse that opens this way.
2. This mesh purse was made in Germany of Alpacca, which is also known as Nickel Silver.  The frame has scrolled flowers and the clasp is adorned with a blue gem.  I especially like the unusual rectangle linked chain handle and the scalloped mesh fringe.
3.  This mesh reticule is another one of my favorites and another gift from my husband.  It is unusual because it has a celluloid bell that slides down the handle and fits over the top of the purse.  This bell is adorned with flowers.  The reticule has 5 layers of mesh fringe encircling the purse and a mesh bob at the bottom.  The handle slides through metal loops that gather the top of the purse.  The purse has become tarnished (along with some others) from being displayed on my wall.   I have not been successful in cleaning it, as you must be very careful not to unlink the mesh.  When I have more time, my goal is to try to clean the tarnish off of the frames and mesh of these purses.
4.  This mesh purse was made by W & D.  The handle has a metal slide that can make the wrist strap smaller once you have it on your wrist, to hold it securely.  The clasp has a small blue stone.  Again, I love the way the fringe just evolves from the mesh purse. 
5.  Please see below.
6. This gold mesh purse was made in Germany.  The shape of the purse is very similar to #4, and it also has the same slide on the handle.  The frame is adorned with flowers.  The diamond shaped fringe is what makes it stand out.
7.  Please see below.
8.  This little mesh purse has a large "cap" top that flips back to open the purse.  On the underside of the "cap" is a mirror.   The chain wrist strap is attached to the center of this Art Deco "cap" top.

This mesh bag was made by Whiting & Davis.  The top flips back and the purse expands for access.  It is lined with off white silk.
This beautiful fine (baby) mesh purse was made by W & D.  The mesh is amazing in its detail.  The fringe is almost like lace.  The colors are pale almost like a water color painting.  The frame has an area of open filigree.  Even the chain handle has long metal links that are adorned with flowers. 
This beautiful Art Deco fine mesh purse was made by W & D.  The frame is embellished with black stone and marcasite.  The colors are still vibrant and unique.  The chain handle has long enameled beads added to it.  Surprisingly, this mesh purse is lined with pale gray silk.
This silver mesh purse was made by Whiting and Davis and is lined with off white silk.
These three purses are made out of leather. From left to right:
1.The frame of this leather purse was made by the JEMCO company in 1921, the manufacturer of the leather portion is not labeled.  The purse is tooled leather with an Arts and Crafts design on the font.  The edges of the purse and handle are laced.  The inside of the purse is lined with leather.  There is a small pocket holding a mirror.  And interestingly, there is another pocket for an identification label which has the owner's name, address, and phone number on it!  And the best part of this purse is.....the clasp locks the purse!  The danging fob on the front of the purse turns the clasp and locks it closed.
2.  This is a chatelaine purse.  Chatelaines were designed to keep tools handy for the homemaker.  Chains were attached to a hook that hung on a belt or waist band, and at the end of the chains, homemaking tools were attached.  This was designed to assist the homemaker to have everything needed, at hand, to complete work in the home.    Apparently, this notion evolved into the chatelaine purse which has a hook to be worn at the waist with a chained attached to a purse.  The chatelaine is made out of leather inside and out.  The front of the chatelaine is covered with metallic beads, stitched in concentric circles.  The frame and hook are adorned with hearts and flowers.  The frame was made in 1901.
3. The third leather purse is shaped like a reticule.  Is is made from soft leather and lined with beige silk.  The purse hangs from a leather wrist strap.  The frame is made from wide brass.  There is no manufacturing information.

So, everyone always wants to know the value of antiques.  I know it's my favorite part of American Pickers, or the Antiques Road Show!  I haven't bought an antique purse in years, but have checked them out while antiquing.  The range of prices is amazing.  But, one thing is for sure, condition is everything!  If you are thinking of starting a collection, buy purses that are in almost perfect condition.  If you Google antique purses, you can find purses similar to mine; the range of prices is interesting.  I have found that they seem to range from $150.00- $450.00. Not a bad investment.  But, as they say, "What is an antique worth?  Whatever someone is willing to pay for it!"

I hope you enjoyed this sampling from my antique purse collection.  The next time you are in an antique store, thrift shop, flea market, or garage sale; keep an eye open for old, old purses.
Thanks for stopping by!


  1. What beautiful purses- and such a wonderful family story... thanks for sharing!

  2. Simply amazing! Thank you for the detail. The purses are beautiful.

  3. Love, love, love the purses!!! That is so awesome that you have those. What a treasure:)

  4. If you want more information on metal mesh purses of the 1920s and 1930s you can find it on our website, Select "Mesh Purse Info" from the menu and read the article titled, "The Mysteries of Mesh".

    We also hope that you will bookmark our website and check back to view the new content we plan to add. Although we didn't make much progress on our website this past year we have great plans for it in 2013. Topics of some of the articles we hope to publish include…

    -The Lindbergh mesh purse - the W&D sterling baby flat mesh purse portraying The Spirit of St. Louis, which was presented to Mrs. Evangeline Lindbergh by MA congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers upon Charles Lindbergh's return to the U.S. in June 1927

    -The "Blueboy" mesh purse – the W&D flat mesh purse painted with an image of Gainsborough's famous portrait that hangs in the Huntington Museum, which opened in 1928

    -The W&D mesh dress worn by the little girl who won first prize in the 1926 Atlantic City "Baby Pageant Parade".

    -The Shirley Temple mesh purse – the W&D flat mesh child's purse painted with an image of two ducks that was taken from a costume Shirley wore in the 1935 film, "Curly Top"

    -A reveal of the meaning and history behind the enigmatic "EL^SAH" stamp on the frames of certain W&D and Mandalian purses of the 1920s

    -The "Maid of Mesh" ring mesh purse with a frame made in the image of Miss Adele McHatton to commemorate W&Ds participation in the Irving Berlin musical stage play of the same name at the Music Box Theatre in New York in 1923-24