Oh-so-pretty purses: My vintage bag collection

Mar 27, 2021
Soft-pink beaded flapper purse, circa 1920s. Source: Getty

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

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 for me. Most of my collection is beaded. I picked up this little treasure, below, at a local garage sale. It has a celluloid frame and chain and a push-button closure. It’s from the late 1910s or 1920s.

Source: Joanne Thompson

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 (circa 19th century).

It’s tiny, only 5 x 8cm, and beaded with bronze-coloured metal beads. Source: Joanne Thompson

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 your coins. You can see why it might have been called a miser’s purse!

Source: Joanne Thompson

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 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”. Who knew you could do such fun things for a thesis? Thanks Laura!

A bit of trivia: green was apparently the most popular colour for a miser’s purse, and the colour most favoured by men, followed by blue and red. 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 little white string purse, below, designed to take a few coins, a ticket or a small hanky, if you could get them out!

Source: Joanne Thompson 

I call this one, below, 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.

Source: Joanne Thompson

I have a number of beaded 1930s evening purses, two are pictured below. I call them dance purses because they have a little finger strap on the back, so you can slip two to three fingers through and continue to hold your partner and dance. No worries about anyone stealing your lipstick while you nailed the foxtrot!

So Art Deco! Source: Joanne Thompson


A 1930s Czech purse with wooden beads. Source: Joanne Thompson

Some more interesting antique items include this sweet little Edwardian coin purse, below. I love the 10 shilling and 20 shilling buttons and I wish I knew how to repair the catch.

Source: Joanne Thompson

Here’s another Edwardian purse, below. It’s a homemade, embroidered, linen purse on a silk ribbon, just sturdy enough to hold a ticket and a hanky.

Source: Joanne Thompson

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

Source: Joanne Thompson

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

Source: Joanne Thompson

Below is a 1940s evening purse of the kind made famous by the brand Corde. It has soutache ornamentation, but this one was made in Australia by Park Lane. 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.

Source: Joanne Thompson

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.

Source: Joanne Thompson

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

Source: Joanne Thompson

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 its eclectic nature!

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Which purse was your favourite? Do you collect a vintage item?

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