Nowadays, you might see a man with a purse or handbag, but in yesteryear, it was the genteel women who carried these small purses. And for good reason. You might not know why they carried them or what they contained, but often times it was for protection. Remember in the old time Westerns when the lady would have that small derringer hidden in her carrying bag? Many a man was surprised when she pulled it out and had the drop on that rough and tuff cowboy. These small hand bags were also a perfect place to hide that knife just in case it was needed.
I also can envision the women of the evening sneaking that small vial out of her purse, ready to spike the drink of an unsuspecting gentleman. Waking the next morning, he might be minus his jewelry and money. Of course, he usually couldn’t report it to the authorities out of fear his wife would discover his indiscretion. Another reason for the young lass to carry that small purse was to have a place to stash a small amount of money, should she find herself in a place she wanted to quickly exit from.
Beautifully crafted handbags were later used to accent evening ware, and often contained a powder compact. Later, a mirror often was included in a new handbag. Many of these handbags were exquisitely crafted and small pieces of art in themselves. They came in as many styles as the imagination could dream up. Metal, tapestry, wood, beads, glass, Bakelite, and many other materials were used in their production. I have even seen purses that were hand painted and would qualify as real works of art
I remember a house sale I attended that I could barely find anything worthwhile, until I found a beautiful beaded purse in the basement. Never having bought a purse before, I had no idea what it was worth, but I had never seen anything like it. I figured it wasn’t very common, so I approached the lady conducting the sale and ask what the price was. She asked me what I’d pay for it. Not wanting to bid too little and have it refused, I offered her $25. She countered with $35 and I said, “Sold.” I couldn’t wait to get home to discover if I had a treasure or not. I didn’t find anything like my bag in any of the price guides, but I felt fairly certain that the purse would prove to be a great find.
I listed it on eBay and got a final price that was a little over $500. Not bad for a $35 investment. I have to admit, I will never be ashamed to say I owned a purse again.
But purses and handbags go back even further in history than what I’ve discussed here. The use of handbags and purses probably goes back to before human history was even recorded. A concept of a purse or a handbag comes from the pouches used in tribal societies. Many times pouches were used for carrying things like seeds, herbs for medicine, and amulets. Tribal “witch doctors” and priests carried pouches and often contained the secret items they used in rituals.
One great book for reading more about the history of purses and pouches is called Carried Away: All About Bags.
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