Silk was the favored thread for netting, though linen, cotton, and wool were also used. Purse silk or "twist" could be bought from specialist shops. James Turner, a watch string and purse maker in Bloomsbury, advertised "the finest Silk Net Work, long and short purses." Thomas Gardon, another watch chain and purse maker on St. James Street, advertised that "Ladies may be accommodated with great choice of Purse-Twist, Tassels, and Sliders" as well as "every other Article in the Netting branch."
Besides silk twists, special shuttles were required, as well as gauges for different sizes of mesh. Some netting was quite open, as in Figures 1 and 4. Other netting was extremely fine, as in Figure 2.
In the late 18th century there was a particular vogue among women for presenting hand-made purses to gentlemen. William Cowper wrote a poem to his cousin Anne Bodham "on receiving from her a network purse made by herself." Most of the purses made for gentlemen were netted stocking purses, sometimes called miser purses. These purses will be the subject of a future article.
Knitted purses were also popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Fine steel needles were used for delicate knitted silk, as for the purse in Figure 7. Metallic thread was sometimes woven in, as shown in Figures 5 and 6, as were beads of colored glass or steel, as in Figure 8. By the late 1820s, some purses, or parts of purses, were crocheted rather than knitted. (See Figures 9 and 10.)
The simplest style of netted or knitted purse was the drawstring (see Figures 1 and 3). Framed purses (see Figures 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) came into popularity around 1810. Purse frames were made of silver, riveted steel, gilt metal, or pinchbeck (an alloy of zinc and copper, imitating gold). The frames were hinged, fastened by a hooked catch, and released by a press button. (That press button is a good indication of a pre-1840 purse.) Some of the frames include a tiny ring, which may have been used to attach the purse to a chatelaine.
Finger-ring purses (see Figures 2 and 5) had been around for centuries, but experienced a renewed popularity at the end of the 18th century. They were very tiny and could hold only a coin or two, but left the hands free when the ring was slipped on a finger. They disappeared by the second decade of the 19th century, only to reappear with even greater popularity in the late 19th century through the early 20th century.
Figure 10 is an unusual example, in that it has both a drawstring and a handle. The shape and handle indicate it was carried on its own, as a small reticule, and not as a coin purse.
More prints below. Click on any image to open another window with a larger image.
I continue to collect these little sovereign purses and have acquired several more since this Collection was originally posted. Here are two of my favorites:
Sources for more information on Georgian purses:
Penelope Byrd, A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, Bath City Council, 1986.
Genevieve Cummings & Nerylla Taunton, Chatelaines, Antique Collectors Club, 1994.
Vanda Foster, Bags and Purses, Batsford, 1982.
Evelyn Haertig, Antique Combs and Purses, Gallery Graphics Press, 1983.
Evelyn Haertig, More Beautiful Purses, Gallery Graphics Press, 1990.Clare Wilcox, Bags, V&A Publications, 1999.
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