Page 152 Excerpt from
Antique Combs and Purses
by Evelyn Haertig
with photography by Milt Haertig
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 Section 2 ~ Chapter 1
HISTORY OF THE PURSE

As an accessory of dress the purse has been subject to the whims of fashion; indeed the purse as we know it to day did not appear on the fashion scene until the early part of the present century. Virtually nothing has been written specifically pertaining to the evolution of the purse and information must be deducted from works of art, early prints, literary passages, ladies fashion books of the 19th and 20th centuries, catalogues, museum collections, and the like.

For all practical purposes purse collectors will seldom find purses for sale which predate the 19th century although some specimens from the 18th, 17th and even the 16th centuries may be viewed in museums in the United States and abroad. The term purse or bag will be used throughout this work; however, from an historical point of view, the terms bag, almoner, pouch, pocket, pocketbook, apron, reticule, travelling or carpet bag, handbag, and finally the purse are a reasonably accurate chronological progression.Prior to the late 18th century purses were not primarily designed for carrying money, a fact which at first thought appears strange, but very few people had any money, as most transactions were conducted by barter; women were rarely permitted the luxury of having money of their own, aside from religious contributions in small coin; wages for the labouring classes were often paid on a yearly basis, farmers owed for their supplies from crop to crop, and few purchases were made in those self sufficient days; there was not the need for money as in an industrialised society. The computer age may again see the end of the purse for monetary uses as the credit card takes over.

Therle Hughes in her book entitled, English Domestic Needlework, mentions seal bags dating from early in the 14th century which are still intact. Bag of this sort, which are among the earliest bags and purses, were so called because they were used to carry state papers and were ornamented with the royal seal and thus represented the might of the British crown and its authority. These ancient bags were small in size, 4-5 inches square or rectangular, flat or box

shaped, tassled at the bottom and closed with a draw string, the ends of which formed the carrying loops. Monetary gifts to monarchs, separate from taxes or other levies, were delivered in crudely embroidered silver and gold thread purses. By the end of the 16th century, embroideries and trimmings were sophisticated and skillfully executed. Bags used for other than money included "sweet bags" (sachets), work bags to hold embroideries, laces, and sewing of the wealthier class of women, bags for medicines, charms, religious relics, and other small treasures and trifles.

During the Crusades, from the 11th - 13th centuries, crusaders were given a leather bag by the parish priest containing gold coins called, "crusados", which were worn on a girdle or belt. These coins were dispensed to the needy as alms, hence the term "almoner," or "almonier." They were also once called "amonieres sarrasnoises" or "saracen almsbags" as the Saracens were the non-Christians from whom the Crusaders endeavoured to wrest control of the Holy Lands.The practice of wearing an alms pouch by both men and women was continued as a European fashion accent for roughly four centuries until the advent of the men's waistcoat and knee length greatcoat with its numerous and voluminous side pockets which accommodated such articles as keys, medicines, combs, handkerchiefs, snuff, important documents, cutlerly, mirrors, and perhaps currency. The pouch was rather small, made of a variety of materials, though leather was widely used, and the top terminated in tabs or an ornamental hook which was appended to a narrow girdle or gathered into a ring passed through a simple belted tunic. Some were merely flat rectangles of unadorned materials with long drawstrings in which keys, combs, pincushions, mirrors, beads, pomanders, medicines, religious relics, and other trifles were carried by women.

Among the oldest (if not in fact the oldest) purses

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