Beaded evening purses as a collectible stretches the imagination when thinking of all the possible styles and materials used in designing these little works of art. These small handbags are decorated with sequins and beads, embroidered on silks and satins, made from metal mesh, fabric, leather, or crocheted with beading. Most of these purses saw many dances, weddings and special occasions and even though these purses were not used daily, they often survive with some type of damage. It is unusual to find them in as good of condition as these three.
Each of these pearl covered clutch type purses are from the 1940’s and 1950’s and are styled with a different type of pearl beading. These three purses were wedding purses. How do I know this you might ask? Each one had a hankie with a wedding motif inside. The small one on the lower left was used by my mother on her wedding day in 1953, again by me on my wedding day in 1975 and again by my daughter on her wedding day in 2005. The hankie in this one was given to me on my 10th birthday from my Auntie Gert. She crocheted or tatted lace edging on a white linen hankie for all the girls in the family to use on their wedding days. Auntie Gert decided to give them to us early as she was not getting any younger and did not expect to see all of our weddings. She died before I got married but I honored her thoughtful gift by carrying that special hankie on my wedding day.
The top clutch covered in off-white pearls is almost 7 inches long and has an outer pocket and top zipper. The contrasting amoeba shape design rendered in long silver bugle beads give the purse a little extra glitzy detailing. This purse is quite sturdy and I use it occasionally for weddings and special occasions. It actually is one of the few in my collection that is sturdy enough and large enough to hold my cell phone or a pack of cigarettes inside (smoking was extremely popular and acceptable for women in the 40’s and 50’s). By the 1940’s women needed a little more room in their purses and this one definitely fit the bill. The maker’s tag on the inside of this clutch reads “Debbie, Made by Hand, Japan”. The pearl beads and silver bugle beads are all hand sewn and the purse is in excellent condition.
The smaller one on the bottom with the regimented pattern of half pearls is the one my mother, my daughter and I carried on our wedding days. The purse was purchased new by Mom in 1953. It is a smallish clutch style about 3.5 by 6 inches with an envelope type flap that closes with a snap on the inside of the front flap. It is not big enough to carry much more than a small comb, a hankie and a mirror. The beads look like pearls but are actually molded plastic with a pearl-like finish attached with a heat process to a fabric backing. The rhinestones are prong set and give this little purse some sparkle. Inside the purse is a small rectangular mirror and the hankie my Auntie Gert made for me to carry on my wedding day. Because of the construction of this purse, it is in fantastic condition – no loose beads because there are no beads just molded bead shapes hooked to fabric. The lining is a white silk with a small pocket to hold a 1 x 2 inch mirror. There is no maker’s mark on this purse.
The last of the three purses today is a sweet pearl covered purse from the late 1940’s with creamy white faux round and rice-shaped pearls worked in a lovely pattern. This small envelope clutch closes with a snap on the inside of the front flap. The inside of the purse is white satin with a small pocket that could only hold a small mirror or some pocket change. There is a little loss of beading on the front flap but that will be repaired as soon as I find some pearls of similar color. The zigzag border and sunburst shapes on the front of this purse are a delightful break to the regimented rows of pearl beading. This purse is quite sturdy and will enjoy many more parties and weddings I am sure.
All three of these beaded evening purses are 60 years old or more and yet are still functional and of a classic style that can be used even today. When I look at them I think of the weddings that each of these purses witnessed: I know Mom & Dad were blissfully married for 63 years, my husband and I are celebrating 42 happy years this year and my daughter and her husband are looking to 12 wonderful years very soon. I often wonder how many of the other weddings these purses attended were as successful. I am proud to have these white pearl beaded wedding purses in my collection and hope they see many more weddings that last the test of time.