In the early 1900’s lady’s handbags were small accessories that held very little; usually a small mirror, lacy hankie, comb and maybe a few coins. There really wasn’t any need for much more. Women of good taste did not wear make-up and certainly had few if any personal items needed to go out on the town. By the early 1920’s mesh purses became all the rage and Whiting and Davis of Plainville, Massachusetts , manufactured the best in America. Other companies made metal mesh purses but none as finely made as those by Whiting and Davis which is still in business today.
Their “Oromesh” or metal chain mail, flat mesh purses were sold with companion pieces under the name of Mesh Mates and rapidly gained in popularity. These astonishingly smooth purses and accessories were made with tiny flat discs linked together to covering the surface of the purse which could be painted in fantastic color combinations and patterns or left in silver or gold. The Mandalian manufactured purse from last week’s post, Mesh Purse by Mandalian is a wonderful example of a painted mesh purse.
I have several Whiting and Davis Oromesh bags and accessory Mesh Mates in my collection, one in its original box and one so worn that it should be retired but it is so tactile and smooth that I cannot accept parting with it. Most of the plain metal mesh bags in my collection originated in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I thought I’d share some of them with you today.
First on our list is a sweet silver evening bag with a rhinestone clasp and a short tightly linked chain purse handle. This silver bag is small about five inches across; not really big enough to hold too much but it certainly makes a statement. The inside silk lining is in excellent condition and the metal closure is marked on both sides of the inside purse top with their logo which reads: “Whiting and Davis Mesh Bags” and “Made in USA”.
The Oromesh is smooth and fluid when stroked, it is so tactile I can understand how these bags grew to be one of the most sought after purses in the US at the time. The rhinestone clasp shines and glistens with a star-like quality and I’m sure it would not be terribly difficult to find some clip earrings to match this purse clasp.
A companion piece much like the larger mesh purses is a coin purse in like-new condition in its original box labeled Mesh Mates. I do not think this tiny purse was ever used. I found this change purse at a garage sale and was amazed at its condition. The silver mesh glitters and shines like the day it was made and there are no stains or crummies in the inside lining. I love this tiny 2 ½ inch coin purse and the fact that it is still like new makes it all that more endearing.
Another Oromesh bag is this envelope flap, clutch style but with a unique closure. It measures about the size of a postcard and could probably hold a pack of cigarettes so I think this purse is probably from the late 40’s early 50’s when smoking was glamorous. Gold Oromesh covers the outside of this little clutch and it closes with an unusual type of snap closure.
There is a short rod that sticks up out of the front of the purse, the envelope type flap of the purse has a riveted hole that this rod sticks through to secure the flap, and the rhinestone clasp snaps closed to hold the flap in place. I’ve used this purse several times for special occasions and have gotten many compliments on its shimmering beauty. The inside lining is in excellent condition and is marked on the pocket seam with a sewn in
Whiting and Davis tag. About a week ago, I was in an antique shop and saw the same purse but it had a different rhinestone closure. I do not know how many different styles of this purse were made but they are as lovely and fashionable today as any day in the past.
The last purse on my agenda today is a tiny 1 ½ inch square mesh change purse. It is really in a bad way. The mesh on the closure flap is pulling away from the base lining and the white paint on the mesh is so worn it is hard to tell if it was ever really white or off-white. Only about three or four quarters would fit into this tiny coin purse but enough to make a phone call from a pay phone (remember pay phones?).
The next time you’re out and about in an antique mall and you see one of these mesh purses, pick it up and pet it (I know that sounds weird but just do it). The tactile quality of these Oromesh chain-mail purses is addictive. You may find you need to add one to your collection just so you have something incredible smooth and scintillating to hold.
If you’d like more information about these purses as a collectible I highly recommend the 2002 book: Whiting and Davis Purses, The Perfect Mesh by Leslie Pina. This wonderfully written book delves into the company history as well as giving many examples of Whiting and Davis mesh purses with photos of designs as well as original ad campaigns and a price guide.
You can order it here on Amazon.