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Beaded Purses - Facts and Tips

The Reticule - Flapper Era - Steel Beaded

Beaded purses have been hand made and in vogue for well over 200 years.  The micro beaded purses (well over 20 beads per inch) are quite esteemed as well as the specialty Venetian scenics, Victorian figurals, intricate rug designs, animal, Egyptian and Oriental themes.  The early 1800's, Victorian,  Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco Eras brought forth some fascinating examples from France, Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia.  Today these works of art have become one of the hottest collectibles in the marketplace.  Their exceptional workmanship make them prey for the lover of lost art forms. Not only are these handbags not being reproduced but there are very few dedicated people willing to take on their needed repairs and tedious restorations.  Cherished by women and men alike, collectors recognize the humbling, time consuming efforts put into each and every handbag as well as their continuing increase in value, a sound indicator for investing.

THE EARLY RETICULE

Beaded bags made during the early and middle of the 1800's were almost always knit with the very tiniest of beads, up to 1000 beads per square inch can be found on purses dating before 1850.  Certain bead colors can also help date an earlier purse such as cornflower blue and brick red.

Beaded drawstring bags, called the reticule, also have distinct characteristics. Although there are exceptions, the basic early 1800's reticule is a knitted design of three horizontal parts.  The bottom could have been beaded in a star pattern with a beaded tassel hanging from the center of the rounded bottom.  Squared off purses sometimes had fringe instead of a tassel.

 The middle and usually largest section consisted of a floral or scenic motif.  The third and upper section might have a scalloped or floral border to compliment the design or perhaps a saw toothed edge, Greek key or other flattering pattern. The beaded bag would then be attached to a header, sometimes knit or crocheted,  also velvet or silk. Ribbon, cord or chain was drawn through the header and became the closure and handles of the reticule.

Many beaded bags can be very hard to date because older beads were often used to create purses during the early 1900's.  Early 1900's bags were also patterned after the older 1800's designs and styles.  Even the purse frame does not always determine age because by 1900, beaded purses were so fashionable that the older reticules were regularly added to purse frames for a more up-to-date and desired look.  Some purse enthusiasts criticize the practice of adding an antique purse frame to an 1800's reticule, they even find it inexcusable and suggests that doing it may lower the value of the purse, but the fact is, this practice has been going on for over 100 years, the reason being, it is what the owner or buyer prefers.












 

 

When searching for a purse, condition should be of the utmost importance. These purses are getting harder to acquire and more costly as demand increases.  I do recommend purchasing the very best possible condition as these are the purses that will always rise the quickest in value.  Unless the purse is quite rare or very cheap, a bag with damages, holes, etc. will not likely gain value while in that condition.

THROUGH THE FLAPPER ERA

From 1900 through the flamboyant flapper era, stunning glass beaded purses came from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Czechoslovakia.  The exquisite designs offered both fine quality and superior workmanship with complex patterns taking up to a year to complete.  Several Companies such as the Brooks Optical Company of St. Louis, Missouri and the M. Bonn Company of Pittsburg and St. Louis, offered handmade beaded bags for the extravagant prices of $10.50 to $37.00.  The John V. Farwell Company and the Jason Weiler & Sons Company offered imported beaded bags from Paris ranging from a modest $5.00 to a whopping $100.00.

Styles varied greatly including Art Nouveau designs, dazzling Art Deco, abstract floral reticules, shaggy fringed wrist bags and lattice-styled beading.  Oh, lets not forget the ever-so-popular swag designs of which many had names of there very own including: The Fan-tan, The Matinee, The Elizabethe, The Sophomore, The Boulevard and The Mandalay to name a few.  The knit swag beaded purses continue to be one of the most desired styles purchased by women today, especially those dripping in beaded fringe work.

During the early 1900's, beaded bags along with other forms of fancy beadwork, were also constructed by many women in their homes.  Numerous pattern books were made available for making these wonderful treasures and step by step instructions included specifics about bead size, colors and number of hanks to finish the project.  Needless to say, good eyesight, meticulous accuracy and the utmost of patience were essential for achieving success.

The glass beads themselves varied in size as well as color tones.  Literally dozens of colors and different shades of the same colors were produced to create these desirable handbags.  Beads were transparent, opaque, or iridescent like carnival glass.  Some beads were clear on the exterior with the color on the interior of the bead.  Shapes varied as well from round, to cut to elongated.  The island of Murano, located off the coast of Venice, Italy was well recognized for it's wonderful glass bead making industry.  Bohemia, Germany and Austria also produced fine glass beads for creating the ultimate in fancy beadwork.

Devoted bag makers were extremely dedicated to their trade.  Those in New England even raised their own silkworms as to produce the perfect purse silk.  Beading a purse was truly a tedious labor of love and the cherished results were handed down from generation to generation.  Today's collectors are so appreciative for those who thought to keep their treasured beaded purses well care for and preserved.  The search for these beaded beauties has become as serious an issue as the initial making of the purses themselves.

STEEL BEADED PURSES

During the early to mid 1800's, metal beads were utilized to decorate accessories such as reticule handbags.  By the 1840's, round, square, oblong and faceted small steel beads completely covered hand loomed purses in France.  The cut steel beads were chemically dyed in the predominant shades of gold, silver and bronze.  It was rare when the French cut steel beaded bags were founds with colors such as pink, purple, green, yellow, blue, black or white.  These colors were used to create magnificent abstract patterns and floral displays as well as the much rarer figural scenics, the oriental carpet designs and the rhinestone embellished bags. These scarcer bags are highly collected today.

The French cut steel beaded bag usually has a body that is complimented with outstanding fringe work and framed on gilded embossed brass, German silver, celluloid or silver plate.  Elaborate steel bags earned frames in precious metals, filigree, enamel highlights or studded with gemstones.  Many other ornamental frames were garnished with cherubs, lion's heads or gargoyles.

During the first decade of the 1900's, French steel handbags entered the American market, found in department stores and available through mail order catalogs.  These exquisite bags were usually lined in fine silks with a cloth label reading hand made in France or made in France.

American manufacturers also produced steel beads but they tended to rust when exposed to dampness or moisture making them inferior to the French beads that did not seem to have this problem.  American beads were slightly larger and duller than their French counterparts. They were used for the popular round chatelaine bag that were commercially made or for embellishing crocheted bags by the homemaker.  Germany and Austria also produced steel beads but to a much smaller extent.

Steel beaded purses are often confused with equally weighty beaded purses made of other non-ferrous metals.  You can use a magnet to make a quick and easy identification.  Steel beads will attract to a magnet, non-steel beads will not pass the test.  Gently place your magnet on your purse, pull up very slowly, even the slightest attraction will prove the beads to be steel.  If there is no attraction, confirm by testing several areas of your purse. 

French steel beaded purses are fascinating works of art and are difficult to find in excellent condition.  I believe every collection should sport at least one or two of these uniquely loomed purses.

Comment about this Article: caroldubilo@gmail.com


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