This month led me to an exciting discovery. I was lucky enough be at the Vintage Bazaar in Frome, Somerset, run by lovely duo Clare Powell and Liz van Hasselt, where I had arranged a meet-up for fellow vintage lovers. Fuelled by inspiring vintage chat and copious amount of coffee and cake, I’ve never felt so well set up for a perusal of the stalls.
I felt spoilt for choice of where to look until something sparkling on one stand enticed me over. Crammed in among repurposed fabrics, trimmings and other pretty treasures was a high quality beaded 1920s-era purse in turquoise, gold and pearl-coloured beads with a simple mother-of-pearl button clasp (below). A snip at just £28.
The stallholder, Ali Hocking of Betty & Violet, specialises in these beaded beauties and has a pretty selection of vintage handbags priced from £25 to £175 for the rarer marked examples.
The little vintage beaded purse that drew me in instantly transported my thoughts back to old world Hollywood glamour: Ava Gardner, Clara Bow and the like in swirling pastel tulle ball gowns with a beautiful beaded handbag swinging from their wrists.
Evening bags have been around for hundreds of years with the earliest known as reticules. Examples from the mid 19th century were constructed with around 1,000 beads per square inch, producing a stunning tapestry look. From 1820, metal frames with chains attached became fashionable and, during the early 20th century frames became increasingly ornate and were made with precious materials (such as solid gold and ivory) and embellished with gemstones and pearls.
The difficulty of getting materials during World War II, led to decorative tapestry patterns and embroidered handbags as a chic alternative to beadwork, with velvet rising in popularity towards the end of the 1940s. Collectors look out for marked beaded handbags such as Walborg, Josef and Ed Robinson, which can fetch as much as £200 or more.
As the owner of a small collection dating from the 1930s to 1960s, the question is always what to do with them. Practical though some are (one favourite even folds out to display a lipstick case, pocket beauty mirror and a small zipped detachable purse), everyday handbags these are not. Short of becoming a film star with multiple black-tie events to attend, I have had to think of other ways to appreciate their craftsmanship.
At the moment I have mine hanging off my Victorian dressing table mirror, but a cluster of decorative ceramic doorknobs fixed to the wall would also make for an eye-catching display. Or try them mounted in box frames or hung from a vintage fabric pinboard with costume jewellery. For a more quirky take I recently spotted was a rustic wooden window frame set up on a dressing table with vintage handbags hanging from white ceramic drawer knobs.
If I had to choose one item to convert a friend to the delights of vintage, then this would be the thing. After all, who wouldn’t be charmed by such a precious piece?