Death by Handbags: Visiting the Amsterdam Museum of Handbags and Purses

You know that feeling when you have to touch something such as clothes on rails or the fur of an animal. Well the Tassen Museum Hendrikje (Museum of Handbags and Purses) in Amsterdam was exactly that. Being surrounded by exquisite one-of-a-kind hand wear may sound quite a bore but believe me, it was magical. Even one who is not that enthusiastic regarding attire would enjoy this because every single handbag was unique and differed from the rest providing both an historical essence and a feeling of attraction towards the item. Vivienne Westwood, Chanel, Orla Kiely, Bottega Veneta and many more well-known designers ranging from the 1400s to the present day all exhibited in opulent glass shelves.

Placed upon an idealistic Dutch street in Amsterdam, the museum began through an avid handbag collector called Hendrikje Ivo who found her fascination amongst the year of 1820 when she discovered a leather handbag with tortoiseshell capping near Norwich, England, of which she then went on to uncover its history thus did the same for her future handbag purchases. Around 75 years on, the museum currently speculates 4000 handbags that all have compelling disparate origins.

Firstly I came across this beige velvet bag created in 1550-1570 with rose detail that we all know, is still used today. The bag is part of the Rothschild Collection and was used by both women and men which they attached to a belt as there was a lack of pockets during the 1500s. Overall, the hand attire would have been viewed as advanced clothing back then due to its strong iron clasp and variety of hidden locks. Focusing on uses, bags in those days were frequently used for carrying coins, the bible and alternative personal requirements.


Next is this range of coin purses from the 1700s which obviously conveys the century’s allure with embroidery, mainly being flowers alike to the previous handbag. Personally, I adore the draw string locks as they provide dimension rather than a flat surface. Not only were these pouches used for carrying personal belongings but they also acted as an ostentatious carrier of expensive perfumes called ‘sweet bags. These sweet bags would then be reused as pretty carriers of money that would be given as New Year’s gifts towards royalty; moreover the bags would be placed upon attire to maintain a distinct aroma of perfume which was viewed as a high-class action. Alternatively, pouches were used as gaming bags for chips. These specifically consisted of a flat bottom to aid the purses in standing upright. Decorated at the surface was usually a family coat of arms therefore the players could easily distinguish their own pouch. Almost every Dutch woman tended to wear their bags upon harnesses, chatelaines or belts similar to the 1400s. 


Amid the 1800s, craftsmanship progressed greatly starting with the use of silk reticule however ending with the popularity of leather fabric attire. This was mainly a root from the French Industrial Revolution meaning that items were made more efficiently thus larger quantities of each product could be made at a quicker rate. As a result the pinpoint of handbags was made: the reticule. The reticule  was a pouch with either a cord or chain (corresponding to the classic Chanel Chain Bag), of which the term ‘reticule’ originated from the Latin word reticulum defining a miniature women’s mesh bag used during the times of the Romans. Another consequence of the French Industrial Revolution was the increase in transport and wealth generating a brand new market of carrying attire decorated with images of individual locations often bought to bring home to friends and family as a souvenir. Bringing the 1800s to a final was the popularity of leather handbags and purses. Quite peculiarly they were attached to a metal ring and worn upon the wrist to carry purses, diaries and train tickets. Above all, I regard the 1800s as being a major pinnacle in handbag and purse development considering that the base of mode, Paris, went through an Industrial Revolution. 


Forwarding on to the 1900s, this century saw leather handbags change from basic leather to leather with added element using features such as shimmering metallic and textured beads. For example, colours other than beige and black were implemented upon leather. One hand garment at the museum was a sophisticated lilac evening bag with enamelled adornment in gold from France in 1915 conveying the sense that women began to have particular bags for the day and evening, of which day bags were most commonly briefcases and satchels, whereas evening bags involved pouches with a larger amount of decoration rather than one set colour and print. Not only did leather become vastly successful but also glass beads mainly from the Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Italy and Austria. These beads would be organised to display flowers, landscapes and historical scenes in a theme of art deco and orient. Furthermore, I saw a synthetic lucite bag which resembled that of glass. With a mahogany shade and structured design, it was one of my favourites contained in the exhibition for the reason that despite the formal shade, the gloss of the product made it appealing thus I believe the designer (which was not stated) to have been very intelligent and creative. Moreover, hand garments corresponding to this bag of that age all came together to inspire box bags seen today, for instance the plastic Chanel clutch and the cube shaped handbags Alexa Chung constantly wears. 


Finally arriving in the 21st century, the time we all know too well. Here was an array of designer names that dominantly made their mark on the external of the handbag. Think the Louis Vuitton ‘LV’ print and Vivienne Westwood’s signature crown jewels logo centring the product in an opulent pre-eminence of gold. Besides these, the one I found most preferable and surprisingly my mum too, was the Chanel Lego Bag in pastel blue. Why do all my posts turn into an advertisement for Chanel? Anyway, this bag is timeless even though it has only been available for at most ten years, the Chanel Lego Bag is the first item I would purchase if I was in possession of 10,000 pounds, it is what I define as perfect. Of course the clutch was shown exactly at the midpoint of its case just to give you that urgent need to grab it and run. Anyway, this bag is and will forever be my uttermost need of handbags. 


To conclude, the Museum of Handbags and Purses was for me, a once in a lifetime experience. There was no need to travel to various different designer shops just to see their offerings of handbags, everything was grouped into one and I constantly got won over by one handbag and then another and then another. Additionally, it is very surprising that there is so much information and in-depth origin in the field of hand garments as they are such a necessity in everybody’s lives today and provide such an impact to getting around. To be honest, my entire knowledge of fashion was pleading for some extra notes in the bag field and without a doubt these notes are now covered. 

Please pop a comment below of feedback regarding this post and make sure you view the gallery linked to get lost in a multitude of handbags from the early 1400s to the present day all taken at the Amsterdam Museum of Handbags and Purses.

Thank-you for reading,

Poppy ~ Largerfeld Enthusiast x

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