For most of the 19th century aluminum was a precious metal. Bauxite, aluminum ore, was discovered in 1821 near the French village of Les Baux (which gave it its name). Four years later the Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted was able to extract the first few ounces of aluminum from this ore. It was considered so precious the Frederick VII, King of Denmark, had a royal helmet made of polished aluminum and gold. Napoleon III had pocket watches and table service designed of it. It wasn't until 1886 that the modern electrolytic method of producing aluminum was discovered, greatly dropping its price, although in the late 1890's it was still five times as expensive as copper.
This incredible purse frame dates from the early years of aluminum's use as an affordable metal, either the late 19th or early 20th century, and there are elements of Art Nouveau and Edwardian motifs in its design. While I have seen many hair combs and barrettes from this era - its light weight makes aluminum especially suitable for this use - I have never seen a purse frame like this.
The frame has beautiful hand cutwork of flowers, swooping leaves and arches accented by rhinestones. The decoration extends to both sides of the frame; there is no back side. The cutwork sections are riveted to a second layer of aluminum which contains the clasp and also serves as reinforcement. The frame has holes for sewing on a purse and beautiful swirling loops to attach a handle.
This purse frame would be a great addition to a purse collector's collection or for a collector of aluminum jewelry. It would also make an exceptional purse for someone who wants to sew a purse onto the frame; I can imagine it as drop-dead gorgeous with vintage metallic brocade, Fortuny fabric, or hand beaded pouch.
Size: 7-3/8" wide 4" high
Condition: Very good vintage condition. I counted six missing rhinestones which are barely visible because of the brilliance of the frame, and there is a little darkening of some stones which is particularly common with aluminum jewelry.
Item ID: LK3798
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Vintage and Antique Jewelry and Accessories Selected with an Architect's Eye
I'll be selling at the Hillsborough Antique Show from November 7th - 9th. If you are in the San Francisco area come visit.