Early 1920s steel beaded envelope purse in a dainty size features a shimmery deco design in dark grey, silver, and lilac, with a border of compass-like circles on the front and grey and silver stripes across the back.
A sinuous Van Dyke fringe adds movement to the little purse, with a “stripe” of dark grey beads zigzagging through the waterfall of silver, and a lilac bead at the very bottom of each strand.
The handle is beaded, and the purse closes with a beaded loop and shell button. White silk lines the purse, and a metal bar inside the top back edge (just under where the flap begins) gives it structure.
Steel beaded envelope purses like this were all the rage in 1921, when according to a Rochester, NY newspaper, “trinkets” were “growing daintier and less gaudy”, with everything from purses and necklaces to hat pins and dress trims favoring the “gleam of platinum, silver and pearl” to offset the newly voguish black or black-and-white dresses being shown in Paris. Though steel beaded purses were used for everyday wear as well as formal dress, the smaller size of this one indicates that it was meant for eveningwear.
A Gimbels ad from 1921 describes its steel-beaded envelope purses in words that apply exactly to the one being offered here: "All over beaded handles, and the cutest beaded 'button' clasps close the 'envelope'. Richly taffeta silk lined." Steel beaded envelope purses ranged from $3.95 ($53 in today’s currency) at Gimbel’s, to $25 at I. Magnin (or $337 today), with the imported examples most expensive.
Measuring 3” high and 4.5” across, with a 2.25” fringe and a 10” handle, this purse is in near-excellent condition, clean and with both the lining and the lovely beadwork intact. The beads in the handle are slightly duller than on the body of the purse (though not visibly oxidized); on the body they are much more silvery and light-catching than my photos have captured.
NOTE: Due to the steel beads’ weight and the age (95 years old) of the silk, carrying this purse, especially with objects inside, risks damaging it; in my opinion it is best suited for display.
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