As promised last week, here is another handy-dandy belt accessory. This silver mesh purse is attached to a matching chatelaine, allowing the stylish woman-about-town to carry a few discreet necessities, hands free.
Our example here is marked “G. SILVER,” or German silver, a nickel alloy. Metal mesh bags became popular in the 1890s – along with other “medieval” fads, like the chatelaine itself – and stayed popular well into the 20th century, thanks in part to the invention of a mesh-making machine in 1908. We have several metal mesh bags in the collection, ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s; this one is on the earlier end, due to its combination of hand-linked mesh, chatelaine attachment, and Art Nouveau-esque floral decorations. (The chatelaine bag may have had renewed popularity in the 1890s, but it was not new; see below for an example from 1876, a “chatelaine pocket” illustrated in Harper’s Bazaar.) Unfortunately, this purse was donated without an accompanying history; its original owner is unknown.
Another 1890s trend based on someone’s idea of medieval accessorizing was the finger purse. Unlike the hang-from-your-belt chatelaine, which fizzled somewhat in the 1900s, the finger purse fad lasted into the 1930s. Evening bags are designed to be discreet in size, but not necessarily in appearance; the finger-ring adds a “look at my great bag” novelty factor, and has the added benefit of being rather more difficult to lose than an envelope clutch. (Though personally, if I was dangling something like this from my hand I’d probably just end up whacking someone with it by mistake.) This delicate little evening case is sterling silver, with space inside for a mirror, a memo pad and pencil, and two little pockets for calling cards or bills – all the essentials (though I do wonder where you were supposed to put your lipstick). It belonged to Mrs. Helen Slattery Dawson (1903-1986) of Rockville – who conveniently wrote her name and address on the little memo pad inside - and was most likely used in the late 1920s.
Like chatelaines, the finger-ring method was applied to other accessories – as you’ll discover next week, as our How To Carry Your Belongings series continues!
And now, some more photos: the promised 1876 “pocket chatelaine,” a close up of the chatelaine bag’s frame, and the interior of the 1920s finger purse.