Sunday, October 27, 2013

History's Runway: The Shell Handbag, 1820-40

From the V&A
(RIGHT) Shell Hand Bag, 1820-40
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By the early Nineteenth Century, the fashionable reticules (soft purses, often made of beads) of the previous decades began to change in shape in material. Soon, they resembled the later handbag, both in construction and fastening.

Rigid shapes were constructed from molded papier-mâché or card which was overlaid with silk.  Handbags soon took new forms such as circles, lyres, urns, eggs and, even, shells with the two halves hinged with silk or leather cord. Concertina (or accordion) sides between the two rigid halves allowed the bag to open all the way without spilling the contents.   

Here, we see an example of the most popular shape—the shell.  Covered in red velvet, this rigid reticule boasts a body of papier-mâché which has been pressed into the shape of a scalloped shell with alternating daisies and roses impressed round the border.

A metal chain and cut steel flowers-shaped studs give this bag an enduringly contemporary look which belies its date of creation—circa 1820.   The color combination is also very modern looking--the sides and bottom are covered in bright pink satin which contrasts with the red velvet cover and white linen lining.   

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