Friday, 31 May 2013

Part I: Museum of Bags and Purses Amsterdam

What do you when you missed your trips to Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House due to flight cancellations/delays, and staying out till late the night before and sleeping past the alarm time? 

Go and check out another museum. One that even some locals haven't heard of, but bagaholics--or in my case a bagaholic in remission--can seek refuge from.

The Museum of Bags and Purses or Tassenmuseum Hendrikje started out as a 35-year private collection of Hendrikje Ivo. It grew into its current 4,000-catalogue showcasing the history of and pieces of western bags from the 15th century to the present.

The museum's housed at the former Herengracht residence of Pieter de Graeff who came from a long line of de facto patricians from the Dutch Golden Age. 

The bags and accessories in the museum are either donated, on loan, or bought by the museum. Click here if you have a bag or accessory you think deserves a space in their display cases.

I was greeted at the entrance by a photo of this evening bag which is one of the pieces on display at the contemporary design section. It's a silk evening bag studded with shells or capiz designed in 2008 and donated by Philippine designer Cora Jacobs. I grew up admiring her designs which are crafted from indigenous materials. In fact, one of my most recent acquisitions is a clutch from her collection.

My own Cora Jacobs clutch. I love the textured mint velvet and the MOP/tortoise magnetic fastener.

The exhibit starts at the 3rd floor--that is, if you prefer to view the bags chronologically from the 16th century. You'll be ascending this magnificent staircase.

 And will land this view

 The rooms are very stately which are now occupied by the cafe and tea rooms. Trip Advisor reviewers have some lovely photos of the rooms.The museum is also a licenced wedding venue.

My apologies by the way for the quality of photos. I edited them, but for some reason they keep reverting to the original version. The muted museum lighting and glare of the glass cabinets didn't help either to highlight the colours and textures of the bags and accessories on display. Any tips from photography enthusiasts are very much welcome.

Now, let's start with the temporary exhibition.

Temporary Exhibit: School Bags
Don't worry, no pop quiz on this. I'll just show you photos of Dutch wooden school boxes which were the forerunners of modern school bags.

This one didn't look happy to go to school.
Dutch wooden schoolboxes served as storage and desk and were used between 17th and 20th centuries, and ranged from plain to intricately carved or decorated based on the region. The more skillful the father was, the most beautiful the schoolbox. So, no DIY skill, no bag?

Off to the permanent exhibit rooms...

Permanent Exhibit: The Evolution of the Modern Handbag

Letter cases and wallets
The 17th century saw the beginning of the use of letter cases and wallets, usually used to keep love letters. They were often given as engagement or wedding presents or favours. An 18th-century woman's letter case often had a pocket notebook for her to write about the latest gossip, fashion, her lovers, poems, and recipes. I think it's now called Facebook.

Personal Bags
Clothing back then had no inside pockets, so bags and purses came into fashion for both men and women to carry around their personal effects. With the incorporation of pockets in men's clothing, personal bags fell into disuse.

Leather drawstring pouch, The Netherlands, 17th century.
This pouch was so tiny a man could fit only a few handful of coins.

Silk bridal bag with groom (the French King Louis XV) and the bride (Princess Maria Leszczynska) in enamel on copper, Limoges, France, 1725.
In Italy, France, and to a lesser degree in England, there was a tradition of the bridegroom giving the bride a special wedding purse filled with money during the wedding ceremony. The French city of Limoges, famous for its enamel and porcelain, produced this type of bridal bags between 1690 and 1760.

Goat leather belt pouch with iron frame and some 18 pockets, some of which were secret compartments, France, 16th century.
This bag was worn on a belt, which I suppose was also made of iron as the frame of this bag would've worn down leather. A bit creepy because it was the size of a human head which made it look like Hannibal Lecter's dinner. I believe we can categorise it as the first belt bag or bum bag or fanny pack, whatever you want to call it depending on which side of the Atlantic you're from.

Various types of stocking purses
Also called the long purse, ring purse or gentlemen's purse, the stocking purse was a long crocheted or knitted sheath which was closed at both ends and with an opening in the middle for easy access. Two rings around the middle were moved towards the end to close off the contents. Its popularity waned with the arrival of paper money.

Tie pockets from England, Scotland and France.
Under the voluminous clothing of women in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were two pear or rectangular-shaped bags concealed under the skirt used to carry personal belongings. Usually carried in pairs, one on each hip, and accessed through a slit on the side of the skirt.

Silk workbag with gold stitchery, sequins, glass ang gold plaiting, France, late 18th century.
The workbag was an indispensable accessory at a time when women were expected to spend their free time doing fine needlework. They were often brought on visits and some ladies worked on their bags whilst having tea with their friends.

Various types of reticules
As clothing gradually became less voluminous, the contents of the tie pockets (and work bags) moved to the forerunner of the handbag--the reticule. The word reticule probably had its roots to the Latin reticulum which referred to the small ladies' net bags from Roman times. As you see on the photo, reticules were usually made of cloth and had a cord or chain that could be drawn shut and carried. Some remind me of modern-day wristlets.

Other types of reticules

Various Materials
L: A handbag with a coversheet of tortoiseshell inlaid with mother-of-pearl, Germany, circa 1820; R: A silk reticule decorated with tortoiseshell, MOP, and gilt leaves, France, circa 1840.
Tortoiseshell was expensive and difficult to work with, so they were considered luxurious. The Romans first used the material as furniture and box veneers.

No. 5 is an imitation tortoiseshell handbag from 1950s America; No. 4 is a tortoiseshell card holder with mother-of-pearl inlay.


Snakeskin handbag with ivory coversheet 'Eve and the apple', with silver border, Germany, 1920s.

Ivory carrier, late 19th century

Ivory frames with oriental and Egyptian pattern, 1920s

Steel, Filigree, Straw, and Fabric

A steel mini bag

A wicker bag in the shape of a boat house

Fabric tobacco pouch in the shape of a monk with the face, hands and feet in vegetable ivory, Austria, early 19th century.


Plastic handbags were fashionable in 1950s America. They were made from lucite or perspex or plexiglass. They were initially expensive but the introduction of lower quality versions marked down the price.

Bridal purse of Maltese lace, Europe, 1910.
 Lace making is a needlework technique that has been around for a long time. Bridal bags or communion bags were often made of white lace, with some crafted using Irish needlework technique. Due to the very delicate nature of lace, it is quite rare to find impressively preserved pieces from the past.

Various samples of older leather bags
The growing popularity of train travel prompted the need for more sturdy bags. The first leather bags were either tied to the belt, used as a wristbag or a bag with handle. Other leather bags will be shown later on.

Silver-framed Bags 
Black cloth bag with silver frame

Silver frames for handbags showing the years they were manufactured/in vogue. Notice that they were all from the 18th century.

The Jewel Collection
Leather lettercase with fine beaded pictures and copper closure, Russia, early 19th century.

Silk lettercase with a Wedgwood medallion and cut steel beads, England, 1800-1825.

Leather and silk lettercase with embroideries, poem and miniature by Favorin Ledebour, France, 1806.

Black and white beaded bag, 1930s.

Clutch bag with black and white glass beads, France, 1930s.

Brocade bag by Maison de Bonneterie, The Netherlands, 1930s.

Fabric pochette with embroidery and chrome frame, The Netherlands, 1930s.

Purses with pinchbeck covers, France, 19th century.

Purses with miniatures of Parisian buildings, France, 1855.

Silk purse embroidered with gold thread and mother-of-pearl dance card, France, 19th century.

Souvenir pouch with images of Parisian buildings, France, 1855.

Souvenir pouch and pouch cover with miniatures of Parisian buildings, France, 19th century.

Purse with gold thread and golden frame by J Vonk, The Netherlands, 1836.

Purses with golden frames, 1800-1825; and Gilded snuffbox, both from The Netherlands, 19th century; Dance booklet with mother-of-pearl and gold, ivory pages, golden pencil, France 19th century.

Beaded purse with golden frame, by T. C. Moot, The Netherlands, circa 1820.

Fancy anything from these antique bags? I'm drawn towards the purse with pinchbeck covers, fabric pochette with embroidery, and snakeskin handbag with ivory coversheet.

Which one is yours?

Click on Part II ...


  1. I only went to Van Gogh and have to say never even heard about bags museum. Looks interesting though.

    1. Lucky you! I missed Van Gogh. Didn't know about the bags museum either 'til I googled 'things to do in Amsterdam' and it came up. T'was interesting. Go next time and have tea and cakes in their cafe. Or visit the courtyard.

      Thanks for visiting :)

  2. Yep - that is where all fashion and bag designers neeed to go!
    faves were the wooden ones and the german one with ivory in front - was it called eve? that was unusual but beautiful and useful all at the same time. I have a thing for the lucite ones - in fact I would prefer one from the 50's rather than then charlotte olympia one. The worst was that goat leather pouch - i didnt even know what it was until you explained it!! it looked like a bad dream came alive. would not use that! mind you i have a thing for pockets as i get older i use the the most!!x

    1. True! The one next to me was a Chinese fashion student. Had a proper camera with that proper clicking sound when taking shots.

      Yeah the snakeskin with ivory was called 'Eve and the apple' and it was made some 20 years before WW II. The 50s lucite were the best quality plastic so definitely that over Charlotte Olympia.

      That goat bag was scary. It had its own display case like it was dangerous to put it next to the other bags. It was massive!

      More bags coming soon!

      Thanks for telling me your favourites xxx

  3. I need to go there.... I love bags!!!!!!
    Wonderful place..... I want the snakeskin and ivory handbag!!!!!
    Havre a great weekend my darling!

    1. You must next time you visit Amsterdam!

      Oh no, that's you, me and CSW who want the snakeskin bag with ivory coversheet. Tough competition! Haha.

      Have a lovely weekend, too and thanks again for always popping in xx

  4. I wanna go there absolutely, this is so interesting, wonderful pics ! Thanks for sharing this, I didn't even know it existed ! <3

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    1. Hi Vale!

      Thanks for dropping by :)
      It's great to transport readers somewhere they didn't know exist in a place they've visited before.
      If you love bags, then this museum is a must! Go soon x


  5. How interesting! I'm definitely going here when I'm next in Amsterdam. I loved the wooden school boxes!

    Thanks for posting. x

    1. Thank you Beautiful Things!

      You must go one day. It's not busy even on a Sunday so it's a very relaxing trip. Plus the cafe has to be seen.

      The wooden school boxes are really cool. If I lived that time, I wouldn't have had the most artistic box though coz that's not my dad's talent :)

      Have a lovely week x

  6. A lot of kisses from Italy, my dear fashion friend!!!

  7. I love looking at these - next time I'm forcing my Mr to go in! I really like the simple little wicker bag and the gold thread bag/MOP card holder is adorable. But they're all lovely....except for the goatskin one, that's monstrous!

    1. Go for it! Good choice of purse plus the card holder. Lots of couples and even the men enjoyed looking at the displays. Or, leave the Mr at the tea room. There's also a souvenir shop where they sell coffeetable books about shoes, among other things.
      Yep, that goatskin one looked like Hannibal Lecter's victim :D

  8. Great article and fascinating pictures! Fashion history is exposed in really interesting exhibition. Looking forward to visit Tassenmuseum Hendrikje!

    1. Hello Maria,

      Many thanks for your kind comment Maria!
      You must visit the museum one day soon.
      Have a good day :)



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