Purse (1)


The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Many decorative early 17th century purses survive, but it is not entirely certain how they were used and worn. They are too delicate and elaborate to serve as receptacles for money carried on one’s person on a daily basis. Few commercial exchanges in the early 17th century required cash, and most household shopping was done by servants. However, they were used as a form of gift-wrapping for the presents of coin that were offered as a New Year’s gifts to the monarch.

These embroidered purses may also be the ‘sweet bags’ frequently listed in inventories and offered as gifts. These held perfumed powder or dried flowers and herbs, and were perhaps applied to the nose like a pomander when necessary.

The pattern of flowers and fruits is typical of English embroidery designs in the early 17th century. Embroidery pattern books of the period feature a range of flowers and fruits, inspired by illustrated botanical books and herbals.

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  • Title: Purse (1)
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1600/1650
  • Location: Great Britain
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 11.7 cm approx., bag only, Width: 11.3 cm approx., bag only
  • Medium: Linen, silk, silver & silver-gilt threads, silk thread; hand sewn, hand embroidered, hand plaited

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