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W.I. Newsletter April 2021

Our speaker this month, via Zoom, was Sarah Delves, members logged on to hear that Sarah was first introduced into the world of antiques when, aged 7, she was taken round the local antiques shops and fairs by her father in an attempt to instil an interest in Georgian silver. However, she was more interested in Barbie dolls at the time. 

After training as a ceramics restorer Sarah finally found her passion for handbags after watching an episode of the Antiques Roadshow in 2004.  She is now a dealer in handbags, although she says not a particularly good one, as once she has purchased a handbag, she is reluctant to part with it! 

Sarah kindly gave us a short history of how handbags have evolved.  These go back to the times of hunting and gathering when they would have been made of animal skin.  Before becoming decorative and an accessory they would have been used for practical purposes by both men and women.    Men continued to carry bags until around 1793 when men’s jackets and trousers began to have pockets built into them.

Through the ages they have tended to follow fashions, narrow skirts and dresses meant they needed to be worn outside and wider/voluminous skirts and dresses allowed their concealment.  Sarah mentioned that the codpiece worn by Henry VIII had a purse built into it.

History lesson over, Sarah was then able to show us samples of her bags, beginning with a Gaming Bag made of green velvet and decorated with silver thread.  Gaming was a popular form of entertainment in the mid-17th Century.  We were shown a tiny coin purse with a finger ring, another purse dating from around 1800 decorated with beads and melon seeds and a tiny purse imitating structured luggage dating from around 1850. 

Sarah also mentioned that the lady of the house or housekeeper would often wear a chatelaine attached to her belt and from these would hang all manner of useful items such as scissors, keys, sewing kit, a purse etc.  Just another way to carry useful items around.

She also showed as an example of a fully recyclable bag made of Lucite, also known as Plexiglass or Perspex.  Once it starts to deteriorate it goes back to its natural state of liquid.   

Sarah showed us many more examples including a lovely, decorated evening bag much used and cherished by its owner, dating back to the 1940s.   She gave it to Sarah to use for her talks and lectures – as she was concerned that her sons would just throw it away after she died as it has no intrinsic value.  Sarah finished with a little one she had recently purchased in the shape of a chick – she is currently researching its origins, but having little luck so far.

Today there is a big market in designer handbags, the waiting list for a new one can be as long as five years and then you must be the right of sort of person (whatever that means) to be sold one.    As a result, a second-hand designer bag can fetch more than a new one so many Auction Houses are holding specialist auctions – these items have become to be seen as investments.  We were told that the most expensive bag sold at Auction (so far) was £298,000.    

Sarah then took questions from members and mentioned that she is available for further advice, following which she was thanked and left the meeting.  All attendees agreed that Sarah was an excellent speaker and having found that she is relatively local it was proposed that we might have her again, when perhaps we can meet in person.

We are hopeful that this month’s meeting may be in person.  If the proposed roadmap for coming out of lockdown is progressing well and the weather is on our side, then a Treasure Hunt is being planned.  If conditions are not favourable, then we have a Plan B for a Zoom meeting again.  Members will be kept informed as events unfold but please keep your dairies free for the evening of May 27th, but please note that if outside it will have a 6 p.m. meeting time.

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