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How To Identify a Valuable Vintage Beaded Bag

by Henrietta Timmons

Have you ever gone to an estate sale or auction and wondered if that beaded bag that seems such a deal is really valuable? To be able to tell, first you need to know a little about the history of the beaded bag.

Handmade beaded bags originated about 200 years ago and have been one of the costliest bags ever due to the unique workmanship that had to go into each handbag. For example, around 1800, the price for a beaded bag was about $5.00. By the early 1900's, European beaded bags cost about $100.00, which was a very large sum at the time. You can usually tell the age of a beaded bag based on certain indications such as the size of the beads (bags from the mid-1800's are made with very small, fine beads - about 1,000 beads per square inch). The motifs of bags (their designs) have changed over the years.

Funeral scenes were common on beaded bags in the early 1800's but from 1820 to about 1860, beautiful outdoor scenes, historical landmarks, and romantic interludes were depicted.

The major design scheme in these early bags consisted of 3 defined horizontal layers knitted into the bag. The bottom usually had a tassel in the middle unless the bottom was square, which usually meant that fringe would be used instead. The middle section (the largest) had illustrated scenes. The top had a pattern that complimented the entire design and usually closed with a drawstring or clasp. These beaded bags were cherished and passed down from generation to generation.

To sum up our criteria for a valuable beaded bag:

  • Valuable bags from the 1800's had very small beads, usually about 1,000 per square inch.
  • Beaded bags from the early 1800's usually had funeral scenes as their design but starting around 1820, outdoor scenes and romantic tryst were often used.
  • Bags from the 1800's had 3 distinct horizontal knitted layers. The largest section was the middle, which had the motif design.
  • There was usually tassel or fringe at the bottom of the bag.

If you are lucky enough to have inherited one of these fabulous bags or found one at an estate sale, it may be worth a great deal of money ($500.00-$1,000.00). The intrinsic value, however, of this family heirloom goes far beyond mere finances to the core of what makes you part of a much larger human connection. Enjoy this representation of the past and tell it's story to your own children when you continue the tradition of the beaded bag.

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Henrietta Timmons is a handbag and purse pattern designer with an online store located at http://henriettashandbags.com


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