Saturday, September 28, 2013

A WWI-Era Beaded Purse Restoration - Before & After

If you know anything about me, you know I love beaded and mesh antique and vintage purses.  I have a personal collection that spans from very collectible to those first acquisitions which are, for the most part, reminders of lessons learned in collecting.  But every now and then, the proverbial ugly duckling turns into the beautiful swan, right?

This is the story of the beaded purse that was transformed, much like the duckling to swan.  The purse dates from the first quarter of  the 20th century, likely between 1917-1925.  I won the purse through an online auction, and paid just a pittance for it.  You might argue it was pitiful, indeed.  Here are a couple of photos of the BEFORE condition of the purse (as acquired through a winning bid):
BEFORE:  WWI-Era beaded purse - front
BEFORE:  WWI-Era beaded purse - back
What prompted me to bid in the first place was the design of the purse.  Historically-themed purses are highly collectible, and I knew it was likely WWI because of the French and American flags on front, along with the Cross of Lorraine.  On the back there is an obvious rainbow, but a not-so-obvious USA beaded into the bottom and an even less obvious '42' beaded into the top, right hand corner.  I am a self-professed Francophile, a purse collector, and a calculated risk-taker, so I bid and, ultimately, won.

When the purse arrived, it came with a tiny bottle of beads, and the bag was literally shedding each time I lifted it.  Here are a couple more photos of the shape the bag was in:

I pretty much just reveled in the inexpensive score, and then put the purse in a drawer and stored it - for more than two years.  In 2010, I attended the Antique Purse Collector's Society annual gathering in Cincinnati, and took the purse along, hoping I would meet one of the members who restored these types of bags, someone who might take on my purse project.  I was too embarrassed to even bring it out.

This summer, I decided to contact one of those members on the West Coast who restores purses, Marion Held, through Facebook.  I sent her photos and asked her if she would evaluate the project's worth.  She immediately commented on the unusual pattern which she had never seen, and said it was salvageable, and ultimately gave me an estimate for completing the work.  Scope of work was to include repairing the body, replacing the frame and lining, and adding a twisted, bead fringe to the bottom.

The work-in-progress was promising, and I was sent the following photos, showing me a sampling of the fringe, along with three different frames to choose from:
WORK-IN-PROGRESS:  Frame Choice #1
WORK-IN-PROGRESS:  Frame Choice #2
WORK-IN-PROGRESS:  Frame Choice #3
After three months, my purse finally arrived, and here are the AFTER photos:
AFTER:  WWI-Era Beaded beaded purse - Front, Fully Restored

AFTER:  WWI-Era beaded purse - Back, Fully Restored

AFTER:  WWI-Era Beaded Purse, Inner Lining Replaced
I did some research, and I found a little more history of the motifs beaded into the purse.  Although I originally felt the purse was dated to no later than 1925, the '42' confused me a bit.  Turns out, it stands for the 42nd Infantry Division (Rainbow) of the National Guard and US Army.  If you have an interest, you can read more about it here (you need to scroll down until you come to the rainbow and sub-heading).  According to this source noted, the 42nd Division has served in WWI, WWII and in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).  The rainbow started out as a half-arc, multi-colored thin striped motif and later changed to a standard, 3-color striped quarter arc, outlined in green.  As per the description, my example matches the earlier version, near the World War I era.

According to Wikipedia, The Cross of Lorraine "is part of the heraldic arms of Lorraine in eastern France. Between 1871 and 1918 (and again between 1940 and 1944), the northern third of Lorraine was annexed to Germany, along with Alsace. During that period the Cross served as a rallying point for French ambitions to recover its lost provinces. This historical significance lent it considerable weight as a symbol of French patriotism."

As a collector, I am thrilled on several levels with how this purse turned out.  I originally bought the purse on a hunch that its design was special.  I found a first-class purse restorer in a fellow member of the Antique Purse Collector's Society.  The restored purse is, once again, the beautiful example it was intended to be, with a reasonable sum invested.   My experience with this purse restoration has been very positive, and I would certainly consider undertaking it again.

Have you ever had one of your collectibles restored?  How was your experience?

If you're interested in seeing more of my purse collection, please visit my Pinterest boards below. You'll see my restored purse there, along with many other examples of beaded, mesh, and other styles, most of which are from my personal collection.  You can also click on the link on my sidebar titled "A Panoply of Purses - My Personal Collection" to view the book format of many of my purses. Enjoy!
Panoply Antique Beaded Purses 
Panoply Antique & Vintage Mesh Purses
Panoply Vintage Children's Purses
Panoply Other Antique & Vintage Purses, Vanities 



  1. What a lovely piece of history! It is gorgeous. Your restorer did a fantastic job.

    1. Kathy, thank you! I love the job she did on this purse, and I am so glad I bought it and kept it and asked for her service!

  2. Very interesting!. I have a small collection of old purses, and happy to find your blog post.