Tassen Museum, Amsterdam – enjoyable trip inside famous bags and purses!

A person’s bag or a purse is a personal affair. It can tell a story or shed a light on someone’s personality. A purse can be an extension to our wallets, for the things which are precious to us but too big to fit in our wallets. It can store memories, travel souvenirs, everyday essentials. On the other hand, a purse can be a part of an outfit, a decorative piece, like a jewelry, watch or a scarf. It is a trophy, statement, mark, preference choice or a necessity. It is a solution and a helper, extension to our pocket, a comfort. It is a traveler.

For some a purse can be a passion. And a passion for something has no boundaries. A passionate person can create anything what they dream of. And this is the case for Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo – two passionate collectors who created an incredible museum in the heart of Amsterdam – Tassen Museum – Museum of Bags and Purses. Hendrike and Heinz Ivo were captivated by the beauty, craftsmanship and personal story behind the bags they came across. From this the Tassen Museum was born.

The collection opens up on the third floor of a beautiful building in the heart of Amsterdam. On display you will spot an incredibly well preserved 16 century mans’ bag, with many hidden pockets (18 secret compartments!), probably used for a different currencies, as the owner of this bag was most likely a merchant. Some of these pockets are concealed, and were probably intended to deter would-be thieves. Whilst bags were also worn at the shoulder and on the back, items the owners wished to keep the most secure were worn at the waist up until the introduction of integrated garment pockets in the eighteenth century.

16 century merchant purse

The purpose of the bags evolved during the centuries. In times when personal hygiene was not a high priority, all classes of society suffered from fleas. You could catch them with a flea catcher – these were perforated tubes containing a piece of cloth with blood on it that would attract the fleas. Once the fleas has gorged themselves, they were too big to escape through the perforations and died. Ingenious system to deal with upleasantries of everyday life!

Flea bags

With the evolvement of the social life – gaming boxes came to a rescue. The little ivory boxes contained chips for playing various party games, such as Quadrille. On the lids is a dial with numbers on it. The boxes were made by Mariauel le Jeune in Paris. This set of gaming boxes is one of the few in which the maker has been identified. 

Gaming boxes

As the purpose of the bags was changing, the same was happening to the materials the bags were made of. From the end of 19 century bags made of mesh were very popular. Mesh consists of little metal rings or plates, linked to each other to form a web like in the chain mail coats of medieval knights. They were expensive as the rings or the plates were attached to each other one by one by hand. They were often made of silver or silver-plated metal. Germany and the United States were major producers. From 1909 the cost of the mesh production dropped significantly – a machine to manufacture mesh was invented in the USA and the bags became more affordable.

Mesh purses

Not only mesh was popular in the 19 and 20 century. A wave of making bags out of exotic materials, such as alligator or crocodile skin, awashed the market. Literally everything and anything could be made out of this material – shoes, purses, belts, wallets… To this day a purse made of crocodile or alligator skin is perceived as a luxury item as the processing of the skin is not an easy matter. 

Lizards, alligator and crocks skin used to create bags and shoes

Bags were keeping up with the times and in 19 century steam trains and steam ships have made travelling more comfortable, cheaper and faster. People were traveling more so the range of suitcases, shoe- and hatboxes, dressing cases changed. Trunks were replaced by leather bags with hands, which could be easily carried by hand. Dressing cases containing brushes, manicure sets, little bottles and boxes made of silver, crystal, ivory and mother of pearl were the forerunners of today’s’ vanity cases. 

Traveling in style!

The museum collection is incredibly fascinating – you are able to glimps the purses carried by Madonna, Margaret Thatcher, made by Gucci or Karl Lagerfeld. Especially story of Margaret Thatcher bag is interesting – she was always carrying her trusty Aspreys, and she would have her speeches printed on paper specially cut to fit in her bag. 

Margaret Thatcher’s bag

The Gucci bamboo bag was a gamble. He used curved bamboo to create a handle. In 1947 the materials to create bags were scarce and Gucci sourced a Japanese bamboo to create a handle. Today this handle is a most recognized feature in the bag industry. Some of the most famous film stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman were seen carrying this signature handbag.

Gucci bamboo handbag

You can spend hours wandering the three floors of the Tassen Museum and if you are after something different – this is place to visit!

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