by Jeannie Roberts

All photos from the author's collection.

It is a special joy for me to have the opportunity to share my passion for

An extremely large purse, 13 1/2 x 12 1/4". It is very rare to see so many figures.

fabulous figural beaded purses with you. I hope you enjoy viewing these feminine beauties from long ago.
Among the rarest and most sought after beaded purses are the fine, beaded figurals. Highly prized by advanced purse collectors and extremely difficult to find, these purses command the highest sums in the purse world today and continue to climb in price.

Two women and a man in period clothing in a lush outdoor setting. 12 x 8 1/4".

Many figurals show courting couples in typical settings that appeal to the romantic soul. Other figurals are rarer, ranging from silhouettes, Orientals, nudes, Blacks, children, angels, fairies and Egyptian, mythological and folklore motifs, to name several. Figural purses can be found in glass beads and in cut beads. The cut steel bead purses are not found nearly as often as the glass beaded versions. Cut steel bead purses are more fragile and damage more easily, which may account, in part, for this.

Lady-by-the-sea purse with jeweled frame captures a serene mood. 7 1/2 x 10".

Often, the more space the figures take up on the body of the bag, the more desirable the purse. Of course, subject matter is a major factor. Black figures sky rocket in price due to rarity. Form is also a very big factor and the skill in which the bead worker executed the facial details can drastically effect the value of a purse. The color

Purse with a dancing couple and a jeweled frame. 7 1/4 x 9 3/4".

of the beads used to show subtle facial shading is another crucial factor that varies in the success of the overall composition of the figures.
To find a beaded figural purse with more than two figures is quite a feat! A mint condition figural is a real find and one with minor damage is certainly still a treasure, when the age and handiwork is considered.

Reticule purse, lady playing a harp, c. 1800. 11 1/2 x 7 3/4".

As great purses are becoming increasingly harder to find and afford, collectors are more readily willing to accept some minor damage to enjoy superior beauty. Many serious collectors will purchase a stunning purse with some damage in hopes of one day replacing it with a perfect example. It is not unusual to have five, or even ten, years go by before another example is found. Many collectors

A flute player entertains a couple on the grounds of an estate, silver frame. 14 x 7 3/4".

would rather enjoy an “as is” purse than chance a perfect one coming along. The figural purse cannot be reproduced today and this reality has made it highly cherished.
Many of the beautiful figural patterns are repeated with slight variations in color, fringe and purse size. The purse frames may also vary. Other figural patterns have only turned up once,

A romantic outdoor mandolin serenade. 11 x 7".

but that could change tomorrow. No one really knows how many different patterns there were or how many were done in each pattern. Most likely, if one was done, others were also, giving hope to the avid collector!
These coveted purses were originally costly and used for special occasions. They were a favorite souvenir of the wealthy who took the grand tour of the continent. They ranged in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and were made in many different countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Austria and Italy, to name a few. They date from as early as the 18th century.
As an art form, these treasured heirlooms are akin to a fine painting and are breathtaking to behold! Many are in private collections and will surely be properly cared for so generations to come can enjoy their unbelievable beauty!

About the author:
Jeannie Roberts, along with her husband, Larry, owns Roberts Antiques in Micanopy, Florida. She is a major collector of figural beaded purses.

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