Personal Effects: Chain purses link granddaughter to great grandmother

Published 6:23 am Saturday, July 7, 2018


Accredited Senior Appraiser

Question: Dearest Jerry, Mother had so many of these mesh bags in her home when I cleaned it out a few years ago. I kept them but don’t necessarily want to keep them. Do you understand what I mean? I do have a granddaughter who has expressed an interest in them. Are they worth anything. What are the reasons for them being so small? I’m sorry I don’t have more information or better photographs. Most are in very tarnished condition, almost rusty, and have the remains of painted decorations. Should I clean them? I don’t see any makers names or sterling marks. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to look at these. Regards.

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Answer: Yes, you do have some old mesh bags. Mesh bags like yours can date to as early as the 1870’s. However, the technique of hooking metal rings together to form a moveable and incredibly tough metal fabric dates back to the medieval era. So, your little purses are a call back to chain mail.

I’m sorry but the bags you have date to the 1920’s and not merry ol’ England. This was the age of the flapper. And their purses were small, as these girls were on the move. They only needed some cab or bus fare, a tube of lipstick and a tiny compact and not much else.

Purses like yours were not the best of quality. I think that a lot of them were made in Germany and exported out, as they were cheap and stylish. Many purses that were lower quality were thinly silver plated on steel, hence the rusting. Others were just silver painted with decorative cold paint decorations. Cold paint means that the paint was applied while the metal was cold to the touch. It easily chipped or rubbed off. Enameled colors are backed on in a kiln. Enameled colors are more labor intensive and costly.

Mesh bags can run a wide gamut in terms of values. Fine bags in sterling silver are hotly collected. As are bags by famous makers, like the American firm Whiting & Davis. Bags that are heavily decorated in Art Deco enamels with bright, bold colors are also at a premium. And bags hand crafted, out of 14kt and 18kt gold, by illustrious makers like Cartier and Tiffany & Co. are out of the stratosphere, and are frankly, out reach of most collectors.

I wouldn’t do much with your bags. Polish and mesh is a booger to clean, properly. Water will cause them to rust more. Maybe a little hand sanitizer on a soft cloth to get the grime off of them. Other than that, I’d just leave them alone. Value wise, they don’t have a lot of value or appeal in today’s market in this condition. I’d expect mesh bags of this size to be priced at $15.00 to $20.00 each.

If you have a granddaughter that loves them, now that you know the value of them, I’d let her carefully play with them. Perhaps, the two of you could make a display of them in her room? She needs that connection to her great grandmother. Thanks for sharing them with us.