Museum of Bags & Purses

Hidden away behind leafy trees in a lovely old canal-side house in Amsterdam lies the Tassen Museum Hendrikje – Museum of Bags and Purses with three floors of the most interesting and divine handbags!

The Museum of Bags and Purses is the only one in Europe and is the largest in the world – and what an absolute treat to meander from floor to floor admiring the ever-changing exhibits. It all began with Hendrikje and Heinz Ivo’s passion for collecting bags and over a period of thirty years has now grown to more than 4000 bags, purses, pouches, suitcases and other accessories.

The building houses three exhibition rooms which includes a ‘travelling’ exhibition, two lovely period rooms for receptions and a museum-café along with a museum shop with special designer-bags.

The top floor houses the bags dating from the 16th-19th centuries and showcases a lovely collection of beaded bags – the very first bag I purchased in my collection was one very similar to these.

Beaded bag for mon 2 Beaded Bag for mon

The museum has a beaded bag from 1630 made from glass beads strung on silk threads. Some of these beaded bags were made from beads as small as a grain of sand. This bead work was known as ‘sable’

Knitting with beaded bags was very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Evidently an experience knitter needed two working weeks to complete a beaded bag with more than 50,000 beads strung in the right order of the pattern before even beginning to knit them! So, owning one of these bags was considered a real luxury

Beaded purse
Knitted beaded bag with silver frame – these appeared shortly after 1800

I loved this little box that they would have carried with all their beads and implements.

bead container with tools

Handbags were made with techniques like crocheting, embroidery, knitting, weaving and lacework. This is an exquisite example of an embroidered bag.

Reticule of tulle embroidered with flowers in relief, Lady Ponsonby, Turkey 1841
Reticule of tulle embroidered with flowers in relief, Lady Ponsonby, Constantinople 1841

A very rare example from the museum is this beautiful green leather wallet which has been embroidered with gilt silver thread. The portrait was painted in 1806 and the young lady embroidered the love poem probably as a gift to her loved one.

Leather and silk lettercase with embroideries, poem and miniature by Favorin Ledebour France 1806

The museum’s oldest bag in the collection is a man’s goat leather bag with 18 secret pockets from the 16th century.

From the end of the 19th century mesh bags became very popular. They were often made of silver and were expensive to make as the rings (or plates) were attached to each other one by one.  The United States and Germany were major producers but thankfully from 1909 they became much cheaper due to the invention of a machine to manufacture the mesh. You have probably heard of Whiting & Davis (USA) who became the most well know company to produce these.

Mesh bags

Art Deco bags in the 1920’s and 30’s featured geometric shapes and very bright primary colours, especially red, black and silver.

Art Deco Bags Marcasite Bag

There are so many fine examples of handbags from every well-known couturier and handbag designer that it is hard just to feature a few.

Leather handbag Schiaparelli 1950s
Leather handbag with decorated frame by Schiaparelli, 1950s Belonged to Princess Lilian of Belgium, King Leopoold III’s second wife

Different types of leather have been used to produce handbags and leather is one of the oldest materials used by man. The museum’s very informative display boards tell me that “all skins, even those of fish can be turned into leather. The skins of cows, goats, sheep and pigs are mainly used. For luxury leather goods the skins of snakes, crocodiles, ostriches, lizards, armadillos, toads and leopards are also used” Thankfully, of course nowadays there are very strict rules on the manufacture of using certain animal skins in bag production.

Skin bag with pin cushion
skin bag with pin cushion

From the 1950’s plastic handbags dominated the fashion scene. The box-shaped are made from hard plastic – Lucite (Perspex or Plexiglas) or decorated with strass (a flint glass with high lead content used to imitate gemstones). Worn by every movie star on the red carpet in the 1950s these bags are very collectable today.

Lucite Bag

I was delighted to see one of these as I have one as well – I always thought it a good knitting basket but they are called Railway baskets and from 1870 were popular for holding shopping, needlework or lunch!

Railway Basket

Of course I had to include the wonderful Chanel Handbags – my dream bag – yet to be purchased …

This is probably one of the most famous handbags the 2.55 after the date it was first launched in February 1955

Chanel 2

Chanel Just a Drop of No.5 Coco Comic Clutch Bag

Moving from horse-drawn carriages to steam trains and ships saw the arrival of an assortment of bags and suitcases for the traveller. The museum has a travelling exhibition with divine examples including beautifully made dressing cases which housed brushes, little bottles, manicure sets and boxes made of crystal, silver and mother of pearl. Our modern day vanity case! “In about 1826, the frenchman Pierre Godillot made a travelling bag out of canvas which became extraordinarily popular in the second half of the 19th century.” It also became very popular to embroider these canvas bags.

Collection of Travelling cases

And who wouldn’t like to have one of these very smart tea cases?

Travelling drinks case

Moving downstairs to the first floor sees handbags from the 20th and 21st centuries – and it was fun to spot how many bags I had owned and sold or still owned. You can spot all the ‘It’ bags and of course the famous Kelly and Birken bags by Hermès and the Lady Dior.

Even the Anya Hindmarch I’m Not a Plastic Bag brought back memories of us queuing at 6.00am outside the supermarket to buy one of these. And then they gave it to you … in a plastic bag – gave me a good laugh!!

This rather fabulous creation is a ‘Wedding Cake’ silk bag with silk flowers by Joy Liotta Horvath, USA 1999.

Wedding cake Handbag silk with silk flowrs Joy Liotta Horvath 1999

The museum offers changing exhibitions and the current one running until 1 February 2015 is Forever VintageVintage bags dating from 1920-1994 and retro bags based on these classics.

Forever Vintage poster

This is one museum that is not to be missed and I can’t wait to visit again.

Tassen Museum Hendrikje

Museum of Bags and Purses
Herengracht 573
1017 CD Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T +31 (0)20- 524 64 52

The museum is open daily from 10.00 to 1700 (closed 1 January, 25 December and 26 April). On December 5th, 24th and 31st the museum closes at 1600.

Adults are currently €9,50 and there are concessions for 65+, students, schoolchildren, groups and museumcard holders. See online for details.



2 thoughts on “Museum of Bags & Purses”

  1. Hello cary, this is better than any christmas present! Better even than the museum website, to which i have been linked for some time already.
    To think how many of these wonderful things i have had or still have floating around me…..and yet, when i started collecting these more than 50 years ago i was declared mad!!!!! Nice to see that there are museums who bother and people like you who visit, take photos for us and share…..thank you!

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