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A Purse of 18th Century embroidery with fly braid tassels

A Purse of 18th Century embroidery with fly braid tassels

This gorgeous little work bag or purse came from a grand family and passed down to Lord Harlech, who had ties with President Kennedy, amongst other notable figures.

The piece is a bit of a mystery, becuase I think it has been re-worked at some time, but still has the original mid 18th Century glorious silk & metal thread embroidery, along with the original drawstrings, that have matching Fly Braid tassels. Fly Braiding is the same as the Fly Fringing applied to 18th Century court gowns, and is absolutely delightful. It was usually made by weaving, along with knotting and tufting, to produce the bow-like strands of gold thread and fabric passementerie. In these tassels there are also strands of tiny gold rings as well as larger one's. So much detail in a tassel! [Read more about tassels in 'Seventeenth & Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail' Hart & North, P132. 2009 - Full reference in the Links & Research section.]

The embroidery is large size and very detailed: Breathtaking. The main colours are corals, blues and greens on a ribbed ivory silk background. I think the metal may be gold and silver but difficult to tell without cleaning. Much use is made of 'purls' to lift and accentuate the flower parts.

The purse has a domed filigree metal base which is very decorative, but on the subject of metals I know nothing. A friend who collects antique jewellery suggested that it has a late 18th Century appearance. She does not think it is pinchbeck because parts of it are discoloured. She mentioned two similar designs: "Verge Fusee Pocket Watch Cocks" & 'Cannetille work' which you can research for any leads.

Please be sure to read the condition report below, where I explain why it may have been re-made. If you buy, please keep the purse firmly stuffed with acid free tissue, to prevent damage to the pleats.

Depth of purse 6.25". Domed metal base has a 3.5" diameter. Fabric width 17".


  • Condition:

    The silk is in generally good condition for age, but the ivory is darkened, and the embroidery thread faded, althouth still lovely colours. Where the drawstring bag has been pleated at the base, and stored without padding, the silk has some wear along the folds and in two places, this wear has formed very small holes. The tassels are very good condition and just need to be straightened a little. These seem to be completely original to the purse.

    The filigree metal base has little holes in the upper rim and so was deliberately made to attach to a textile with the use of thread, which it has been, using a very fine silk inner lining. Parts of the metal have surface discolouration but no damage. Much of it is very bright.

    The remainder of the purse is unlined. It should be lined, but in a way this is nice because we can see the brilliant colours of the purse inside. The fabric has only one seam to join it into a circle  and I feel it should have more shaping.

    The final mystery - the ties are threaded through the top of the fabric, and the drawstring function works perfectly. But the fabric has been simply slashed [as in 17th Century slashing] with no finishing to the raw edges. These slashed are very small, and one wonders how the large tassels could possibly fit through them? Presumably the tassels were added to the tie ends afterwards, but this all looks completely original and professional. A mystery.

    Do look closely at the images which show most of the details I have outlined in this description.

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