17th Century Gaming Purse

Saturday 13th February 2021 at 16:01

A 17th Century Gaming Purse (circa 1660 – 1680)

For those of you that don’t know me (probably most of you!) my love of handbags and associated accessories spans all areas of history.  I lecture on the history of the handbag as well as buying and selling bags and accessories from as early as I can find right up to the modern day.  I was brought up with my Father dragging me to antiques shops, fairs and jumble sales in search of Georgian Silver so….despite being ‘known’ for lucite and luxury my heart is embedded in the world of antiques.

Whilst perusing online auctions one day I saw the most glorious item – a 17th Century gaming purse possibly French or Italian and dating to circa 1660 – 1680.  It immediately sparked my interest and as well as viewing online, requesting a condition report and registering to bid I started to research the history of gaming purses.  This turned out to be a little harder than I thought as the information available was pretty similar wherever you looked.  However, it is something that fascinates me and therefore the research and the reading continues.

But, what is a gaming purse…..well let’s look at what was happening in the late 17th Century.  Gaming (or gambling) with cards was becoming a very popular pastime for the wealthy and enjoyed by both men and women. Gaming purses were to hold people’s money or counters and the games played were games such as ‘La Bête’ or ‘Put’.  Their construction was completely different to other purses of the time. They have a flat bottom and the sides draw together with a drawstring – this was so that the contents stayed inside and prevented them from spilling out and it also stopped any chance of revealing the contents.

The main body of the gaming purse would be coloured silk velvet and they were generally lined with lambskin. They were highly decorated with gold or silver metallic thread. Quite often the base of the purse had the owners coat of arms embroidered which avoided any issues of ownership.

There are a number of examples in Museum’s across the globe but do check out the V & A and the Met Museum for some fabulous examples.  I was lucky to be successful in bidding for the gaming purse and it is currently here on my website.

Image courtesy of Bags of Glamour