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18th century purse

18th Century

Pocket Case

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Nothing in it, nothing in it,
But the binding round it.

 
 
 

It has been whispered over the years that the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket was rooted in the people and places of 18th century London society. “Kitty Fisher” was the well-known British courtesan, Catherine Maria Fisher, who boasted assignations with many affluent 18th century gentlemen and was known for her flair for publicity. The “pocket” lost in the child’s nursery rhyme refers to an 18th century purse. This fashion accessory came in several styles, one being the pocket case or letter case.

Handsomely decorated ladies’ pocket cases or letter cases convey the dazzling opulence of affluent 18th century fashion and accessories. The elegantly worked carry-case was a smaller and more convenient adaptation of a ladies’ pocket. These fashion accessories were often brought back as souvenirs by travelers or given as gifts and signed and dated. The lady of leisure could exhibit her needlework proficiency in crafting this miniature, yet lavish accessory.

 
18th century purse
 

Small 18th century pink silk pocket case (c.1780-1800) with a beige embroidered flower, leaf and vine design. [For similar see "Eighteenth Century Clothing at Williamsburg" by Linda Baumgarten, page 42]

 

These small pocket cases were used to hold bank notes and letters, scissors and pencils, and other small implements. Eighteenth century artist and writer, Mary Delany, was presented such an article by Queen Charlotte in 1779. Her “waiting-woman” describes the visit:

 
“… the Queen came up to Mrs. Delany and put a packet into her hand, and said, in a most gracious manner, she hoped Mrs. Delany would look at that sometimes and remember her. …it was a most beautiful pocket case, the outside white [sattin] work'd with gold, and [ornamend] with gold spangles; the inside … is lined with pink [sattin], and contains a knife, [sizsars], [pencle], rule, [compass], bodkin, and more than I can say; but it is all gold and mother of pearl. At one end there was a little letter case that contained a letter directed to Mrs. Delany, written in the Queen's own hand…”
 
18th century purse
 

Under the front flap are two embroidered birds with phrase: "PUISSIONS NOUS LES IMITER". [Family hitext: from the Pieter Van Der Zee estate of Selkirk, N.Y. The Van Der Zee family was one of the first settlers of Albany, N.Y. in the 17th century.]

 

Frequently, the pocket book was crafted in silk and magnificently embroidered with silk or silk ribbon and metal threads. At times, more ornate techniques using sequins, gold foil, false pearls, silver-gilt fringes, and tassels were implemented by a more skillful embroiderer. Fabric pocket cases could be single or double sided and worked in flame stitch and edged in woven tape; some were worked in plain monochrome embroidery while others would depict floral or scenic designs in colored silks. Many such pocket books were preserved by families as keepsakes and have survived until today.

 
18th century purse
 

The back of the pocket case is as ornate in decoration as the front.

 
 
 
 
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