c1780- 1920s Miser Purses

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Category: Accessories
c1860. Small maroon silk, beaded miser purse







Miser purses are known by many names including long purses, ring or string purses or finger purses. They originated in the late eighteenth century and were popular into the early 20th century. These purses were used by both men and women.







The original miser purse is a long tubular shape with a slit down the centre, held tightly by sliding rings (or sliders) to keep the coins safe at either end. This meant that it was hard to get the coins out in a hurry - hence the name miser.


Miser purses were usually weighted at the ends, sometimes with steel bead tassels, to hold the coins in place. Some miser purses were designed with one rounded and one square end- the different shapes having a different number of tassels. This meant that coins of different denominations could be kept in either end, making it easier in a dark carriage to find the correct fare to pay the driver by feeling the difference in the trimmings. The purses varied in length from as short as 8 inches (20cm) to as long as 36 inches (91cm). The longer sizes were generally seen later in the mid-19th century.




c1860 Large pink crochet and beaded miser purse.




Women carried miser's purses held in the middle, letting them fall elegantly over the hand or from their belts. Men carried them in their pockets. With all miser's purses, the object was to keep the contents secure.  




c1860 Black and multi coloured crochet bar purse with finger-ring.




Another type of miser purse, the finger-ring bar purse, had been around for centuries but experienced a renewed popularity at the end of the 18th century. The bars made opening the purse easier and the ring could be used to hold the purse closed or leave the hands free when the ring was slipped on a finger. They disappeared by the second decade of the 19th century, only to reappear with even greater popularity in the late 19th century through to the early 20th century.

These highly decorative purses were a particularly compelling type of object because, unlike other purses, they were deeply embedded in Victorian popular culture. As seen in hundreds of contemporary sources, the crafting, giving, receiving, sale, and use of the miser’s purse reflected specific social mores, and conveyed certain meanings, to the Victorians.

One of the reasons for the long popularity of the miser purse was that it was fairly easy to make one, and it became fashionable for young ladies to crochet or knit purses to give as presents, especially to gentlemen suitors. During the mid-19th century through to the early 20th century, ladies’ magazines often published instructions and patterns for constructing miser purses.