Friday, July 20, 2012

Iroquois Beaded Bags with a Metal Frame and a Selection of Recently Uncovered Old Photographs

On July 8, 2014 I made some changes to this posting.

Non-Native purses have been around since at least the 16th century.   They are known by many names; among them the pocketbook, the purse, chatelaine, the handbag, and the reticule. There was also a man’s travelling bag called a handbag or satchel, although this was a piece of luggage but during the 19th century, the term “handbag” came to describe a larger version of a woman’s purse. The earliest handbags that were designed for women featured compartments, a sturdy handle, metal frames and fastenings all inspired by men’s travelling bags. By the mid-19th century, Berlin woolwork purses with floral and geometric design were also at the height of their popularity. But of all the bags that have come in and out of fashion over the years, perhaps none has been more cherished than the beaded bag.

Sandy Levins, the director of programming at the Camden County Historical Society, wrote: Beaded bags, whether handcrafted or commercially produced, have been in vogue in North America for well over 200 years and in Europe for much longer. In the late 1300s, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer described one in "The Miller's Tale," the story of a love affair between an Oxford student and a carpenter's wife. Of the female character he wrote: “By her belt hung a purse of leather tasseled with green and beaded with Italian beads…."

The earliest beaded bag was usually knitted in a drawstring style called a reticule, which also became known as an “indispensable” because it developed a universal popularity almost overnight. So popular was the reticule, it became an absolute “must” for fashionable ladies in 19th century Europe where the Empress Josephine, internationally known for her sense of fashion, carried a reticule with her at all times. Romantic figures, pastoral scenes, and flora and fauna became common themes rendered in the tiniest of beads.

Between 1820 and 1830, beaded bags supported by metal frames came into vogue. Coming primarily from France and Austria, the frames were made of everything from pinchbeck, an alloy of copper and zinc made to look like gold, to tortoiseshell. Chains, often formed of decorative, ornate links, were attached to the frames. 

Figure 1 – A metal frame for a beaded bag from the late 19th century.

Figure 2 – A non-Native bag embroidered with beads and with a metal frame. Late 19th - early 20th centuries.

Figure 3 – A non-Native Native bag embroidered with beads and with a metal frame. Late 19th-early 20th centuries.

Figure 4 – A non-Native bag embroidered with beads and with a metal frame. Dated 1846 in beads although  the frame is from the late 19th century.

During the first few decades of the 19th century, purse design was at its height. Napoleon’s wife Josephine was a purse aficionado and designers worked tirelessly to please her and her court with an endless array of purses. Unique shapes, materials and construction methods were a hallmark of the time and it’s during this period that purses with metal frames came into being.

Occasionally, we come across Native made beaded bags that have the same metal frames that are found on European bags which raises the question; were they originally designed into the bags by Native artisans because they were fashionable, or were they added later by someone else? Paula Higgins, a member of the Antique Purse Collector's Society and the co-author of a book on antique and vintage purses titled A PASSION FOR PURSES has shed some light on this. She informed me that the purses pictured in this posting, that have a metal twist clasp, all date after the 1870s. Collectors of antique purses have been aware that many purses, which would include those made by Native artisans, were mounted or re-mounted on later frames. It was a common practice as framed purses gained popularity in the late 19th century. So essentially, the owners recycled the bags and put them on more contemporary frames. This practice continued on into the early 20th century. The only exception is the bag in the Daguerreotype in figure 12. Paula has informed me that this frame, which is barely visible, has a chain which is classic 1840s and seen on many purses from that period. These frames are shaped like an eyebrow but with less of a curve and it is made of steel, as is the chain. So this frame is contemporary to the bag pictured and might have been added by the Native artisan who made the bag.

Figure 5 – An Iroquois beaded bag with a metal frame. The bag is from the 1830s; the metal frame is from the late 19th century. 

Figure 6 – An Iroquois floral bag in the Niagara style with ovate florals and a metal frame.
The bag is circa 1850; the metal frame is circa 1920.

Figure 7 – An Iroquois floral bag in the Niagara style with elongated leaf motifs and a metal frame. The bag is from 1855-1860; the frame from the late 19th century.

Figure 9 – An Iroquois floral bag in the Niagara style with both ovate florals and elongated leaf motifs and a metal frame. The bag is from 1850-1855; the frame is from the late 19th century.

Figure 10 – An Iroquois floral bag in the Niagara style with both ovate florals and elongated leaf motifs and a metal frame. The bag is from 1850-1855; the metal frame is from the late 19th century.

Figure 10a – Detail of the metal frame in figure 10. 

Figure 11 – A rare example of a Mi’kmaq beaded bag with a metal frame. The bag is circa 1840s; the frame from the late 19th century. Glass beads sewn onto red wool serge of the type seen on Canadian military uniforms. The beads are strung on horsehair.

Figure 12 – Daguerreotype. Late 1840s to early 1850s. The subject is holding an Iroquois beaded bag with a metal frame at the top. 
In July of 2011, I did a posting that illustrated a collection of 19th century images of women and young girls who were photographed with an Iroquois beaded bag.

These old images testify to the prestige and the prevailing taste for Haudenosaunee beadwork during the middle decades of the nineteenth century and it speaks to the especially high regard Victorian women held for these purses, an appreciation that would contribute to the preservation of the beaded bags now so prized by collectors.

 I’m always on the lookout for these old images and below is a new group that has surfaces since the previous posting. 

Figure 13 – Daguerreotype – 1840s. The young girl has a Mohawk style beaded bag. See figure 14 for an example of a similar bag. I originally dated this image to circa 1860 but Karen Augusta, a textile expert, thinks the clothing style the young girl is wearing could be as early as the 1840s. This would push back the dating of this style of purse by at least two decades.

Figure 14– Beaded bag, possibly Kahnawake Mohawk, 1840s-1860s. Similar to a bag illustrated in a document in the research files of the Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave, New York that was collected at Caughnawaga, circa 1860. This bag is similar to the one illustrated in figure 13.

Figure 15 – Hand tinted daguerreotype – young girl with ringlets in her hair and a white pinafore. Mid-1850s. She has an Iroquois floral bag that is similar to the one in figure 16.

Figure 16 – Iroquois floral bag, mid-1850s. Similar to the one in figure 15.

Figure 17 – A rare Daguerreotype of three children in fancy dress. Fancy dress is what costume parties were called in the 19th century. They were immensely popular and many had dress-up themes from earlier decades or centuries. This image is hard to date because the costumes are from different time periods. The young girl wears a circa 1850 dress. The boy on the right may be wearing a Renaissance outfit which would be a bit later. So this could be 1850s - 1860s. The young lady has a Mohawk beaded bag similar in style to the one in figure 18.

Figure 18 – A Mohawk style beaded bag with similarities to the one in figure 17.

Figure 19 – A carte-de-visite from the Civil War. There is a two-cent revenue tax stamp on the back that is dated August 14th, 1864 – likely the day the image was taken. The photographer was H. A. Upthegrove of Crown Point, Indiana. The young girl with the bag is identified as Matilda Farwell. She has an Iroquois beaded bag that is quite similar to the one in figure 20.

Figure 20 – An Iroquois beaded bag that is quite similar to the one in figure 19.

Figure 21 – Ambrotype – late 1850s of a well dressed and fashionable young woman with an Iroquois floral bag that is decorated with elongated leaf clusters. Her bag is similar to the one in figure 22.

Figure 22 – An Iroquois beaded bag. 1855-1860. Similar to the one in figure 21.

Figure 23 – Early 1860s Ambrotype. This is a rare post mortem image of a child with an Iroquois beaded bag that is similar to the one in figure 20.  Post mortem photography was in common use in the 19th century as a way to memorialize a loved one. Since mortality rates were very high during this period, especially among children, these photographs served less as a reminder of one’s mortality than as a cherished memento to commemorate the deceased.

Figure 24 – A lovely circa 1860 tintype of a young lady with an Iroquois beaded bag.

Figure 25 – An unusual tinted tintype of a young man dressed in buckskins. He is wearing an Iroquois floral bag. He might be dressed for a play or some other event. What’s with that hat he’s wearing? 

Figure 26 – A later cabinet card that was a copy of a mid-1850s daguerreotype. Both young women have similar Iroquois floral bags.

Figure 27 – A circa 1910 group photograph of four individuals that are decked out in beads. The young woman on the left is wearing an outfit that is quite similar to those offered for sale in the catalogs for the Improved Order of Redmen.  She is also holding a Mohawk box purse with an owl motif. The older gentleman’s trousers are totally beaded as is the young boys vest!

Figure 28 – This painting of the Wykes children was done in 1852 by the Rev. David Bulle of Sidney, Ohio. The young girl on the left has an Iroquois beaded bag. The design on the bag has similarities to the one in figure 29.  Photo courtesy of Marguerite Riordan.

Figure 29 – Iroquois beaded bag. 1840s-1850s. Approximately three inches in diameter.

Figure 30 – This final entry is a rare stone lithograph of the young Black Hawk, the grandson of Black Hawk, late war chief of the Sac and Fox nations. This lithograph dates to approximately 1840-1850. It was made by the American lithographer and photographer Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) of New York. Sarony began his lithography business in 1843 after an apprenticeship as an illustrator with Currier & Ives. In this image Black Hawk is wearing a beaded Glengarry hat and he has a bandolier across his chest which likely supported a large bag. Old images of individuals wearing a Glengarry are quite rare and I have seen less than a handful over the years. This one is exceptionally rare and testifies that what is generally seen as souvenir or tourist beadwork was also worn and highly regarded by Native people as well.
If you have an interest in Northeast Woodland beadwork you might find my book of interest. Titled: A Cherished Curiosity: TheSouvenir Beaded Bag in Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art by GerryBiron. Published in 2012. This is a brand new, hard cover book with dust jacket. 184 pages and profusely illustrated. 8.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 978-0-9785414-1-5.
Since the early nineteenth century, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beaded bags have been admired and cherished by travelers to Niagara Falls and other tourist destinations for their aesthetic beauty, detailed artistry, and the creative spirit of their makers.  A long neglected and misunderstood area of American Indian artistry, "souvenir" art as it's come to be called, played a crucial role in the subsistence of many Indian families during the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated history examines these bags – the most extensively produced dress accessory made by the Haudenosaunee – along with the historical development of beadworking both as an art form and as a subsistence practice for Native women.
In this book, the beadwork is considered in the context of art, fashion, and the tourist economy of the nineteenth century. Illustrated with over one hundred and fifty of the most important – and exquisite – examples of these bags, along with a unique collection of historical photographs of the bags in their original context, this book provides essential reading for collectors and researchers of this little understood area of American Indian art.
My thanks to Karen Augusta for helping me date some of the old images.