The Museum of Bags and Purses, Amsterdam

I visited the world's largest collection of bags at The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. Impressive and well worth a visit if you're interested in the history of bags and checking out the vast range of designs and materials used throughout the centuries.


This is the oldest bag in the museum and is from the 16th Century, France. It is made from goat leather and has 18 pockets! It has two loops on the clasp, probably linked to a belt, and was likely worn by a merchant. Some of the 18 pockets are concealed and it’s thought that this tricked thieves trying to steal from the merchant.

Men carried bags long before they became fashionable for women. They would be carried to transport and store hunting equipment, a practical necessity long before the desire to wear a bag for style purposes.


Letter cases were popular in the 1700-1800 for keeping love letters and bills. Usually made from leather, silk or straw and embroidered with metal thread or silk. Letter cases were often given as gifts for weddings and engagements. Although not really a bag, the concept of having a decorative object to carry something of importance was required.


Decorative bag handles. Bags were becoming fashionable and these themed carvings show that they were becoming more of a statement piece. They were no longer just for practical reasons.


Beaded bags were popular in 1700-1800 and could take about two solid weeks to hand make. Each coloured bead is individually threaded before being knitted into a bag. We can really see the level of detail in these elaborate designs. This style of bag was very expensive and it would be a privilege to be seen wearing one of these. It was an accessory for the very wealthy.


This is a really fascinating object. A chatelaine was a symbol of power for the medieval lady of the manor. Evolving through the years, a lady would hang her valuables such as her bible, keys, purse, fan, sewing box. These went out of fashion in the early 1900's when the handbag arrived. It's basically the contents of a bag hanging off of chains, like an inside out bag.


Ivory parcel carrier with silver rings. Early 1900. This is a precursor of the plastic bag. To use this, you would tie what you wanted to carry onto the handle rings. Quite an interesting concept and it could really challenge the idea of the 'bag for life.' Have a handle and string for life instead!


Bag design continued to develop and the idea of a novelty bag became popular in the late 1900’s/early 2000. Here we can see the leap from having a bag purely for practical reasons to having a bag purely to make a fashion statement. Plastic was becoming a popular material choice and could be easily coloured and shaped.
Museum of bags and purses
I find the history of bags so fascinating. From carrying hunting tools to an accessory displaying power or class to being a novelty item, this important accessory has evolved over the centuries in purpose but remained visible in society. Today, bags are available in all shapes and sizes, in a variety of materials and at a wide range of prices. We have laptop bags, weekend and cabin bags, clutch bags for special occasions, practical crossbody bags, rucksack bags for school or work, maternity bags, camping bags and the bumbag has recently made another comeback. You can pick up a bag for a few pounds on the high street or a few thousand in high end shops. We really are spoilt for choice and I love that I’m able to add my own collection of hand made designs to the world of bags.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published