Q. My sister and I found this little purse (I guess) in my grandmother’s cedar chest which we inherited. Is it actually a purse and if so, what could have possibly been put it in because it is only about 4 inches by 4 inches and what era is it? Could a small handkerchief been put inside?
A. Yes it is a purse. It is referred to as a “Victorian String Finger Ring Purse” and dates back to the 1880’s. It, as many during that time, is hand-crocheted in probably an all-cotton fine thread. Women used these when walking outside their homes or when riding in a carriage. It was filled with a few small coins and that was all. The “flap” was pulled up on the strings far enough so that the coins could be inserted and then the strings pulled tight again to keep the coins from falling out. The “ring” was then slipped over the ring finger of the gloved left hand. It was then the right hand which would push open the flap and retrieve the coins as needed.
It would not have been used for a handkerchief, regardless of how small the handkerchief might be, because it just would not fit inside and even if it did, it would have been very difficult and awkward to remove it when needed. Instead, the Victorian lady carried a handkerchief separately and most likely in her right hand so that she could raise it to her nose quickly if needed. The handkerchief would normally have been dotted with some perfume to help thwart the unwelcomed smells of the day. I say “unwelcomed smells” because bathing on a regular basis was not the practice in those days and deodorant was not yet on the scene. Therefore, the perfumed handkerchief provided somewhat of a barrier for the lady.
What a wonderful, unique keepsake from your grandmother.