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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 April 2008

Pocketbooks and Wallets


Over on Candice Hern’s discussion board we were talking about wallets and pocketbooks recently, and now I'm obsessed with making one. After a bit of research (don’t throw me in the briar patch!) I went out and got all the supplies and started in. To the right is an extant pocketbook from 1780 from the collection at Old Sturbridge Village.

I copied the pattern I’m using from an 18th century chair in the MET’s collection (see image to the left), but I'm using a different color pallet, which I got from an 18th century pocket book in the Old Strubridge Village collection, but I can’t get that site to open today. *grumble*


A bit of etemology for those who like that sort of thing: The OED gives 1845 for the “wallet” usage we’re talking about:


3. A flat bag, usually of leather, closed by a flap fastened with a button or clasp, or secured by a band. Orig. U.S. a. A pocket-book for holding paper money without folding, or documents.


1845 N. P. WILLIS Dashes at Life II. 245 Our several borrowings were thrust into a wallet which was sometimes in his pocket, and sometimes in mine, as each took the turn to be paymaster.

Earlier usage seems to have been for a larger bag:

1. a. A bag for holding provisions, clothing, books, etc., esp. on a journey either on foot or on horseback; a pilgrim's scrip, a knapsack, a pedlar's pack, or the like. c1670 in 10th Rep. Hist. MSS. Comm. App. I. 39 A wallet to cari books. 1712 Spectator No. 289 9 Having looked about him for some time, he [a Dervise] enter'd into a long Gallery, where he laid down his Wallet, and spread his Carpet, in order to repose himself upon it. a1721 PRIOR Cupid turned Plowman 2 A rustic wallet o'er his shoulders ty'd. 1760-2 GOLDSM. Cit. W. lxii, With her scanty wardrobe packed up in a wallet, she set out on her journey on foot. 1791 A. WILSON Pack Poet. Wks. 1876 II. 30 My pond'rous Pack apo' the ground I carelessly had flung; A wallet green, wi straps fast bound. 1840 DICKENS Old C. Shop xii, The old man had forgotten a kind of wallet which contained the light burden he had to carry.


So what I’m making is a pocket book, and yes, both men and women carried these. Some of them are embroidered, but many of them are done in a type of needlepoint called



Bargello (or Florentine work). It involves a series of straight stitches that leap over multiple squares of the canvas. It also involves the use of changing hues of the same color. It’s period from the late 16th century on up.

To recreate the pattern I took the detail image of the chair and blew it up on my computer until I could count the stitches, then I worked it out on graph paper. I choose colors similar to those on another period pocketbook (pinks and blue-greys). To the right is a scan of my progress to date . . .




I can’t wait to get the Bargello work done so I can start assembling the actual pocketbook! I’m sure I’ll be carrying it at the RWA conference in July. So if you happen to be there and want to see it, just ask.

11 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Kalen, you astound me! I can't wait to see the pocketbook at RWA.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Kalen, this is fascinating--both the history and the actual wallet you're making. Can't wait to see it at RWA, if not before!

9:36 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

These are stunning! There was a tiny exhibit on pockets at the Museum of Costume in Bath when I was there in the fall of 2006, but I don't recall if they showed any pocket books. If I'd seen something like you'd posted, I'm sure I'd remember!

I'm sorry I'll miss the RWA convention, if only for all the amazing beau monde events. But one only has so much disposable income!

7:00 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

bargello, eh... wow, Kalen, you're a veritable encyclopedia of stuff I've been idly wondering about for most of my life.

So sorry you won't be at RWA, Amanda. Besides the bargello one might run into, it's wonderful to meet online and on-page friends there.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ok, I've fixed the missing image and updated the blog to include a link to Old Sturbridge Village, which has an amazing collection of pocket books.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I used to do bargello when I was a teenager. I did a lot of needlepoint, and bargello was very "in" for a while. I loved designing my own patterns. I must have made a zillion bargello pillows for my grandmother. I could play with the color families she loved so much -- blues and turquoises and lavenders -- and do "ombre" sorts of things with them.

I may have to wait until (if) the RWA convention comes back to NYC for me to be able to afford it. :(

11:02 AM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Kalen, I had to come over here and gush over your pocketbook again. You're incredibly talented and dedicated to your period of study. I look forward to seeing you carry it...perhaps at the Beau Monde soiree???

11:40 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

My mother was a big needlepointer. I have cover that she designed for me for a 3 ring binder that was similar to one in the picture.

Next year's conference is in DC, a quick train ride away.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Candice Hern said...

I have a teeny collection of 18th century pocket books. There is a dealer in Bath who always has wonderful ones, but they are somewhat rare and can be expensive, so I don't have many. You can see my two latest finds on this thread on my message board: http://candicehern.com/board/viewtopic.php?t=2119

The photos only show the back side. The front sides are just as Kalen has shown. Inside, most of them have fold-out sections, like a little silk accordian file folder, and other pockets to tuck things in.

I plan do do a "collections" article on my website one day about pocket books.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Yes, Candice! Please do a page. I really want to see the inside of a few more of these. I've seen a couple of examples, but more is always better.

I based the meiser purse I made on the ones on your site (I made a VERY plain one).

12:19 PM  
Blogger Le Loup said...

Very good post. Any chance of further info on what types of walets, bags, pouches, packs women used in the 18th century?
Regards, Le Loup.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com

4:21 PM  

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