miser bag- bainbridge.jpg

Time Period: early nineteenth century, Victorian

Category: Accessory, Purse

Accession Number: 2003.12.242

Donor: Robert P. Bainbridge


This Miser bag is a black bag with silver beading. The beading is seen on either side of the bags in designs as well as the initials (NEP) on the square side of the bag. The slit in the center has two metal rings on either side, most likely made of silver steel, which was the most popular type of metal used in the later nineteenth century.[1] The rounded end of the bag has a silver colored beaded tassel where as the square sack has silver beaded fringe on the edges. The different shapes and decorations on either side of the bag are for the user to differentiate between silver and gold coins without having to open and look inside the bag.[2] Although steel was very common on miser bags during this time, glass was also a common material for the beaded decorations.[3] The information found regarding miser bags can often be misleading and unclear. Therefore, a lot of the information found may be contradicted in other sources. A miser bag is a small purse ranging from 4-16 inches with sacks on either side, a slit in the center, and two rings in the center that fall to each end to secure the contents in each side of the bag.[4] Miser bags became popular in the early nineteenth century and remained popular mostly throughout the early nineteenth century, disappearing in popularity by the 1920s. Miser bags were influenced by purses and bags from the seventeenth and eighteenth century.[5] Earlier purses and bags were carried by both men and women just as the miser bag. However, they were longer and more narrow with a single ring in the center to secure the contents. The miser bag was first used in the early nineteenth century as a way to practice needlework skills and were not yet the useful accessory they would become. The more popular these small bags became, the greater meaning they adopted in society.

One of the most well known practices regarding miser bags was the idea of gifting to both loved ones and friends. These gifts could be presented to men or women for birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and more. Brides were often gifted miser bags with coins in either side for the bride's use. When given to a loved one, miser bags were often gifted to seduce or show love and affection. Furthermore, miser bags were sometimes even given to secure a marriage in the future, especially if they were particularly intricate and attractive. This was often viewed as controversial during this time, especially if a women was gifting a bag to secure a marriage based for financial reasons. One of the main reasons that Miser bags were such great gifts was because of the dedication, creativity, and craftsmanship that was put into each of these handmade bags. This was viewed much higher than the monetary value of a gift during this time. It showed character and the devotion of the person who gifted to the receiver of the bag.[6] Although miser bags were usually made by hand at home, there may have been ready-made miser bags made available to purchase in the late nineteenth century.[7] Nonetheless, the handmade miser bags were the most admired during this time. Aside from being gifted, miser bags were also sold. Many women would make miser bags with the intent of selling them at fundraising events for charitable causes, which was a role that women played an important part in during this time.[8] Both men and women used miser bags to hold their gold and silver coins as well as other valuable possession. Men would keep their coins and possessions in miser bags rather than in concealed pockets in their clothing, as they once did. Women would also carry miser bags draped around a belt, typically seen with the empire style of dress. Due to the type of fibers and construction of the bags, it was fairly easy to reach either side of the bag when desired. Once it was slung over a belt, the two rings fell to either side, protecting the valuables inside from being accessed or stolen. Miser bags were frequently referred to as a Gentlemen's purse, Long purse, or a combination of both.[9] One different style of bag is the string bag. This small bag is often confused as a miser bag, however it is slightly different. String bags are made of two small pockets with covering flaps. Connecting these two pocket sacks are a combination of strings that can be pulled to open and reveal the small bags contents. Another similar bag was called a pence jug. This purse was made of one sack, contrasting the two sacks seen in many of the bags during this time.[10] Miser bags were made from netting, knitting or crocheting. Although netting and knitting did have a period of popularity, crocheting was the most common construction method throughout the nineteenth century and popularity of the miser bag.[11] The main type of fiber seen in miser bags in silk thread. The courser silk threads were used on the outside of the bags and paired with beading and decorations. Lining the inside of the bag was the thinner silk thread. Silk was one of the most common because of its ability to slip easily through the two center rings. Some other materials included wool or velvet, which were not as common as silk.

Donor specific information:

The original owner of this miser bag is unknown. It was donated by Robert P. Bainbridge and was a part of a collection of embroidery and laces that belonged to his mother, Mabel Foster Bainbridge.


Samantha Lowe, TMD 224H

Last updated:

April 30, 2013

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  1. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 2.
  2. ^ Laura Camerlengo, "The Victorian Miser's Purse," Nineteenth Century (2010): 17.
  3. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 11.
  4. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 21.
  5. ^ Laura Camerlengo, "The Victorian Miser's Purse," Nineteenth Century (2010): 18.
  6. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 20.
  7. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 12.
  8. ^ Laura L. Camerlengo, The Ubiquitous Miser's Purse (2010), 40.
  9. ^ Laura Camerlengo, "The Victorian Miser's Purse," Nineteenth Century (2010): 17.
  10. ^ Laura Camerlengo, "The Victorian Miser's Purse," Nineteenth Century (2010): 18.
  11. ^ Laura Camerlengo, "The Victorian Miser's Purse," Nineteenth Century (2010): 18.