THE EARLY AMERICAN RETICULE
These charming folk-art patterned bags date from 1830 through the 1860's, are fashioned from the tiniest beads, and are very distinctive in their use of vivid color and combination of designs. Often executed in three grounds: the top border, a large center section, usually of a floral pattern, and a scenic design on the bottom, although some were done with only two grounds. A saw-toothed (zig-zag) border often separated the grounds. Silk headers were made of dress fabric remnants. These bags are very special as they are at least 130 years old! Quite rare and collectable.
"Among the earliest, if not the earliest available to the average collector, are perhaps the least costly examples and in many ways the most charming. Done two centuries ago using patterns dating from the mid 1700's, they have certain characteristics which readily identify them. It is rare to find one larger than 6 inches wide and longer than 7 1/2 inches, not including the fringe, should one still be intact. It also does not include the silk header to which the beaded body was sewn. The header was made of silk material, either matching or contrasting with the beading. Depending on the wear the purse received, the header can be completely shredded or in surprisingly good condition. The sides extend between four or five inches straight downward, then curve or run diagonally for another two inches, and terminate in a semi-circle or are squared off.
The colors of the beads remain as vivid as the day they were first blown, for the glass is forever. Favorite colors used in these early bags were: maroon, opalescent, forest green, kelly green, rose, ruby, lavendar, deep yellow, turquoise, and a corn-flower blue which is only seen in these very old purses. Both opaque and transparent rounded and faceted beads were used as well as cut brass which resembled tiny gold nuggets.
Patterns were of scenes familiar to the beader and were often based on the three spheres around which her world revolved: the home, the children, and the church. The bottom section might hold a tiny church, house, school, or other representative structure. No matter what the subject matter there are three distinct divisions. (Although some bags display only two sections) The bottom section is separated from the body by a sawtooth edge done in a contrasting color. The middle section, and by far the largest, is likewise separated from the top in the same fashion.
Florals were stylized and tended to use the same color schemes repeatedly. Beloved were the rose, which invariably combined garnet, pink, coral, and touches of white, also morning glories, strangely variegated pansies, huge sunflowers, brilliant poppies, nasturtiums, asters, blazing orange zinnias, cosmos, and dainly forget-me-nots, astonishingly all growing from the same entwined branches!
These were traditional patterns, but some more venturous souls adapted their own patterns using graph paper enlarging or reducing to suit their own fancies. They created the most interesting of antique bags."
Personal Note from Jo Addie
When I first started collecting over 18 years ago, I thought these bags were strange, because they were almost too colorful, but some years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase an entire collection of this particular style of purse, which had been assembled by a couple who delighted in only these Pre-Civil War purses. Seeing them all together, with their similarities and their differences, I came to truly love and appreciate the folk art exhuberance and cheerful nature of these purses, and I cannot imagine a purse collection which would not have at least one or two of this style to boast. It is their overabundance of color that makes them appealing to me now, and I understand that they could go with absolutely any outfit, so when a lady took the extensive time to create one of these purses, she could use it over and over for years and years, and it would still work for her as a cherished accessory. Considering their vast age, and no doubt their long-lived usefulness, it is a wonder that any remain for us to find.
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