Museum of Bags and Purses

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Museum of Bags and Purses
Tassenmuseum Hendrikje
Museum of Bags and Purses, Herengracht, Amsterdam
Museum of Bags and Purses is located in Amsterdam
Museum of Bags and Purses
Location within the city center of Amsterdam
Established1996; current location 2007
LocationHerengracht 573
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Coordinates52°21′57″N 4°53′48″E / 52.365938°N 4.896782°E / 52.365938; 4.896782Coordinates: 52°21′57″N 4°53′48″E / 52.365938°N 4.896782°E / 52.365938; 4.896782
TypeFashion Museum
Collection size5,000 bags
Visitors85.084 (2014)[1]
DirectorRalph Dassen
CuratorLeonie Sterenborg
Public transit accessRembrandtplein Tramhalte
The Museum of Bags and Purses, custom stained-glass ceiling.

The Museum of Bags and Purses (Dutch: Tassenmuseum Hendrikje), is a museum devoted to the history of bags, purses, and their related accessories. Located in Amsterdam's historic central canal belt, the museum's collection includes over 5,000 items dating back to the sixteenth-century.

Museum of Bags and Purses, garden.

One of only three museums across the globe specialising in this field, it houses the world's largest collection of bags and purses.[2][3]


Hendrikje Ivo, an antique dealer from Amstelveen, bought her first bag in the mid-1960s. A small tortoiseshell bag inlaid with mother of pearl dating from the 1820s,[3][4] it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. Together with her husband Heinz, Hendrikje collected more than 3,000 bags before deciding to open part of the collection to the public. The first Museum of Bags and Purses consisted of two rooms in the Ivo's own house in Amstelveen, where it remained for ten years. It was very much a family business, with their daughter, Sigrid, an art historian, developing the museum's informative content.[5] (Sigrid Ivo later became the director of the Museum of Bags and Purses, retiring in 2018). However, as the collection continued to grow, it became apparent that new premises were required. A donor came forward, and offered the museum its present location on the Herengracht.

Museum of Bags and Purses, staircase.

The museum recently began a large-scale renovation project of its permanent collection. The third floor of the museum, which houses the museum's collection of objects dating from the sixteenth- to the nineteenth-century, was reopened on the 24th of April 2018.[6] The intention is to begin the renovation of the twentieth-century collection over the course of the next few years.

Museum of Bags and Purses, original period room.

Today, the Museum of Bags and Purses is a world-renowned institution that saw almost 100,000 visitors in 2014. The highlights of the museum's collection are on permanent display on the third and fourth floors, whilst the lower levels are used for temporary exhibitions. Recent exhibitions have included "Accessories Are a Girl's Best Friend",[7] which was made in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, and "Made In Italy,[8] which showcases bags and other accessories by Italian designers, and is the museum's first display of clothing in an exhibition. Today, the collection contains over 5,000 bags.

Herengracht 573[edit]

Since June 2007, the Museum of Bags and Purses has been located in a traditional 17th-century canal house. On the Herengracht, it is part of the 'Grachtengordel', the ring of canals at the centre of Amsterdam that was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.[9]

The house was built by Cornelis de Graeff, an influential city councillor who was appointed mayor of Amsterdam ten times.[10] At an auction in 1664, De Graeff bought two building plots on the Herengracht. A unique agreement was signed between De Graeff and the other purchasers in which they promised to build their new houses ‘to a single height, a single facial and a single gable’. This led to the creation of a uniform row of houses. It is the only example of this throughout the entire canal belt, which is famous for its eclectic mix of gabeled housing. Cornelis de Graeff passed away shortly afterwards, leaving his son Pieter de Graeff to continue the building project. The first stone of Herengracht 573 was laid on the 17th of April 1664. Pieter de Graeff was every bit as illustrious as his father. He also served as an Amsterdam city councillor, as well as being the brother-in-law of the famous statesman Johan de Witt, and moved in the highest circles of the Dutch Republic.

The two surviving period rooms were decorated during Pieter de Graeff's time. The five ceiling paintings in the smaller period room were painted by Paulus de Fouchier around 1682. The central panel depicts a woman representing the city of Amsterdam, surrounded by allegorical representations of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The next inhabitant was Pieter’s grandson, city councillor Gerrit de Graeff (III.) van Zuid-Polsbroek. By that time, the De Graeff family had accumulated a substantial fortune, through inheritance and trading with the Dutch East Indies. Gerrit lived in the canal house until 1752. In the first decades of the eighteenth-century, his successors had the building thoroughly renovated and modernised. These renovations can still be seen today, particularly in the larger period room, where both the ceiling paintings and fireplace mantel date from this time.[11] The small period room also contains a sumptuously-decorated eighteenth-century chimney-piece.[12]

During the nineteenth-century, the mansion was inhabited by Jeltje de Bosch Kemper. An early feminist and member of the women's suffrage movement in the Netherlands, she was one of the first women to speak out about the limited lifestyle upper-class women at the time were expected to lead. She also championed women's right to employment, and was a vocal member of the Algemeene Nederlandsche Vrouwenvereeniging Arbeid Adelt ("Universal Dutch Women's Labour Association"). Together with like-minded people she founded the "Amsterdamsche Huishoudschool", a school to train women in housework, intended for both housewives and those who wished to become professional housekeepers.

The last inhabitant of the Herengracht 573 was Maria van Eik. She bought the mansion in 1893 for 44,000 Dutch guilders (approximately 20,000 euro) and lived there until her death in 1906. A year later, the building was sold to the Hollandsche Brand Assurantie Sociëteit and was occupied by a number of different businesses throughout the twentieth-century. In 2007, thanks to the support of an anonymous donor, Herengracht 573 was purchased by the Museum of Bags and Purses. The museum retains many of its original period features, notably in its two period rooms on the first floor. These rooms have been restored to their former glory, and can be booked for weddings and other events. [13] During museum opening hours, the rooms are open to the public as part of the museum cafe, where visitors can enjoy 'Period Room Lunches' and high teas. [14]


a few purses from the collection on shelves
Museum of Bags and Purses, collection.

The earliest item in the collection is a sixteenth-century men's goatskin pouch.[2] With metal belt loops and eighteen concealed pockets, it was most likely used by travelling merchants.[15] Many of the earliest bags in the collection are characterised by their heavy metal frames. Frames often outlasted the fabric bags, leading to many early purse frames being reused in later bags, something the museum showcases. The number of bags owned by men notably declines after the introduction of pockets to menswear in the sixteenth century. Bags owned by men become increasingly specialised, with the museum displaying examples such as tobacco pouches and doctors bags.

The museum also displays a number of pouches from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century intended for use by both men and women at the gambling table. These pouches can be distinguished by their wide mouths and stiffened bases, which ensured that the bags could stand upright, displaying any winnings prominently within. There are also several examples embroidered with coats of arms, intended as a further statement of prestige. There are also examples of sablé beaded wedding pouches. Of a similar shape to gaming bags, they were often given as gifts, sometimes as part of a dowry. These would have contained money, but in many cases the bags themselves would have been just as valuable. The museum's collection includes one example embroidered with over 50,000 tiny sablé beads.[16] 'Sablè' is the French for 'sand': the beads are so small, they had to be threaded on a strand of horsehair instead of a needle. This kind of bag would have taken even an experienced craftsman over two weeks to make.

Within the home environment, women of every class were expected to be able to sew, and the museum has many examples of work bags and sewing accessories dating from the eighteenth- to the twentieth-century. Women wore separate pockets tied at the waist up until the early nineteenth century,[2][17] and several examples of these 'thigh pockets' are on display in the museum's permanent collection, including an impressive flame-stitched example dating to 1766.[18] However, the shift of the waistline to just below the bust (the Empire waistline), as well as the growing fashion for sheer fabrics such as cotton and muslin,[19] meant that the tied pockets no longer fit under fashionable clothing. This led to the invention of the reticule (often referred to in early fashion texts as a 'ridicule', from the French), of which the museum has many examples. Reticules are usually small, as upper-class women were not expected to carry very much: sometimes not much more than a handkerchief and a bottle of smelling salts.[20] In an era of footmen and maidservants, aristocratic women could rely on others to carry their jackets and outdoor shoes, and most women 'bought' things on credit, meaning they rarely carried money. The earliest reticules bear a close relation in shape to the tied pocket, but as can be seen in the museum's nineteenth-century display, styles and fashions changed rapidly throughout the period. Reticules continued to be used up until the 1930s, and the museum has an extensive collection of beaded evening bags from the 1920s that share many similarities with bags from a century before.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, technology and the growth of the railways made travel accessible to the burgeoning middle class. This in turn led to a whole new trade in travelling accessories, from larger bags-often made of durable leather- to the famous trunks of makers such as Louis Vuitton, who first made his name supplying to the Empress Eugenie de Montijo. [21] The museum has a large collection of suitcases,[22] including early examples of Louis Vuitton travelling cases, as well as steamer trunks, portable wardrobes (complete with drawers and coat hangers), and vanity cases. There are also examples of bags intended for shorter trips, notably picnic baskets, including one example from England that comes complete with tea set and stove.

The word 'handbag' came into use in the twentieth-century. With an increasing number of women going out to work, women needed to carry more on a day-to-day basis. As can be seen in the museum's twentieth-century displays, handbags have been offered in a number of shapes and sizes, from solid transparent Perspex bags and novelty-shaped baskets to a handbag that incorporates a fully functioning telephone. There is a display on the materials that designers have used over the years, including the skin of stingrays, leopards, and armadillos. The museum receives many donations from collectors who, for ethical reasons, no longer wish to keep animal-based handbags themselves. Brand name bags came to the fore in the 1950s, and the museum holds many examples, including several quilted Chanel purses, early examples of Gucci's bamboo-handled handbag, and the Hermès Kelly Bag.[3] There are also bags on display with a larger history: the museum displays a handbag owned by Margaret Thatcher, as well as the Judith Leiber minaudière Hillary Clinton brought to the 1993 Inauguration Ball, which is shaped like the Clinton cat, Socks.[23]

The Museum of Bags and Purses continues the Ivos' legacy of collecting today. Recent acquisitions include the 2016 Balenciaga Bazar Shopper bag, which has been called the 'It Bag' of 2016.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1], Toeristiche Barometer, 2015. Retrieved on 6 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Yucel, Suzan. "Handbag museum feeds female obsession", Reuters, August 31, 2007. Accessed August 24, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "Bagging it", The Age, November 8, 2007. Accessed August 24, 2008.
  4. ^ [2] "Leather Bag with Tortoise Shell Inlaid With Mother of Pearl". Accessed May 30, 2018.
  5. ^ "The History of the Museum". Accessed May 30, 2018.
  6. ^ "Discover The New Museum of Bags and Purses!", April 24, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  7. ^ "Accessories Are A Girl's Best Friend", September 16, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  8. ^ "Made In Italy"(Dutch text only), May 20, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  9. ^ Via UNESCO "Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht", July 31, 2010. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  10. ^ "The History of the Canal House | Museum of Bags & Purses". Museum of Bags and Purses. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  11. ^ "Large Period Room | Museum of Bags & Purses". Museum of Bags and Purses. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  12. ^ "The Small Period Room | Museum of Bags & Purses". Museum of Bags and Purses. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  13. ^ "The Period Rooms | Museum of Bags & Purses". Museum of Bags and Purses. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  14. ^ "High Tea Amsterdam | Museum of Bags & Purses". Museum of Bags and Purses. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  15. ^ "Goat's Leather Belt Pouch With Iron Frame And With 18 Pockets, Some Behind Secret Closures, France, 16th Century". December 12, 2014. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  16. ^ "Drawstring purse made of 'sablé' glass beads, France, 18th century" Accessed May 30, 2018.
  17. ^ "It’s all in the bag", 7DAYS, November 5, 2007.
  18. ^ "Pair of linen thigh pockets embroidered in flame-stitch with date and initials, England, 1766". December 12, 2014. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  19. ^ "Sexuality in Fashion: The Myth of Wet Dresses and the Muslin Disease". June 14, 2016. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  20. ^ "The Reticule, or The Lady's Pocket Exposed". May 15, 2009. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  21. ^ "Louis Vuitton: Biography". April 2, 2014. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  22. ^ "Leather Travel Case With Canvas Cover And Engraved Silver Toiletries, Scherk, Germany, 1937". December 12, 2014. Accessed May 30, 2018.
  23. ^ "Evening bag 'Socks', Judith Leiber, USA, 1996". Accessed on May 30, 2018.
  24. ^ "From Market to Runway: Inside the Balenciaga Bazar Bag". January 28, 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.

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