Carry Off A Beaded Bag

The Saturday Early Show's Collectibles Expert Tony Hyman, author of Trash or Treasure: Guide to Buyers, takes a look at collectible purses.
Ever since the ice ages people have carried bags of one sort or another to hold their possessions when traveling.

Men and women have enjoyed beaded bags for a thousand years. There are a great many common beaded bags worth little. Attractively designed bags with good workmanship and interesting patterns bring from $50 to $500.

Beaded bags can be lovely, but they are very fragile. Condition, craftsmanship, pattern, design and overall aesthetic appeal all contribute to the value, with collectible purses selling between $25 and $1,000.

All beadwork is labor intensive, especially the highly prized bags with sophisticated designs made possible by using beads so small you get 18 to 22 of them in an inch.

A hundred years ago, you could buy purses made of steel rings woven into a mesh fabric but nobody really cared until the Roaring '20s when companies began to paint their purses with colorful and sometimes outrageous designs.

Today's collectors pay $50 to $150 for purses with geometric, floral or Oriental rug designs and up to $300 for purses depicting birds, animals, people, landscapes or cartoon characters, the more unusual and detailed the better. They may pay twice as much if it has a woman's compact built in.

In the 1920s the wealthy bought mesh purses in sterling or gold but lots of plain metal bags were also produced including many gold- and silver-colored ones worth almost nothing today.

Celebrities promoted purses as special gifts and keepsakes so people kept them tucked away in drawers, only to be found today - in fine condition.

Striking design and overall appeal can raise the value of painted and beaded purses up to $2,000 so it is important to get expert advice.

Find out more about mesh purses from 30-year veteran collectors Mike and Sherry Miller, at their email address The Millers collect high-grade enameled mesh purses in perfect condition and a narrow range of beaded purses. They will answer questions on mesh or beaded purses.

Another resource on beaded purses is Leslie Holms, a long-time collector of all types of beaded, enameled and plastic purses. She may be reached at and is available to answer questions about all types of purses.

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 1001.