Wednesday 22 February 2012

17th century gaming purses

Round purses with drawstrings have been around for a very long time indeed, those produced in the 17th century with flat bottoms tend to be known as gaming purses. Although playing cards had been around for a couple of centuries these purses became fashionable at much the same time as the vogue for card games, and were used to carry money or gaming counters. The still life painting of the Five Senses by Baugin (1612-1663) shows a very plain version of this type of purse on a table 

In most cases the purse has a fabric outer, often covered, in the surviving examples, with goldwork embroidery, they are usually lined with silk, the stiff circle of the base being of leather. The purses that survive may well do so precisely because of the decoration. A purse of this type in the 
Museum of London  dates from the beginning of the 17th century, this example is cream leather covered with red silk velvet, embroidered with silver and silver gilt thread and cord and blue silk in laid and couched work, partially padded, and then lined with pink silk. Many of the finials on the drawstrings no longer survive. They were often long wooden beads covered with metallic thread, as in this example from the Met. The way the drawstring braid is inserted can be seen clearly in one of the photos of this example from the V&A collection which has the arms of the Cardinal Duke de Matignon.

Gaming purses with Coats of Arms
Coat of arms on base of Purse in the Met Museum, New York
Many of these purses are heavily embroidered, and are often described as French on the basis that sometimes the decoration is of fleur de lys. The original ownership of many can be seen in their bases, which are often decorated with the coat of arms of their owner, one in the V&A has the coat of arms of the Goyon de Matignon from the second half of the seventeenth century.  The museum at Versailles has two purses, one with the coat of arms of the Marquis de Louvois (1641-1691) and the other with the arms of Phillippe, Duc de Orleans (1640-1701) brother of Louis XIV and brother in law to Charles II of England. The Victoria and Albert Museum owns several French examples, again with the coats of arms on the base, as does the Metropolitan Museum in New York (the example from their collection shown here is accession no. 2009.300.5468). The Cooper Hewitt collection has an Italian example. Another example in the Cooper Hewitt collection has not a family coat of arms, but the coat of arms of the City of Paris.
Side view of purse in Met Museum
Plainer purses
There are fewer simpler purses which survive, one in the Victoria and Albert Museum is in plain green velvet, and indication that it was a cheaper style is that the metallic thread used for decoration is a copper gilt. In a change from embroidered velvet, one of the examples in the Metropolitan Museum is in needlepoint.

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