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Mesh and Metal Purses - Facts & Tips

Cleaning & Storing

Metal mesh bags were hand made by skilled gold and silversmiths as early as the 1820's.  In 1909, the mesh making machine was invented by A.C. Pratt of Newark, New Jersey.  By 1912, mesh handbags had become extremely popular and in demand.

The Whiting and Davis Company, located in Plainville, Massachusetts is the oldest purse company in the US and is responsible for a great variety of exceptional mesh purses as well as other accessories.  Although Whiting & Davis started as a jewelry firm in 1876, they made the first mesh bag in 1892.  Because of the immense popularity of the mesh handbag, other companies began manufacturing them, including the Mandalian Manufacturing Co. of North Attleboro, Mass.  By the early 1940's, Mandalian closed it's doors and Whiting & Davis acquired their mesh making machines.


By the 1920's mesh bags were offered in a large spectrum of colors and fashionable designs, including enameled, Dresden and  pearlized enamel finishes.  Fabulous enameled flat mesh purses, known as armored mesh, were offered in varied colors and a constant parade of unusual patterns.  Most of the bags made from 1929 to 1932 were patterned by silk screening where the baby ring mesh took on a soft, hazy, romantic appearance much like a blurred water color.  This technique was done by hand over several days by applying one color at a time and allowing 24 hours of drying between colors.

Additional styles made popular by the Whiting & Davis Co. were the Princess Mary which had an envelope-shaped body and an interesting flap-over top, the Princess Mary Dansant with it's exterior coin purse attached to a bag with a strap.  Also there was Sunset mesh of alternating gold, bronze and brass stripes, Fishscale mesh of flat links with an attractive sheen, Beadlite armored mesh which emulated beading with a raised dot in the center of each link.  The Elsah vanity bag, made in a variety of patterns, is discovered with an additional metal tag or impression into the frame. 


Care must be taken when cleaning your mesh purse so that you do not wear or chip the enamel paint off or unlink the mesh tiles.  Wiping gently with a fairly damp clean cloth should remove most dust and dirt.  "Extra fine" steel wool can be used to lightly buff frames that do not have enamel accents, then wipe with a damp cloth.  Washing your mesh purse in water is not usually recommended, however, I personally have done it at my own discretion. If you clean your mesh purse in water or get it too wet, towel dry the exterior and then blow dry the interior with warm air until it is "completely dry". You will want to make sure that all the moisture is gone and not trapped inside the mesh tiles.  On mesh purses that do not have painted decorations, I have used silver or brass cleaner to bring out the sheen of the purse. Again, the problem of unlinking the tiles can occur so you have to work in small areas and use very little pressure, keeping the tiles spread out so they do not wiggle around much, it takes a little practice, time and patience. Don't try and do a rush job, you'll only cause problems.

Store your mesh bag away from direct sun, heat or moisture.  Many collectors have arranged beautiful decorative wall displays where a weekly feather dusting would be appropriate.  Others keep them behind glass, such as in a china cabinet.  The practice of framing vintage handbags is a lovely idea, however, holes should be provided in the framing process for ventilation.  Purses that do not get air will not age as gracefully, the dangers of moisture build-up and mildew increases.  For storage in a drawer, wrap in clean white tissue paper and slip it into an "open" bag, if desired, making sure your purse can breathe.  If you live in a high humidity area, keep it out of plastic bags as this could cause sweating which would not benefit the purse.

Related Article: Another Fine Mesh You've Gotten Me Into

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