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The Things We Carry

Pieces from the The Museum of Bags and Purses permanent collection

Bags are intimate objects that both conceal and reveal. They tote our daily necessities and the individual effects that disclose our personalities, insecurities and plans. They are purchased out of neeed, the desire for status or the pure appreciation of design. For Hendrijke Ivo, the founder of The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, the motivation to collect over 4,000 bags came from a lifelong love of curiosities, artifacts and rarities.

Always in search of antiques with which to decorate her home, Hendrijke was on a trip with her husband Heinz in the English countryside when she came upon a small antique shop. Inside the pair found a tortoise shell bag inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Intrigued by the bag’s beauty, the Ivos dug into its provenance, discovering that it was made in Germany around 1820. This was just the beginning; over a period of 35 years, the couple amassed an impressive anthology. Heinz, an international business man, sourced items during his trips abroad while Hendrijke refined and researched. In April 1996, the Ivos opened a museum for their finds in Amstelveen, moving it to central Amsterdam in 2007 when the collection outgrew its original area.

Like the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where part of the intrigue is imagining the eccentric past residents inhabiting the spaces, The Museum of Bags and Purses is housed in the former home of Pieter de Graeff—one of the 250 richest individuals of the Dutch Golden Age (the 17th century)—who embellished the building with ornate paintings and decorative finishes by artists and artisans. Numerous original details along with notable ceiling paintings by Paulus de Fouchier remain, contextualizing the bags with an additional historical layer.

Beginning in the 16th century with a man’s goatskin sack—a predecessor to the fanny pack—the museum walks visitors through the evolution of the 17th century chatelaine: a chain on a hook, which held a purse, smelling ball, thimble holder, needle-case, pin cushion and knife sheath. There are also wedding purses from the 1800s that took over two weeks and 50,000 beads to create. The chronological compilation displays not only what women carried but also notable artistic and historical landmarks. Gossamer and Art Deco styles debut along with references to the SS Normandie and Madonna. Arriving in the 20th century, iconic Prada, Chanel and Fendi collections symbolize the designer craze prompted by Sex and the City while a kitsch telephone tote and champagne bucket-shaped carryall provide flights of pure fantasy. This tremendous range speaks to the individual nature of style and recalls an old quote by the comedian Billy Connolly: “A woman’s mind is as complex as the contents of her handbag…there is always something at the bottom to surprise you.”

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The interior of the museum

20th-century bags

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