I had a very exciting week last week with respect to my stick-purse project. All thanks to THL Catherine, who sent me a link to a merchant in the UK who had done a stick-purse.
In reading his site, it mentioned that his work was based on a find from the Mary Rose...
Now, this is cool in and of itself, but let me recap. Both existing artifacts I knew about, along with every piece of art I've ever found with a visible stick-purse has been tied somehow to what is now the Netherlands (a couple of the paintings were from Germany but were done by Flemish artists that were living in Germany). I had never seen a reference to a stick-purse outside of that region, never mind finding an artifact on the freaking Mary Rose!
For most of last week I was corresponding with Peter in the UK, who made said purse. It turns out he's an illustrator at the Mary Rose museum and was able to get authorization from the museum to send me the information about the item. It isn't identified in any of the Mary Rose books as a stick-purse (it hadn't yet been identified when the relevant book was published), which would explain why I never found any reference to it (not that I would have thought to check the Mary Rose for a Flemish artefact).
I have to admit I was a bit of a Muppet around the house last week, I was so excited about the find.
So we now have three extant purses I can reference (the Mary Rose purse is fragments but there's enough pieces, along with where it was found on the ship, to clearly suggest it was a stick-purse). And, unlike the other two which were right on the cusp of the end of our period with vague dates, the Mary Rose piece can easily and definitively be dated to 1545, well within our period. Hard to argue that an object isn't period when it was found on a ship that sank on a specific date. I had the artwork, but its always nice to have an actual artifact to confirm.
Of course, as with any piece of important research, this actually raises more questions that in solves.
First, the remains of the Mary Rose purse suggest a different construction than the others (for those counting that's three pouches with three different designs). The handle is a bit different, the proportion are very different (the flaps seem to have been placed much higher on the handle) and the remains of the leather pouch flaps are a different shape and attached differently than I would have expected. I'm going to have to take a closer look to compare the designs, and probably do some reconstruction to figure it all out. It isn't entirely surprising that different leatherworkers would make the same object in different ways - these aren't mass-produced modern items after all - but it still presents challenges when trying to reconstruct the pieces.
Second, what the heck is a purse like this doing on the Mary Rose? It was found in the purser's cabin, along with a bunch of coins, scales etc. The purser's role was to handle transactions for the ship but according to the folks at the Mary Rose museum, the equipment found also suggests he may have acted as the crew's money-changer, so that makes sense. Was he of Flemish origins? Did he have some connection to that region of Europe? Or was the purse design used more widely than we previously thought, despite the lack of artistic representation?
What does all of this mean? Well, right now I don't really know.
This will obviously change my documentation significantly, but I'm not sure it needs to affect the actual project. I'm still thinking I like the design of the purse from the Fries for my project since its different from previous pouches I've done. That means I still have to document my choice to make that design, despite the fact that the Fries Museum has such a broad date range assigned to the item, much of which would be considered post-period.
Since the Mary Rose purse doesn't have intact pouches (just the handle and flaps), I can't really say what pouch design they would have used so that won't help me document the Fries item. Materials look to be similar (although there's no way to know if the pouches themselves were leather since they didn't survive).
All in all, a busy week to geek out on leatherworking discoveries.