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Handbags and High Tea in Amsterdam

The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam is home to a collection of 5000 bags -- some that are several hundred years old.

Stepping into the lobby of the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, the first thing I notice for sale is a screaming orange bag with a handgun embossed on the front. Next to it is a similarly-styled light gray option penetrated with the shape of a butcher knife. Of course, there are tamer bags, too, in the museum’s lobby gift shop. But my curiosity has been piqued — what else is there to see in this unique place?

The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam is home to a collection of 5000 bags -- some that are several hundred years old and some that are very unusual shapes.

Doesn’t everyone need a lobster-shaped purse?

Upstairs in the museum’s exhibit space, the parade of unusual items continues. These are well beyond the traditional handbags one might use to cart around a cell phone, keys, and a few credit cards. One – a 1980s creation by Dallas Handbags – is, in fact, a working telephone. There is a Diet Coke can purse next to a red wicker contraption in the shape of a lobster. Nearby is a stunning Judith Leiber creation, “The Cupcake.” This Swarovski crystal-covered bag became immensely popular when a replica was featured in the first Sex and the City movie.

Champagne bucket handbag on display at Amsterdam's Museum of Bags and Purses

Yes, it’s a handbag (photo courtesy of the museum)

Items on display go beyond distinctive shapes to those made of uncommon materials. The Museum of Bags and Purses (known as Tassenmuseum Hendrikje in Dutch) has a group of bags from the early 20th century made of exotic animal skins and hides, many of which have been donated because their owners were uncomfortable continuing to have them. A leopard and leather bag from Botswana is as striking for its rarity as its design. The elephant bag just makes me sad. Other items are made of snakeskin, ivory, zebra, stingray, and a variety of different skins. Though they are certainly no longer politically correct, the museum positions them to show their place in the history of design.

Of course the heart of the museum is about the history of design, showing how changes in culture influence changes in the types of bags and purses people need and use. And with more than 5000 bags in the collection, there is a lot of history to see.

This 16th century men's goatskin bag is the oldest bag in the collection at the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, Netherlands

16th century man’s goatskin bag, the oldest in the collection (photo courtesy of the museum)

The oldest bag in the collection dates from the 16th century. Interestingly enough, it’s a man’s bag – a practical solution for carrying money and other items before clothes had pockets. Visitors can also see women’s “thigh pouches” from around this time. These bags, often worn in pairs, hung from the waist under the voluminous skirts that were in fashion. By the 17th century, men’s clothes got pockets, but women still wore pouches, carried their purses hanging from chains and hooks, or held their belongings in unattached pouches. Beautiful examples of all these items are on display in the museum.

One of the beautiful 18th century glass bead bags on display at the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam

18th century French glass bead bag (photo courtesy of the museum)

Luggage from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam is home to a collection of 5000 bags -- some that are several hundred years old.

Smaller, flat-bottomed bags are easier to travel with

The museum traces bags through their use as ways to disguise odor (i.e., sweetbags), as wedding gifts, and as political statements. You can even see bags that commemorate 19th century events, such as the first steamer to cross the Atlantic or the arrival of the first giraffe in France. All these people crossing oceans (and countries and states) on newfangled railways and ships needed new trunks and small hand luggage to make the trips. These small leather pieces with flat bottoms were the forerunners to today’s handbags.

Beautiful examples of Art Deco and contemporary bags from the collection of the Museum of Bags and Purses

Beautiful examples of Art Deco and contemporary bags from the collection (photos courtesy of the museum)

Some of the more familiar pieces in the Museum of Bags and Purses are from recent times. Bags on display from the 20th century are made from a variety of new materials like plastics and lucite, and they reflect the changing needs of women who required accessories for everything from the office to evening. There are also brand name bags that demonstrate how purses have become a fashion statement and status indicator with the rise of designers like Chanel, Hermes, and Gucci, among many, many others. Needless to say, there’s lots to see here.

High Tea ‘Hendrikje’ is offered in Amsterdam's Museum of Bags and Purses

The delicacies of high tea

Once I make my way through the three floors of exhibits, it’s time to head to the museum’s cafe for high tea. In the front rooms that overlook the canal, visitors can appreciate the beauty of this space — a canal house that dates from 1666. As I enjoy my finger sandwiches and pastries — and especially my scone — I watch the boats glide by outside. Yes, this is definitely my kind of museum.

To learn more about things to do in Amsterdam, visit our other articles on the Netherlands.

The tea room of the Museum of Bags and Purses is decorated with original paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. This Amsterdam museum is home to a collection of 5000 bags -- some that are several hundred years old.

Relaxing in the tea room, which is decorated with 17th and 18th century paintings

Visiting the Museum of Bags and Purses

Location: Herengracht 573 in Amsterdam
Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm daily
Tickets: Adult admission is €12,50; tickets for students and those 65+ are €9,50; admission is free with the Iamsterdam card

See the website for additional information about discounts and logistics.

I was the guest of Iamsterdam and the Museum of Bags and Purses, and I stayed at the NH Amsterdam Zuid. All opinions of the unusual, intricate, and tasty are my own.






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What do you think about Handbags and High Tea in Amsterdam?

  1. Reba December 20, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    What amazingly unique handbags … and high tea is an experience that shouldn’t be missed! I’ll have to to try out this place on my next visit to Europe…

  2. Paula January 26, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    We visited this museum on our trip to Amsterdam and loved it!

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