Beaded bags are the most collectable and often the most valuable vintage bags – a reflection of the hours of work that went into them, and of their fragile nature. The bright colors and intricate workmanship often make them more suited to display than to use, but that does not diminish their appeal.

Gold silk purse with rows of clear yellow beads, columns of orange rhinestones, gilt metal frame, and chain strap; lined with cream silk. 1920s

Metallic and satin réticule, lined with red cotton. 1900s

Beaded bags have been popular since the early 19th century. In the 1910s and 1920s, manufacturers used Venetian or Bohemian beads. Venetian beads are very small, slightly iridescent, and with a pure color that does not fade. Bohemian beads tend to be larger and coarser and to fade over time.

“Puffy” beaded purse, with pale blue geometric design on brown ground, gold-tone clasp, beaded handle, and blue silk lining.

Purse with unusual decoration including trapunto, chain stitch, and beadlike French knots; also has rose gold effect frame and chain strap

Richly detailed Art Nouveau beaded bag, with celluloid clasp. c.1900

Clasps and handles are usually metal and often inset with glass or semi-precious stones. Bags were often lined with silk, which may have deteriorated far more than the exterior. A sympathetic replacement can enhance the value of a bag.

When buying beaded bags, consider whether the design suits the beads from which it is made.