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In the Bag

Libi Astaire

How would we ever leave the house without a place to stash our money, keys, and phone, not to mention a sefer Tehillim, Chapstick, and other odds and ends? It’s not just us — the need for a carryall goes back to ancient times, although the solutions have evolved over the centuries.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To get a grip on the history of the handbag, it helps to remember why it was created: to carry around one’s valuables and other necessary items. In ancient Egypt, for instance, bags made from leather, linen, or papyrus were suspended from sticks and used to carry tools, weapons, and food. In very ancient times, people didn’t have to worry about how to carry around their money, because money, as we know it, hadn’t been invented yet. Cowrie shells were used as a means of payment in many parts of the world — China, India, Africa, Australia, and North America are prime examples — and the shells were often strung on a piece of string for easy transport. In some areas, a standard length of string held a standard number of shells, so these early wallets did double-duty as a money counter. Coins made from silver or gold first began to be used in the seventh century BCE. They quickly became the currency of choice in Europe. They also created a need for a new fashion accessory: the bursa, or coin purse. 

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