At the end of the 19th century, as women’s lives and activities became more diverse, both in Europe and America, the demand for handbags suited to particular occasions resulted in the establishment of a new industry: handbag manufacturing. Bulky, luggage-type satchels were soon transformed into portable, more attractive daytime handbags and chatelaine purses, with belt fasteners, and smaller pocketbooks and wallets.
Those early pieces, made of expensive and durable crocodile skins, were outfitted with multiple compartments for a fan, money, glasses, and, on occasion, a lighter and cigarettes. Alligator purses for afternoon sported ornate sterling frames in an elaborate Victorian Repousse design—featuring cupids, flowers, birds, or serpents. They were trimmed with sterling silver and properly hallmarked to confirm the date and the maker. Carved cameos, garnets, corals and seed pearl were often used in their ornamentations.
By far, the most astounding among them are the leather-lined opera pouches, in black alligator or Java lizard, with lavishly articulated solid sterling frames. Absolutely unique, those one-of-a-kind handmade wonders are priceless, and very hard to find today.