Old ladies’ handbags

Launer handbags, as used by the Queen
A small handbag covered in silver sequins

Gran would have sniffed dismissively at this excuse for a handbag

My Great-Grandma died when she was 96, so I have distinct memories of her. A small, slender woman with wavy, fair hair and an eagle eye, she always wore a coat with a fur collar, and usually a hat and gloves. And she always had a handbag.

This handbag was a thing of wonder. In smooth black leather, it had rigid sides and a catch that could take your finger off if you weren’t careful. It also weighed about 5lbs when empty – two tonnes when full.

And this one - how would you fit a fag case and your snuff in this?

And this one – how would you fit a fag case and your snuff in this?

I was reminded of her when I saw a picture of Our Own Dear Queen recently, also with a handbag. In fact she is never without a handbag, and rumour has it she uses it to send messages to her aides (looped over left arm – I am talking to a dullard; hanging from fingertips – my feet ache, fetch the car etc). What she keeps inside is also a mystery, although I like to go with a linen hankie, half a bottle of gin, dog treats and a snub-nosed revolver.

The contents of Gran’s bag were not a mystery. She was a good sport and would let my mother root through it. With the help of her, and my aunt, I have compiled a list of what Gran used to keep in her handbag – and it is quite a bit more than the Queen.

  • Coin purse
  • Note case
  • Tape measure (for checking the sizes of clothes in shops)
  • Pen
  • Diary
    Now you're having a laugh - it's a gold string vest, not a handbag

    Now you’re having a laugh – it’s a gold string vest, not a handbag

  • Address book
  • Half a bottle of brandy (“in case”)
  • Eau de Cologne
  • Comb
  • Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes – in a silver case
  • Lighter (never matches)
  • Manicure set
  • Emergency jewellery purse (she would carry a couple of gold rings and a change of earrings, you know, in case the weather changed and didn’t match her jewellery)
  • Snuff (yes, snuff – this is a woman who was born in the 19th Century)
  • Handkerchief
  • Asprin
  • Little Imps (devilishly unpleasant cough sweet things)
  • Alka Seltzer (after the brandy and Little Imps, probably)
  • Scissors
  • Needle and thread (for emergencies, like sewing up her ruptured arm after carrying the bag, presumably)
  • Powder compact
  • Lipstick
  • Rouge
  • Keys
  • Smelling salts

No room for a revolver – though all she would have to do is wallop a would-be assassin with the bag and he would go down as if felled by a cannonball.

The Queen with a black handbag

I bet it’s actually bullet-proof

2 thoughts on “Old ladies’ handbags

  1. She sounds like a fantastic woman. Do you still have the handbag, if so you should fill it as she did then bury it as a time capsule. Stunning stuff. Sounds as though she was not short of a bob or two?


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