The history of mesh bags actually dates back to the Middle Ages, when Knights wore outfits made of chain mail mesh to protect them in battle. Skilled craftsmen made these durable outfits and would sometimes spend up to 3 years to complete their work of art. Located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a famous example of one of these mesh wonders which contains almost 250,000 handmade rings that were each riveted to form the complete suit of amour.
The earliest mesh bags were handmade in the 1700's and it could take weeks to complete just one purse. The process was lengthy because each piece of metal had to be hammered into a round shape using thin strips of iron. Then it was cut individually with the ends overlapping and hammered again. Next came the riveting process, fastening all the metal pieces together.
The popularity of the mesh bag did not start growing until the 19th century. The handbag manufacturers subcontracted for the mesh to be made by workers in their homes and they would be paid upon completion. The most popular material to make these bags was German silver, gunmetal, or sterling.
The most famous maker of mesh bags is the Whiting and Davis Company. This company perfected the art of advertising and began as jewelry makers. A young and ambitious office worker by the name of Charles Whiting was hired by Mr. Davis at the rate of 9 cents per hour and he quickly rose to become Sales Manager and then a partner.
First Mesh Bag designed by Charles Whiting
A faster method other than hand work needed to be used in order to keep up with the growing demand for mesh bags. In 1912, the first automatic mesh machine was invented and Whiting and Davis purchased the patent. An aggressive marketing campaign begin and mesh bags became available for the average person.
Early Whiting and Davis mesh material were sterling silver, 14 karat gold, 18 karat gold plate, silver plate, and gun metal. Different designs were made with the use of decorative frames and embossing. In the 1800's, a mesh bag could be bought for $3.25. Depending on the condition and rarity of the purse, these bags can command prices up to $2,000.00 today. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon what you suspect is a vintage Whiting and Davis mesh purse, research the bag carefully and take it to several appraisers before selling (or keeping!) your new treasured handbag!
An extensive selection of polyester mesh fabric is available at PursePatterns.com!