Carried Away: Bags Unpacked features bags from Auckland Museum’s Applied Arts and Design collection, alongside key pieces from the History, Māori and Pacific collections. Each bag is rich with stories of innovative design, indigenous traditions and personal stories. Below is a selection of bags that are favourites amongst visitors and Museum staff. 

Post by: Grace Lai, Curator of Applied Arts and Design

Most Popular

Title: Handbag
Maker: Holiday
Description: Bag, purse, mirror, pills
Accession number: T1539

This kidney-shaped handbag in midnight black leather is hands-down a fan favourite, with many visitors exclaiming their delight upon their meeting, and I can see why. The shape is not only pleasing, with its gentle curves, but also erganormic, with a slight dip in the centre to allow the arm to fit through comfortably. 

Its popularity is further cemented when it is revealed that when it was being catalogued by our team, two little tablets were discovered wedged between its internal pocket and interior lining. This begged the question, what kind of pills are they and who left them there? Due to the age of the tablets and the vigorous conservation process objects undergo when they come into the Museum, testing has not been able to reveal their secrets.

So the mystery remains, which encourages the imagination to take over and get us to think about the secret lives of the objects we carry around with us.

Most Fashionable 

Title: Glomesh purse
Maker: Evans Case Company, Massachusetts, United States
Date: 1930s
Accession number: 1996.113.6

Dangling from the arms of flappers during the roaring '20s and right into the '30s, compact purses such as this glomesh one were not only fashion statements, they also offered a practical storage solution for the sleek women's clothing of the era which did away with pockets. The small pouch offered space for lipsticks and cigarettes, essential items for a night out of town (at the time), as well as a catch all for loose change, perhaps for the bathroom attendant. This purse, made from reflective gold glomesh was manufactured by the Evans Case Company, known for their compact designs. 

Hidden behind the enamel cover is a compact case that held loose powder and a mirror, perfect for touch-ups after a turn on the dance floor. The powder cakes were re-fillable, where the used one could be sent back for a fresh one in return for a small fee. There is an additional secret compartment to the design of the compact case in this purse, cleverly concealed behind the mirror was a space for rouge (now known as blush). This was only discovered when the purse was taken to be photographed. An untouched fresh cake complete with a manufacturing instruction for refills was revealed which suggested that the owner may not have even known about the second secret compartment! 

Most Noisy

Title: Chatelaine
Maker: Thronhill and Co
From: London, England 
Accession number: Z82

Named after the French word for lady-of-the-castle, chatelaine gained an increased popularity amongst ladies during the Victorian times. The multi-chained adornment worn around the waist, either clipped onto a sash or a looped onto a belt, were a favourite for ladies of the house to carry around essential tools, such as keys and scissors, alongside personal items like miniature portraits. Chatelaines were also made for specific tasks, such as ones for needlework featuring needle cases, tumbles and measuring tapes, to ones used by nurses which included thermometers and syringes. 

Although chatelaines were initially used for utilitarian purposes, they soon became a fashion item sought after by ladies of the time. As a symbolic object, the more chains attached to the chatelaine the more esteem the wearer would be held in, which resulted in a popularity for larger chatelaines that could accommodate additional chains. More chains meant that when their wearers were on the move, the chains would clank and make a lot of noise, which resulted in a number of newspaper cartoons that caricatured them as noise makers. Including an illustration from Iowa’s Milford Mail newspaper in 1896, depicting women ice-skating whilst wearing their chatelaine with the caption “even while skating one wears the jingling chatelaine". Other cartoons, such as this one in Punch Magazine ridiculed the large size Victorian chatelaines could get to. 

Most Likely to Travel the World 

Title: Tramping Backpack
Maker: Alexto Production, Dunedin
Accession number: 2014.66.1

This tramping backpack made by New Zealand manufacturer Alexto Production, is your best bet for long haul travels, regardless of altitude. Backpacks generally fall into four categories; frameless, external frame, internal frame, and bodypack. The frameless gained the nickname ‘kidney-rotters’ due to its shape, while a pack with a frame, whether internal or external, has been the preferred design since the 1960s for it offers the practice advantage of better load transfers.

Alexto’s backpack features an external a ‘H-frame’ that distributes weight across the hips and legs, which takes pressure off the shoulders and reduces the chance of injury. This is one of the reasons why the ‘H-frame’ has become an icon of New Zealand tramping and the trusted companion for Michael Ibbotson, on his numerous hikes during his time in the Alpine Sports Club in 1971. 

Cutest Couple 

Title (left): Silver Purse
Origin: China
Accession number: s760

Title (right): Drawstring Bag
Accession number: 2000x1.32

Few bags in Carried Away: Bags Unpacked are branded with their owner’s name, which made the discovery of the ‘Clara’ and ‘Daniel’ bags all the more delightful. ‘Clara’ is a dainty sliver chainmail evening bag, which features an ornate frame carved with flying dragon motifs which encircle her engraved name. I’d like to think that Daniel discovered this bag sitting in an antique shop window and gifted it to Clara on their anniversary, which prompted Clara to make Daniel his own bag in return. Constructed out of vivid red cotton with Daniel’s name carefully stitched in a light-yellow thread, the roomy pouch could have been used to safeguard shoes when travelling or perhaps to carry books. 


Lai, Grace, Curator of Applied Arts and Design, Congratulations! Class of Carried Away. Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Published 19 November 2019.