Symbolism and significance

  • Miser’s purses often appear in nineteenth-century paintings, and works of literature and satire.
  • Their roles as gifts and commodities were adapted for situations of courtship and marriage in these contexts. They also sometimes served as representations of familial relationships or to negatively depict social-climbing women.
  • Some contemporary novels mention miser’s purses in courtships, usually to foreshadow marriages between characters. These include James Fenimore Cooper’s Precaution (1820), Caroline Lee Hentz’s Helen and Arthur, or, Miss Thusa’s Spinning Wheel (1853), and Horatio Alger Jr.’s The Store Boy, or, The Fortunes of Ben Barclay (1887).
  • A miser’s purse serves as a representation of a man’s loyalty to his wife and family in Ford Madox Brown’s painting, The Last of England (1852–1855). In the painting, the husband/father figure clutches a red-and-gold miser’s purse along with his wife’s hand as he emigrates with his family from England to Australia.
  • In works of satire, such as Charles Dickens’ Sketches by Boz (1836) and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847–1848) miser’s purses are used to mock women who attempt to marry above their social class. The purses also often reveal the ignoble intentions of one or both parties in a courtship.  




Fancy fair women and their miser’s purses were the subject of artistic interpretations as well. In James Collinson’s painting For Sale (c. 1855 – 1860), a well-dressed young woman stands in front of a fair stall holding a maroon-and-silver miser’s purse in her left hand and one of the purse’s rings in her right hand. Her elaborate attire, handling of the purse’s ring (as if she were going to place it on her finger), and direct gaze at the viewer suggest that she is trying to attract attention, perhaps from a possible suitor. A more detailed examination of the painting and its miser’s purse may be found in The Miser's Purse.


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