This elaborate, unusual and very fine pouch or bag of green and pink damask silk is decorated on both sides with colourful glass rocaille beads showing birds, flowers and finger citrons. Small metal spangles also have been used in the decoration.
The opening has a double layer of beaded netting decorated with flowers, and long beaded tassels on both sides too.
Possibly, it is a type of purse to be worn by a Straits Chinese or Peranakan Chinese groom or bride as part of his or her wedding costume. Another alternative is that it is designed to go over something to protect it – one possibility might be that it is a cover for an ancestral memorial plaque
The beadwork is of exceptional quality. Phoenixes and other birds and other auspicious motifs have been employed in the designs.
Rocaille beads were made in southern France and were widely used in Singapore and the other Straits Settlements for beading slippers, wedding pillow ends, betel set mats and other paraphernalia associated with baba/nonya culture. The Straits Chinese referred to the beads as manek potong (‘cut beads’) and acquired them from street peddlers and specialist merchants for the purpose of beading and embroidery.
The pouch is in very good condition with losses only to some of the peripheral beading. There is a small tear to the beaded netting near the opening of the pouch to one side but this is obscured by the overall profusion of netting and tassels. Overall, a fine and unusual piece.
Cheah, H.F., Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements, NUS Press, Singapore, 2010.
Cheah, H.F, Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2017.
Ee, R., et al, Peranakan Museum A-Z Guide, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2008.
Ho, W.M., Straits Chinese Beadwork & Embroidery: A Collector’s Guide, Times Books International, 1987.
Khoo, J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press, 1996.