The popularity of metal mesh bags has risen and fallen throughout the last few centuries. In the late 1880s, medieval style accessories, such as chain mail purses, were particularly fashionable. These were considered luxury items due to the artistry, skill and time needed to form and join the metal rings.
In the Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection we are fortunate to have a Whiting & Davis metal mesh bag which is thought to date from the 1920s. This striking bag is unique with its cap lid and expandable opening. The manufacturing company was established in 1876 as Wade Davis & Company in Massachusetts by William H. Wade, Edward P. Davis and Louis Heckman.
In 1880, Wade Davis & Company employed a young 16-year-old boy named Charles Whiting as an errand boy. Due to his strong work ethic, he impressed his superiors and was quickly promoted within the company. In 1892, Whiting created his own version of a metal mesh bag which would become the company’s signature style; twenty years later this process would become automated by a machine.
Sixteen years after joining the company, Whiting formed a business partnership with Davis and they purchased the company, renaming it to Whiting & Davis. The company went on to produce not only handbags but also supplies for industrial, architectural, and scientific industries, as well as home décor.
By the 1920s, the company had established itself as the manufacturer of glamourous and coveted handbags such as the item in our collection. Advertising campaigns stated they were the accessory for “flappers, actresses and well-dressed women everywhere”.
During the Second World War, the company halted production of its products and instead supported the war effort producing radar equipment. After the war the company resumed production and has remained the leading manufacturer of metal mesh handbags.
This bag may look familiar to Australian audiences, as the Australian equivalent for metal mesh bags was produced by a company called Glomesh. This company was established in Sydney, Australia in 1958 by Alice and Louis Kennedy, who immigrated together to Australia just two years prior from Hungary.
Their products quickly became best sellers in Australia, particularly the Pesh wallet, which was named after the Hungarian pronunciation of Budapest as ‘Budapesht’. The quick success of the brand was credited to the kindness and sense of humour of Alice and Louis’ keen sense of business. Alice was also the face of the brand, featuring in a number of advertising campaigns.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Glomesh had a successful advertising campaign showcasing what was inside the handbags of prominent Australian women including fashion designers Jenny Kee and Carla Zampatti, actress Jacki Weaver, beauty queen Belinda Green, and Kim Wran, the daughter of NSW Premier at the time, Neil Wran.
During the late 1980s, the company was under new ownership and soon became dormant as they stopped producing products. During this twenty year hiatus, Glomesh’s image evolved as it became seen as a vintage item owned by grandmothers. In 2014, the Kennedy’s grandson relaunched the Glomesh brand invigorating the brand name once again.
Have you ever owned a Whiting & Davis or Glomesh bag? Or perhaps you remember your mum or grandmother owning one?
‘Advertising’, The Australian Woman’s Weekly, 1 March 1967, p. 28, viewed 22 January 2021, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/41853713?searchTerm=Glomesh
‘Advertising’, The Australian Woman’s Weekly, 12 May 1982, p. 130, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/52252081/4481914
‘History’, Whiting & Davis, viewed 23 January 2021, https://whitinganddaviscollection.com/history/
‘Mesh and Beaded Bags and Purses’, Collector’s Weekly, viewed 23 January 2021, https://www.collectorsweekly.com/bags/mesh-bags-and-purses
‘The Glomesh story’, Glomesh, viewed 23 January 2021, https://glomesh.com/pages/our-story
‘Whiting & Davis’, The British Museum, viewed 23 January 2021, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG173602