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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Purse Your Tips by Wendel Swan

I am presenting for discussion three examples of a Persian teahouse change purse or money bag.

Teahouses are popular and traditional places where men gather after work to have tea and smoke their water pipes. A change purse adds a ornament of prestige at the waist of the Persian teahouse owner, with his sash or belt passing through loops on its back. As patrons leave the teahouse, the owner accepts payment and delves into the purse for any requisite change. (The waiters normally do not collect money; only the owner or someone charged with responsibility does so.)

These purses or money bags are apparently still widely used in Iranian teahouses, but they seem to be virtually unknown to American collectors.

Purse #1

Purse #1 probably comes from the Arak (Saruk) area and was likely made in the first quarter of the 20th Century. It is tightly and rather finely woven (@290 ksi with fully depressed warps and blue wefts, measuring 9.25" V by 7.75" H). The back is attached leather with riveted loops.

This bag shows signs of considerable use. There is loss of pile to the face, but the back of the face is much more heavily worn. The leather appears to have replaced an original woven back many years ago and the leather itself has been reinforced at least once on the inside. One can imagine that the bottom of the bag was the first to go.

The field is typically Persian pictorial and the theme might be found on weavings in other sizes and formats, but there is no question of the function of the piece.

Purse #2

Purse #2 is a face only, less finely woven than #1 (@190ksi, also with fully depressed warps and blue wefts, measuring 8.75" V by 8.25" H) and not nearly as firm to the touch. I would judge it to have been made probably in the second quarter of the 20th Century. Its origin is a bit less certain. The red ground and weave suggest Kirman, but other attributions might be made.

The poetic inscriptions on Purse #2 refer to the rewards Allah bestows on those who serve the people and, at one point, to some kind of beverage. The server is clearly shown offering a beverage to the seated man. Although the back is missing, soiling at the bottom of the back of the face suggests that coins were present. Here I think there is little question that it was woven specifically as a change purse for use in a teahouse.

Purse #3

Purse #3 also has a leather back and is very fine, possibly finer that #1, although it is in a New Jersey collection and was not available for further examination for this discussion. Beyond saying that it is Persian and urban, neither I nor John Wertime, its former owner, could make a more specific attribution.

Thoughts for discussion

The traditional woven bags and containers of the nomadic pastoralists, products of their sheep and goats, endured as the population became increasingly sedentary. The structure of these particular bags, however, reflects their urban adaptation.

Pile weavings of the nomads almost invariably have flat backs, i.e., no depression of the warps. City rugs commonly exhibit moderate to full depression, making floor rugs more durable but heavier - too heavy to carry on migrations. For the nomads, some flatweaves (such as extra weft knotted wrapping) actually provided greater tensile strength for their purposes than would pile.

Persian bags are used for innumerable purposes and we have many names for them: khordjin, chanteh, mafrash, chuval, toobreh, poshti and salt, to name but a few. They are found in a variety of structures (e. g., pile, kilim, sumak, reverse sumak, extra weft knotted wrapping, mixed). But weaving traditions cross geographical and ethnic borders. We find that a Turkish yastik is not terribly different from a Belouch balisht in form, function or size.

While these change purses are about the same size as many chanteh (single bag or pouch), we can readily see that these bags were made and used for a specific purpose.

The questions I pose to begin the discussion are:

1) What other specific uses have been made of bags with faces of this size, regardless of geographic or ethnic origin?

2) What other textiles may be associated with teahouses or purses or other specific commercial activity.

3) What other highly specialized bags can be designated?

4) Can we conclude that these changes purses are as significant in the ethnographic (Oxford: pertaining to the "description of nations or races of men, their customs, habits and differences") continuum as any of the examples used in Jerry Silverman's earlier Salon?

Notes and credit

For a grainy and choppy video with audio of the interior of a contemporary Iranian teahouse click on the following and then "Teahouse" (if you don't have it, you will be required to download RealPlayer at no cost, but the process will take several minutes):

The image of men at a cafe was captured from


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