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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
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
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 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 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
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
The image of men at a cafe was captured from ankaboot.com.