Mrs. Malkin’s Purse

A few years ago I went in search of a vintage purse for a wedding I was attending. Hitting up my favourite haunts in Kensington Market, I decided on this little black silk-taffeta number:

I found it in the same store where I later found my 1920s banjolele. I seem to have some kind of interesting vintage karma going on with that place.

The purse is vintage 1940s or 1950s, with a label that says “Styled by Du-val, Toronto, Canada.”  I’ve since found a few other purses online with “Styled by Du-val” labels, but their labels said either “Hong Kong” or “Japan.” I can’t find out anything about this company. Not that it matters…while I don’t know much about this find’s provinence as a vintage purse, I do know something about its previous owner.

When I got home I discovered that the small pocket in the lining was actually a double pocket, and deep in the second pocket were hidden a few surprises: a tiny clear lucite comb, two pennies (1941 American and 1951 Canadian), and two handwritten place cards from a long-ago fancy dinner, with the names of one Mrs. Malkin and her husband.


I have a friend who’s last name is Malkin, who I hadn’t seen in a long time since he’d moved across the country. Mrs. Malkin’s place cards made me think of him. I wrote him to tell him that I may have just bought his grandmother’s purse. We don’t actually know if this Mrs. Malkin was any relation or not, but we both think it would be nifty if she was.

I think Mrs. Malkin was something of the sentimental sort. That dinner must have been special for her to keep the place cards, and it’s sweet that she kept not just hers but her husband’s as well. And the two pennies…

For some reason it never seemed that they were just random change that had fallen to the bottom of her purse, especially since they were in the inner pocket, and women would have kept their coins in a change purse. They felt like lucky pennies deliberately kept in the purse. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a lucky penny in a purse. There is a superstition that you should never give a purse or wallet as a gift without leaving a coin in it. It’s supposed to ensure that the purse will never be empty. My grandmother did this, and I still do it. Some of us also do this with purses we donate to charity, so it will be lucky for the new owner.

But here were two pennies, not one. And since the comb and place cards were still in the purse, I’m more inclined to think these were Mrs. Malkin’s lucky pennies, forgotten in the purse rather than deliberately left there. Why did Mrs. Malkin have two lucky pennies? Because I’d already found a love token made of two dimes, and two having symbolic significance for partnerships in many cultures, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that the two pennies somehow belonged, symbolically, with the two place cards…a penny for Mrs. Malkin and one for Mr. Malkin. Were the dates and countries of origin significant in any way? Sometimes they are, with lucky pennies.

All speculation, of course. I don’t know what Mrs. Malkin’s real story was…but it does seem like her purse is trying to tell one.

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