Puzzle Purses: 200 years of love tokens

Updated: Jul 19

Popular in the 18th & 19th Centuries, Puzzle Purses combine origami & letter writing to beautiful effect and were originally used by sweethearts in England and America to exchange valentine's messages.

Their inspiration came from the ancient Japanese art of tatogami, the precursor of origami, where hand folded paper purses, Tato, were used to carry small items such as buttons, pins or stamps.

Puzzle purses were made by both men and women to exchange love notes, their intricate folds containing handwritten messages, poems and beautiful, often symbolic, drawings of flowers, birds, vines and hearts. Amazingly some of these delicate notes still exist, despite many foldings and unfoldings.

Puzzle Purse 2022, Jules Eachus

Puzzle Purse 2022, Jules Eachus: hand painted watercolour hearts &

lines from Robert Creeley's 1962 poem Love Comes Quietly.

Video: Make your own Puzzle Purse, Jules Eachus, 2022

Below are some wonderful examples of surviving puzzle purses from the 18th & 19th Centuries

Valentine Puzzle Purse, Late 18th Century (Images: Wigs on the Green)

Puzzle purse dated 14th February 1816 (Image: Nancy Rosin, Victorian Treasury)

Puzzle Purse c.1800 (Image: Free Library of Philadelphia)

Puzzle Purse dated 14th February 1826 (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art collection)

A true lovers knot sent from J. Thomas of Gloucestershire to his future wife Elizabeth in c. 1780 (Image: Dr Sally Holloway from the V&A collection) The winding poem was ‘an Emblem of my Love with out an End, With Crossing winding turning in and out, and never ceasing turning round a bought’

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