Just as today we might lust after luxury leather handbags or purses, so too did the Georgians.
For much of the 1700s and into the 1800s, the epitome of luxury for a fashionable gentleman was owning a red Moroccan leather pocket-book. This wallet which carried banknotes, immediately signified wealth due to its materials of soft leather, silver thread, and fine workmanship. It might also have suggested sophistication, as surely only a cosmopolitan, man of the world could get his mitts on such a luxurious and exotic product?
Within the collection at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery, is a 1724 embroidered Moroccan pocketbook with silver metallic threads.
This pocket-book has been customised with the name of the owner, Williams Winder, also the place of its manufacture Tetuan (Tétouan in northern Morocco) – famed for its leather workers.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has a very similar example, marked Tetuan, 1727, clearly these pocket books were also objects of desire in the colonies.
From the Jasper Sprange collection of printers’ proofs at Tunbridge Wells Museum, we can also spot when a pocket-book has been ‘lost’ along with its contents in 1801.
Five Guineas Reward.
On Thursday, June 4, 1801, between the Hours of Eight and Ten o’Clock in the Morning, and betwixt Brenchley Town and Lamberhurst Quarter
A Red Morocco Pocket Book,
Bank of England, Hastings and Tonbridge Notes to the Amount of Twenty-one Pounds
The Owner’s Name wrote on the Inside in German text
Whoever will cause the said Book, with its Contents, to be returned to the Owner, shall receive the above-mentioned Reward of FIVE GUINEAS.
Sprange, Printer, T. Wells.
From the reward poster we can see that these pocket books might have carried paper money issued from the Bank of England. However, if used in towns, they were equally likely to carry money issued by provincial banks. If you’re curious about what these paper notes would have looked like. Here is also some paper money issued by Tonbridge Bank in 1816.
These bank notes were circulated in a local area, where people trusted the bank. However, if provincial banks went bust, the owner would be left with near worthless money. In this scenario, the beautifully made Moroccan pocketbooks might have retained more of their value than their contents – a true fashion investment piece!