Iroquois Beaded Purse

A decorative purse made for tourists by Native Americans

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.


This beaded purse is from a Native North American Eastern woodlands culture, the Iroquois. It is made of what seems to be a felt like black fabric with a cotton lining and what may be silk binding around the edges. The triangular flap folded over to close the purse. There is an un-embroidered space on the other side.


The Iroquois have used beads to decorate items of clothing for thousands of years. The first beads were made from natural materials such as stones, animal bones, antlers and clam shells. In the 1500s glass beads from Europe arrived in the area, via trade routes up the Hudson river, and others. The map at the bottom of this page shows the path of this river.


Nearby Niagara Falls became a tourist attraction during the 1800s and the Iroquoi beadwork was sold there to tourists, who loved the intricate patterns and designs. These bags played a big part in how Native Americans made their living during the early 19th Century.


Discussion Ideas:

  • Look at the photos of women in the 19th Century pictured with Iroquois beaded bags (see Related Links at bottom of page). What reasons can you think of that these beadwork purses were so fashionable during the 19th Century? Do you think everyone would have been able to acquire an item like this?
  • What is sold at tourist attractions nowadays? Think of some examples from places you have visited.
  • What else can you find out about Iroquois culture?

This map shows the area in which the Iroquois live, and the Hudson river which became an important trade route.


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