Amsterdam has one, Seoul, S. Korea has one, and now SoMa in Little Rock has a brick-and-mortar purse museum at 1510 South Main St.
The brainchild of Anita Davis, a longtime collector of purses, ESSE Purse Museum is proud to exhibit "What's Inside: A Century of Women and Handbags, 1900-1999.
More than just a fashion history, though, the museum showcases the evolution of the 20th-century American woman – decade by decade – through the bags she carried and the contents within.
ESSE grew out of a traveling exhibit selected from Davis’ extensive collection. From 2006 to 2011, “The Purse & the Person: A Century of Women’s Purses” traveled the country, with exhibitions in Concord, Mass.: Little Rock, Ark.; Edmund, Okla.; Columbia, S.C.; Pasadena, Calif.; Rockford, Ill.; Logan, Kan.; Fullerton, Calif.; Baton Rouge, La.; Dallas; Sacramento; and Seattle.
After that long run, Davis decided to bring her handbags home for good, with permanent housing and an expanded and improved display format. The museum features, in addition to decade by decade displays, four special purse exhibits: Skins, Shapes, Travel and Evening, each highlighted with its own diorama.
A delightful gift shop, offering high-quality designer bags to quirky and unusual gift items, rounds out the offerings of this rare gem of women’s history. It just might become the crown jewel of South Main Street’s revival.