Masters of Mesh-The History of Whiting and Davis

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Whiting and Davis History

On my shopping trip to Brimfield Antique Show this summer I came across a bunch of Whiting and Davis mesh bags sitting in the bottom of a box full of other vintage purses. The dealer offered me a great price for taking the lot. Since I’ve always been attracted to their shimmer and smooth, slinky, liquid metal feel, how could I resist?

Over the years I’ve sold many vintage Whiting and Davis bags. They’re stylish and collectible, especially the much earlier ones, which unfortunately were not included in that box! But the ones I found (mostly 50s/60s) are still quite lovely.

The company is still in operation today. Their fine quality mesh bags are now manufactured overseas and average $200-400 each.  But you can still pick up many of their  USA made mid century era evening bags for much less.

Whiting and Davis Ad

I knew they had been in business since the 1800s , that they were Massachusetts based and that they also made mesh jewelry and other accessories.  But that’s about it. So I decided to research more on the history behind these glamorous purses. And,wow, was I surprised.  Read on for all the fascinating facts about these true masters of mesh.

Originally three men, Louis Heckman, William Wade and Edward Davis,  founded a silversmith company in  Plainville Mass., a small town close to Boston in 1876.  They  began by making sterling silver Victorian jewelry.

In 1892 , Charles Whiting, who had been an employee of the company for 10 years, wove their very first metal mesh purse by utilizing the ancient art of chainmail.

I guess Mr. Davis realized he had some serious talent and a potential great new product line, so in 1896 he partnered with Mr. Whiting to create the Whiting & Davis Company.

1900’s- In the earlier part of the century, and into the early 20s,  the mesh bags were made of sterling silver, gold or vermeil (gold plating over silver) and fashioned completely by hand. Local ladies would actually sit in “sewing circles” knitting the metal links together, which, as you can just imagine, was a long, painstaking process.

Whiting and Davis Art Nouveau silver mesh purse
This is an example of one of the earlier hand made purses. Available for sale on Ebay.

In 1912 an automated mesh machine was invented enabling mass production.

Whiting and Davis Machine made mesh bags
1920s and 1930s- By the Roaring 20s their bags were all the rage.  The company started producing more affordable purses made with base metals and screenprinting them with art deco designs.

Whiting and Davis Ad 1923                                                           A 1923 Whiting and Davis ad for sale on Ebay

They even teamed up with famous designers Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli to produce special collections.

1920s Paul Poiret design Whiting and Davis purse

1929 Ad for Paul Poiret designed Whiting and Davis bags/ Source

Whiting and Davis After Schiaparelli Ad Vogue 1930s

1930s Vogue Ad-Whiting and Davis Bags after Schiaparelli

1930s Whiting and Davis purse ad

1930s Whiting and Davis patent leather finish purse ad/Source

1940s and 1950s- During WWII Whiting and Davis partnered with Raytheon to make  radar equipment for the military. They even produced mesh for the US Navy to throw overboard to divert enemy sonar systems!

By the latter 40s and into the 1950s they were back at producing mesh purses and other fashion accessories.

1951 Whiting and Davis purse Ad

1951 Whiting and Davis purse ad- for sale here.

Whiting and Davis Party Line Ad

1960s, 70s and 80s In 1963 Whiting and Davis introduced their Cleopatra Collection after  collaborating with Vogue and 20th Century Fox to promote the film starring Elizabeth Taylor. In the ad below you can see their iconic snake bracelet.  The mesh snake is estimated to have appeared as far back as the 1890s!

Whiting and Davis Jewels of Cleopatra Collection

Jewels of Cleopatra Collection

Whiting and Davis Star Series Collection

In 1976 Whiting and Davis introduced their “Star Series” collection to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of their company. Source

The late 70s and into the 80s was prime time for glitzy fashion. The age of disco glam brought new fashion opportunities for the slinky metal mesh material.

Whiting and Davis Bibb Necklace

1970s Whiting and Davis Bibb necklace and earrings. Available here.


1970s Whiting and Davis cameo necklace

70s Whiting and Davis cameo necklace.Available here

In 1976 Whiting and Davis asked Boston designer Anthony Ferrara to be their in house designer.

Ferrara for Whiting and Davis halter tops-1984

Sensuous halter tops and dresses ensued!

 

Whiting and Davis Absolute Ads

In 1989 Anthony Ferrara designed $532,000 18k gold and $100,000 sterling silver Whiting and Davis mesh dresses for an Absolute Vodka campaign.

1990s and beyond- 

Through the 90s the company expanded  its architectural mesh products to interior designers and architects.  Their luxurious mesh , often used for draperies for the theater stage since the 1920s,  was expanded  for residential and home decor use.

Whiting and Davis mesh drapery

In 2011 to celebrate their 135th anniversary the company returned to its fine jewelry roots with the debut of its Anniversary and Signature Collection of 18k gold and sterling silver mesh jewelry.

Whiting and Davis Signature and Anniversary Collection pieces

 

Examples from the Signature and Anniversary Collections, which were meant to marry their traditional design elements with modern styling. Source

Their mesh has unlimited uses, besides just fashion. The company also produces all kinds of personal safety gear, including shark suits for scuba divers, cutting gloves and butchers’ aprons!

Sources for all this info found here, here and here.

Do you own any Whiting and Davis pieces?

Linking up with Catherine/Not Dressed as  a Lamb for #SaturdayShareLinkup

 

 

 

By | 2017-09-08T15:21:02+00:00 September 8th, 2017|Fashion|6 Comments

About the Author:

Theresa
Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.

6 Comments

  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell September 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I hope they saved them! They’re worth much more now, as are those bags with the movie stars on them.

  2. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell September 11, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Yes, they do. And been around for a very long time!

  3. Vix September 11, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I remember some of my school friends having those scarf necklaces and matching earrings back in the 1980s. I’ve never heard of the maker but I love the kitschiness of the bags with celebs on them, they’re fab. xxx

  4. Cristina - Memories of the Pacific September 10, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I had never heard about this company, they have a very interesting history behind them.

  5. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell September 9, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I know Suzanne. I didn’t realize till I did this post that they made these amazing dresses. And I really like a lot of their jewelry too. Am going to have to keep an eye out for it when I shop!

  6. Suzanne September 8, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Great history on Whiting and Davis!

    I love their bags but those dresses really took my breath away.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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