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“Must See when you find yourself in Little Rock”
Review of Esse Purse Museum

Esse Purse Museum
Ranked #4 of 107 things to do in Little Rock
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: <1 hour
Owner description: Dedicated purse museums in the world are rare jewels of history: Amsterdam, Seoul and Little Rock claim the distinction of being home to the three brick-and-mortar galleries in existence. ESSE Purse Museum at 1510 Main in the SoMa district of Little Rock opened its doors in late June 2013 to share what's inside the fabulous exhibit featuring over 500 artifacts. More than a fashion history, the museum showcases a compelling narrative of the 20th-century American woman - decade by decade - through the bags she carried and the contents within. The delightful displays of purses are complemented by carefully selected items women from each era carried - true history held in a handbag. Small photos in the displays and enormous backlit photos on the north wall show real women with their personal bags. Three cozy dioramas - "Nothing's More Natural Than Skin," "By Land, Sea or Air" and "A Night on the Town" - feature specialty purses, and a large, whimsical art installation addresses the essence of a woman, her handbag and the contents within. ESSE, which grew out of a traveling exhibit selected from owner Anita Davis' extensive collection of bags, is a privately-owned museum housed in a historic building in an up-and-coming, hip neighborhood, close to other world famous attractions like Central High School (the only school that is a national park) and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. More than just a trip down memory lane or history lesson, ESSE Purse Museum is a don't-miss experience. Museum hours are 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10, $8 for students (6-18), seniors (60 and up) and military. Children 5 and younger are free. Call for group rates and special tours.
Reviewed June 10, 2014

Naturally, the Clinton Museum is the first place you go when you find yourself in Little Rock. I actually went to Esse Purse Museum first because I did my Trip Advisor research before leaving California. My friends and I joked that of course since I love my Prada and other designer purses that this museum was my Mecca. I am so glad that I did visit the museum and meet its incredible founder and owner, Anita Davis. But I was clearly mistaken as to the essence of the museum, and happily so!

First, the museum is located at the end of the three coolest blocks on South of Main Street. I walked from The a Capital Hotel. There were 10 blocks of vacant storefronts. Then, after the bridge, I strolled down three blocks that belong in Berkeley or Hayes Valley near me.... Vintage shops, foodie cafés, homemade ice cream and a public garden. I popped into Moxy's, where it's young hip owner, Jon enchanted me with his array of well selected items. I chose a kitchen mat made out of old firehouses from San Francisco. My first purchase on this weekend trip. Pleased, I sauntered up to the museum, where Jon's lovely wife, Laura, works.

The Purse museum is well curated and lovingly presented. Anita amassed a treasure trove of vintage purses during a lifetime of going to flea markets. She organized them by decade, starting in 1900. Each decade is beautifully displayed in raised glass modern cases accompanied by a lyrical, detailed and witty history of women at that time. The Roaring 20's, for example, brought women a dazzling array of jeweled purses, and their contents were equally glamorous. Just like the popular magazines like Us Weekly spill out the contents of a selected celebrity's purse ( cover girl mascara, lip balm, iPhone etc), the Purse museum shows us the elegant sterling silver cigarette holder, enameled pressed powder case and coin purse that signify the excess of the time. The displays are a fascinating way to explore women's history through the decades.

Another treat is the hat display, a temporary collection that may become permanent. It is a lovely compliment to Anita's purse collection. I was drawn to the colorful feathered hat with a black bird nested on top.

I absolutely love any museum where you enter through the gift shop!!! Anita has an eclectic mix of purses, wallets, messenger bags and jewelry ranging from $3 to $1,500. Tempting silver mesh cuffs, peacock silver mesh handmade evening bag, rubber looped handbags and whimsical wooden clutches.

If you go on a Saturday, ask to meet Anita. She is a powerhouse and woman who single handedly is promoting social justice in her neighborhood. She is creating a sense of community right there on South Main Srtreet. And, she may give you a personal tour of one of The Huffington Post's three top purse museums in the world.

6  Thank DebraBogaards
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded June 11, 2014

Debra, thank you so, so much for your lovely review and for stressing that we're actually a history museum. We're so glad you strolled through SoMa and found us – and are especially glad you got to meet Anita.

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"for sale"
in 14 reviews
"gift shop"
in 21 reviews
"women and men"
in 2 reviews
"display case"
in 3 reviews
"unusual things"
in 2 reviews
"last century"
in 2 reviews
"gift items"
in 2 reviews
"local artisans"
in 2 reviews
"capital hotel"
in 2 reviews
"temporary exhibits"
in 2 reviews
"united states"
in 2 reviews
"special exhibit"
in 2 reviews
"self guided tour"
in 2 reviews
"worth the trip"
in 2 reviews
"clinton library"
in 5 reviews
"great place to visit"
in 2 reviews
"contents"
in 26 reviews
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116 - 120 of 149 reviews

Reviewed June 7, 2014

Our group of six ladies went on a Saturday afternoon during the special hat exhibit. The displays are attractively arranged by decade and it was very interesting to see the evolution of the purse and its contents. There were reminders of our mothers' generation as well as our own. The hats only enriched the experience. The staff was very friendly and even took our picture. It was nice to see a male/female couple as well as a family enjoying the exhibits. Most of the items in the gift shop were too expensive for my budget, but I really liked the chicken and goldfish purses and coin purses which were reasonably priced. Our visit was between brunch at the next door Root Cafe and browsing/ice cream at the nearby Green Corner Store. It was especially fun to go with a group and would be a unique place to take out of town visitors.

Thank Monica D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded June 9, 2014

We're so glad you enjoyed your visit and would recommend the museum to others. The display truly is about the evolution of women more than fashion – we're so glad you mentioned that.

Thanks for letting us be part of your lovely day on South Main.

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Reviewed June 1, 2014

This is an unique and delightful afternoon. History through purses. Seeing all of those purses makes me feel better about my comparatively small collection and the addition of the special hat exhibit really rounded out the experience.

While all of the fabulous purses in the gift shop were far out of my price range, we enjoyed the time we spent there. The most fun may have been the interactive part of the museum. You could weigh your purse and sign-in with the weight. I had taken a number of things out of my purse before we left the house that afternoon and it still weighed 7.5 pounds. I really should get a smaller purse.

Oh, and if you keep your ticket stub (tickets are $10/each), you can get back into the museum at a later date for only half price.

Thank rubyslipperlady
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded June 3, 2014

What a lovely review of your lovely afternoon! Thank you so much for taking time to give us a write-up. We're delighted you came in and had a good experience.

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Reviewed May 29, 2014

I enjoyed seeing the purses over different times and discussing them with my daughter. There were also high end artsy purses fir sale in the store; you could have one that no one else has! Definitely worth a visit! Make it an event with a good meal at a near by restaurant like the Root Cafe or enjoy some Loblolly ice cream from the corner green store.

Thank DrJaneMom
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded May 30, 2014

Thank you for coming to see us and for taking time to write a review. We appreciate you!

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed May 12, 2014

If you are in Little Rock, do not miss this delightful museum. The attention to detail for the period displays was outstanding. Cute building, great displays, friendly staff and great handbag shopping. Having visited the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, this was a great complimentary visit.

Thank 67Kristina
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LauraCHardy, Guest Relations Manager at Esse Purse Museum, responded to this reviewResponded May 13, 2014

Thank you so much for your kind review! We're so pleased you came to see us.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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