B. Alexandra Szerlip at berfrois:
To understand how a frumpy, mustard-coloured, short-handled purse, which may or may not be leather, sold at auction in February for a whopping $32,000, it’s helpful to wander back to ancient Greece. According to Herodotus, the 5th century tyrant Histiaeus was the first to shave the head of an illiterate servant, have his scalp tattooed with a message, allow time for the hair to grow back, then send the poor fellow out to his destination, where a second head shaving waited.
What does this have to do with a 1950s-era, schoolmarmish handbag?
In a word: espionage. The practice of clandestinely obtaining (and disseminating) secret information in order to gain an advantage, often political, is likely as old as mankind itself. Thus have both benign and brutal regimes risen…and crashed.