Insider Tips for Spotting Investment-Worthy Handbags

Left: Lot 1007, Center: Lot 1016, Right: Lot 1024, Artcurial (July 20)

To many vintage handbag collectors, fashion is portable art.

Throughout the 20th century, styles varied as fashion trends transformed; the 1910s and ’20s, for example, brought along mesh or Mandolin bags, often in Egyptian Revival style or with Asian influences. In the 1930s and ’40s, basic black leather bags were the norm, including those made by designers such as Bienen-Davis, Coblentz, and Ingber. Handbag producers also started using materials like animal skins, woods, fabric, and early plastics as designers starting to experiment with shapes.

The 1950s brought about boxier styles, including handbags made of Lucite, by designers such as Wilardy, Patricia of Miami, and Llewellyn. Fashions in the 1960s and ’70s virtually exploded on the scene, with designers becoming as bold as the eras themselves, offering purses that were bejeweled, appliqued, and downright psychedelic. This is also when high-end designers started creating the signature bags that would become timeless classics.

While some collectors buy these classic handbags to keep on display (or wear with caution), others buy purely to invest in something that will, over the years, increase in value. Three designer handbag experts helped us gather tips and tricks for spotting authentic, high-end examples prime for investment and revealed infinitely “in” collectible styles of the fashion world.

How to Buy Vintage Handbags Online


Lot 16, Louis Vuitton “Weekend” bag, monogrammed canvas taupe and black patent leather,
Hôtel des Ventes de Monte-Carlo (July 21)

What to Look For

There are three basic considerations for a serious vintage purse collector: quality, condition, and rarity. It is very important to make sure the photos of the purse are clear and taken up close prior to purchasing in order to determine the quality, and there is a clear written description. Another plus is when the bag has its original packaging or hangtag.

When it comes to condition, some collectors don’t mind a minimally flawed bag, particularly if they plan to use it, but if you are purchasing a purse for future investment, it’s best to find one that is in mint condition or close to it. Many prior owners have used their vintage purses so it’s not uncommon to find wear and tear, ink marks, and evidence of cosmetics. Some purses may not have been used much or at all, but may have been improperly stored, leading to fading, mildewing and other adverse conditions.

“Remember that the whole point in investing in fashion is that it is wearable at the same time as being a piece of art. There are also a number of ‘handbag spas’ that can treat your bag were any stains to occur,” says Meg Randell, Designer Fashion and Handbags Specialist at Chiswick Auctions. “As long as you are careful, you absolutely can use your bag – maybe not on a daily basis, but on special occasions and with due care you should be fine.”

Even if you plan to buy a bag to resell for profit, it’s possible to use the bag for awhile (why not flaunt it?), but be sure to store it in dry locations in its dustbag, adds Emilie Belmonte, handbag specialist at Hôtel des Ventes de Monte Carlo.

“Remember that the whole point in investing in fashion is that it is wearable at the same time as being a piece of art.” -Meg Randell, Chiswick Auctions

Once you have determined quality and condition, be aware that rarity can be misrepresented. Some sellers may advertise a purse as “hard to find” or “one of a kind,” when there may be the same or similar bags available elsewhere. Perform your due diligence by searching online—or in person—to see if the bag is available elsewhere. If it is in stock at a designer’s outlet store, then it is not a collectible.

Perform your due diligence by searching online to see if the bag is available elsewhere. Familiarize yourself with keywords that apply to your particular designer, era, or style and use those words to search – including trying out misspellings – to see if your bag is actually as rare as the seller advertises.

Doing Your Research

Talk to other collectors to gain knowledge of the designer, era, or style you wish to purchase. Visit online forums to obtain more information about your particular purse passion, but always aim to support the veracity of the information. You can always send an email to the maker if it is still in business, and ask if they know anything about the purse you are interested in. You can also ask auction house specialists for more information. Seek additional photos of the purse, particularly close-ups of labels as well as other identifying information – they will be glad to provide further proof of its authenticity.

“If possible, ask for any provenance, and whether there are any original receipts – authenticity cards do not automatically mean that the bags are authentic, sadly,” says Randell.

Lot 7, Chanel “Camera” bag, black quilted lambskin leather, Hôtel des Ventes de Monte-Carlo (July 21)

You can also avail yourself of authentication services, either through a professional appraiser, or if the seller or auction house will provide it. There may be an additional fee for this, but many times, an auction house will be happy to provide a letter of authenticity with your purchase.

“In addition to condition, value, and date questions, people also ask about the skin used, as, for instance, a Togo leather is less fragile than a Swift and will last longer. Other interesting questions might be regarding weight, as some leathers are really beautiful but heavy,” says Penelope Blanckaert, director of Hèrmes Vintage & Fashion Arts at Artcurial.

Today’s Most Collectible Handbags

Among the top designers to collect are Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Dior, Hèrmes, Celine, Versace, and Ferragamo. Celine’s shoulder bags and mini luggage totes are a hot commodity, and buyers are scooping up Versace bags that were made prior to the designer’s untimely death. Vuitton’s Neverfull is also popular, as is the Hèrmes Birkin, which is for the collector with a lot of money to spend.

“Through the years, secondary market has become a key operator, counterbalancing the scarcity of luxury items available in retail stores. If you buy at auction, you can have your bag instantly instead of waiting,” says Blanckaert.

“The Birkin bag remains a great investment today. It-bags are created every season, but a Birkin is a must-have. Wealthy buyers want to be very chic and not a victim of fashion trends. They don’t wear a Balenciaga bag or the latest Yves Saint Laurent, they wear a Birkin,” she adds. “Since its creation 35 years ago, the value of the Hermès Birkin has gone up by 500 percent, including a 14.2 percent rise each year. You can’t make a mistake buying a Birkin.”

Lot 1031, Hermès Birkin bag, 2007, black porosus crocodile, Artcurial (July 20)

Lot 1028, Hermès Birkin bag, 2006, rose fuchsia ostrich leather, Artcurial (July 20)

“A more recent trend is the increase in value of the Constance bag, one of the bags that women desire the most today,” adds Blanckaert. “And when it comes to leather items, people are focusing on exoticism. As a result, exotic leather remains an ageless and growing investment.”

“Each bag requires 18 to 24 hours of work by craftsmen who assemble dozens of components by saddle stitch seam. Originally bought for pleasure, iconic Hèrmes bags have become true collectibles, like works of art.” -Penelope Blanckaert, Artcurial

“There are three handbags in particular that I am always being asked if I have in sale, which are, of course, the Chanel 2.55 (black leather with gilt hardware, preferably), and Hèrmes Kellys and Birkins,” says Randell. “These three bags are particularly popular because they have never fallen out of fashion in the decades since they were created. These bags are safe investments because, taken care of, they will at least retain their price, if not improving on them.” In terms of handbag type, she adds, “the trusty shoulder bag is probably your safest bet, as the more usable bag is, the less likely it is to date and go out of fashion.”

Lot 1061, Hèrmes Kelly bag, 1994, alligator, Artcurial (July 20)

For those who prefer older vintage and antique bags, the most collectible makers include Whiting & Davis – known for its mesh bags, established in 1876 and still in business today; Wilardy, Rialto and Llewellyn – known for 1950s Lucite box bags; and 1960s designer Enid Collins, who created whimsical wood box purses and bucket bags. These unusual purses have gone up in value over the last decade and will likely continue to rise in price as collectors snatch them up. Conversely, experts recommend that those who collect more modern designers stay away from kitschy purses and stick with classic colors and shapes.

The most recognizable names will continue to prove desirable to fashionistas and collectors who want one or two prized pieces in their wardrobes. According to Forbes, the top ten most-wanted investment bags for 2016 are: the Chanel 2.55 Flap Bag, Louis Vuitton Speedy 30, Hèrmes Kelly Bag, Chloe Drew Bag, Gucci GG Supreme Top Handle Bag, Fendi Baguette, Yves Saint Laurent Roady Bag, Legend Alexander McQueen, Givenchy Antigona Duffel and Lady Dior Bag.

Lot 1042, Hermès Constance bag, 1974, red lizard, Artcurial (July 20)

“It is not the outrageous and rare bags that get the highest prices at auction – but the more classic designs in black or navy that will stay current and desirable. The mink covered, sequinned, brightly coloured clutch might be a fun statement piece, but nothing will date more quickly!” adds Randell. “That said – I don’t see the 2.55 or the Birkin being knocked off their top perch any time soon.”

Looking ahead at 2017, “undoubtedly, the Hèrmes Constance bag will be the more collectible bag,” says Blanckaert.

In the market for designer handbags? Get ahold of authentic examples from names like Hèrmes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and more in upcoming sales including Artcurial’s Hèrmes Summer Collection (July 20), Artcurial’s Hèrmes Vintage & Rare Wines (July 21), Hôtel des Ventes de Monte-Carlo’s Maroquinerie de Luxe. Bijoux de Couturiers (July 21), and more.