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The Eternal Appeal of Vintage Handbags

Combining style, craftsmanship, and status, a luxury handbag (or two) is an item that many women aspire to own.

Chanel, ‘purple caviar’ wallet purse, 2000, leather and gold-tone chain. Photo © Crescent City Auction Gallery via Barnebys Price Bank

Some people collect Monets and Van Goghs, others collect Chanel Classics and Hermés Birkins. These timeless styles never go out of fashion, and vintage models can keep or even increase in value. There is a growing market for these luxury items, as evidenced by the over 122,000 page views on Barnebys for vintage handbags in 2020. Here we look at some of the most popular styles, as well as why some handbags have become collector’s items rather than utilitarian purses.

Gucci, handbag, 1960s, black crocodile and lapis lazuli. Photo © New Orleans Auction Galleries via Barnebys Price Bank

The hefty price tag of a designer handbag may be daunting, but their high-quality materials and durable stitching ensure that they’ll last a lifetime with proper care. This longevity means that a vintage handbag can be in just as good condition as a new one, but available at a lower price point. The sleek and elegant designs of classic bags ensure that they will never look dated, so the initial investment can be worth it in the long run.

Chanel, chevron quilted shoulder bag, ca. 1980s, leather and gilt metal. Photo © Christie’s via Barnebys Price Bank

While handbags intended for daily use quickly wear out, luxury handbags are usually reserved for special occasions and can accrue value over time. The resale value of pre-owned pieces increases as designers increase their retail prices. Chanel increased the prices of their classic bags about 11% in May 2020, and as a result their secondhand purses have also increased in value. Handbags’ expense is also part of their appeal – since they’re difficult to obtain, name brands become status symbols.

Louis Vuitton, large purse, 1980s, ‘LV repeating logo’ fabric and leather handles. Photo © Julien’s Auctions via Barnebys Price Bank

Part of the fun of owning a designer bag is showing it off, so logos are often a prominent part of a purse’s design. Take the classic CC clasp on Chanel items, for example, or Louis Vuitton’s iconic “LV” pattern. The signature monogram was designed by Georges Vuitton in 1896 in memory of his father, and the pattern references the legacy and timelessness of the label.

Hermés, ‘Diamond Himalaya Birkin 25,’ matte white niloticus crocodile with 18k white gold and diamond hardware. Photo © Christie’s via Barnebys Price Bank

In 1983, Jean-Louis Dumas of Hermés famously sat next to the actress Jane Birkin on a flight, and was inspired to design the eponymous bag that would become a status symbol worldwide. The record price for a handbag at auction was set by a Birkin in 2017, when a white crocodile and diamond-encrusted model sold for $381,440. Although not every Birkin is made of such rare materials, the roomy handbag is highly coveted by collectors and fashionistas everywhere. In fact, Hermés is one of the most-searched handbag brands on Barnebys, along with Chanel, Dior, Prada, and Balenciaga.

Prada, classic frame bag, red alligator. Photo © Heritage Auctions via Barnebys Price Bank

Online sales have made finding the perfect designer handbag easier than ever, but there are a few key things to remember when buying secondhand and vintage pieces. Unfortunately not all purses will be authentic, so always do business with a reputable auction house or dealer and look for bags that come with a certificate of authentication. If you’re looking for an investment piece, classic styles from big designers like Chanel, Hermés, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton are the most likely to hold their value. Now what are you waiting for? Find your dream handbag and enjoy an accessory that will last a lifetime.


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