Antiques: bags of style
A wearable investment
According to the Design Museum’s book 50 Bags That Changed The World, the handbag is a snapshot of a woman’s life – companion, receptacle of secrets, a status object and means of self-display. It has become a key item in fashion culture.
Christie’s sold its first bag in 1978, part of Coco Chanel’s collection. But the vintage and secondary market for handbags really emerged after the recession about a decade ago, according to Rachel Koffsky, Christie’s handbags and accessories specialist. It was at this time women began seeing their handbags as a serious investment.
Hermès is king, says Rachel. “The Kelly bag was designed almost 100 years ago, with virtually no change to the model since. Similarly, the Constance was designed 50 years ago and the Birkin launched 30 years ago. These three models are the most desirable because they are the highest quality handbags, expertly crafted in an atelier (French workshop), in a timeless design.”
Last year, Christie’s sold what is considered to be the holy grail of bags, a matte white Himalaya Birkin bag made from Nile crocodile with an 18-carat white gold
and diamond lock for £292,188, a world record price. A similar piece in London fetched £162,500, the record price for a handbag in Europe.
Chanel is another coveted brand. A Timeless bag designed by Karl Lagerfeld with its distinctive CC clasp fetches premium prices, and a rare runway piece, a Chanel Paris Bombay Matryoshka Doll Minaudière was sold through Christie’s last year for £16,500.
So how is the value calculated? “We will usually estimate the selling price at around a third of the retail price,” explains Prudence Hopkins, head of accessories at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers. But there are examples where vintage handbags are now more valuable than when they were first purchased. Catwalk pieces from Alexander McQueen, exotic skin Birkins or Chanel’s iconic 2.55s handbags (named when the style was introduced in February 1955) purchased in the 1980s all command a premium. “Condition, provenance and
original receipts all add to the value of your handbag,” she says. She feels people like the history of classic pieces and newer pieces that would have cost several thousand pounds in a shop many years ago can be found for a fraction of the price.
“I think a lot are bought for an investment but get light wear,” explains Sarah White from Tennants Auctioneers. “Some
wear is OK, but they want to be in the best condition possible. If there is a card of authenticity, then even better. Check the handle is not cracked and check the corners as often they wear.” Sarah believes the rise in popularity is celebrity driven. “They’re photographed everyday carrying the latest bag – and people want a piece of that.” N Sworders are holding an Objects of Desire sale on October 3 – see more at sworder.co.uk
‘Condition, provenance and original receipts all add to the value of your handbag’
Sworders sold this Cartier Clutch for £2,200
BELOW FROM LEFT: Himalaya niloticus crocodile diamond Birkin; a Chanel black caviar leather 2.55 double flap medium handbag sold for £1,550
ABOVE: Chanel Paris Bombay Matryoshka Doll Minaudière