Vintage designer handbags not only look great they can be a good investment too
According to the Design Museum 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 auction house sold its first handbag in 1978, part of Coco Chanel’s collection. But the vintage and secondary market for handbags really emerged after the recession a decade ago, according to Rachel Koffsky, Christie’s handbags and accessories specialist. It was at this time that investors began seeing handbags as a serious item.
French maker Hermès is king in this world, 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 (artist’s 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
(right) made of 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 (left) 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 Hertford-based Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers. But some vintage handbags are now much more valuable than when they were first purchased. Catwalk pieces by Alexander McQueen, exotic skin Birkins or Chanel’s iconic 2.55 handbags (the style was introduced in February 1955) all command a premium. ‘Condition, provenance and original receipts all add to the value of your handbag,’ Prudence says. She adds that buyers like the history of classic pieces while newer pieces that would have cost several thousand pounds in a shop years ago can be found for a fraction of the price.
‘I think a lot are bought for an investment but get light wear,’ says Sarah White of Tennants Auctioneers. ‘Some wear is okay, 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 of handbags is celebrity driven. ‘They are photographed everyday carrying the latest bag – and people want a piece of that.’
Sworders is holding an Objects of Desire sale on October 3, visit sworder.co.uk for details.
‘The holy grail of handbags, a matte white Himalaya Birkin by Hermès, sold for £292,188’
Sworders sold this Cartier clutch for £2,200
BELOW: Hermès’ record-breaking crocodile diamond Birkin and Chanel’s iconic black caviar leather 2.55
ABOVE: Rare Chanel Paris Bombay Matryoshka Doll Minaudière