Vintage handbag on woman's shoulder

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Vintage handbag buying guide

Here are three key areas to focus on when buying a ‘pre-loved’ designer handbag

Last year, a buyer secured the Holy Grail of vintage designer handbags  – a rare 2014 Hermès Himalaya Birkin – with a record-breaking bid of £279,000.

This may seem excessive but, according to Christie’s, the pre-owned designer handbag market is now worth £26m – and the most sought-after pieces can generate returns of up to 30 per cent a year.

The more prestigious the designer, the more likely it is that a vintage handbag will retain its value – especially if the brand in question operates waiting lists for its premium designs.

Do your research

Most auction houses will ask you to sign up for a buying account, which provides access to their sales archives. When researching archives or sales catalogues, remember: 

  • Look at the price that the handbag you are interested in has sold for previously and examine the specifics to ensure you compare like for like. Some prices will rise over time while others fall, so restrict your search to the past couple of years.
  • Don’t assume that the catalogue description is all you need to read. You should also be provided with a condition report, which will tell you if there are any marks on the item.
  • Make sure you understand what any icons mean on the listing. For example, an aeroplane could mean the handbag may not be eligible for shipping to certain countries due to export controls.
  • Take time to read the small print. If you win your bid, you can only have a refund if the handbag is a fake or substantially ‘not as described’. A buyer’s premium is added to the final hammer price, so check how much your auction house charges.
  • If you have any questions about the item, speak to the auction house’s specialists well in advance of the sale as there may not be time to answer complex queries on the day.

Take good care of it

Sophie Higgs, Designer Handbag Specialist at auctioneers Fellows, offers the following tips on preserving the value of your vintage handbag:

  • If your bag doesn’t have a rain protection cover, think before you go out in a shower. Conversely, if your bag is in direct sunlight for too long, the colours could fade and the leather might crack. Avoid handling your bag if you have greasy or dirty palms. No matter how high the quality of your bag, it will wear out if you use it too often, so rotate it with other bags.
  • Store your bag in its original dust bag and box. Again, this will help retain the bag’s value. If you don’t have a dust bag, use a pillowcase. Avoid plastic covers and don’t pile anything on top of your bag. To keep it in shape, stuff with newspaper, crepe paper or bubble wrap when not in use.
  • Use leather moisturiser to keep your bag supple and avoid cracking. When in use, wipe your bag with a soft cloth on a weekly basis and clean patent leather with a damp microfibre cloth.

Get it valued regularly

Once you start to build a collection of vintage designer handbags, don’t forget to have them valued on a regular basis, as their value can go up or down depending on market trends and you could find yourself underinsured if something were to happen to them.