With the arrival of spring, fashion turns to new handbags, shoes and clothes. However, for handbag collectors, new (old) bags are always in style.
Antique and vintage handbags offer a fine example of elegance and design. Beaded, die cut, celluloid and needlepoint bags are just a few of the market categories of yesteryear.
Vintage handbags are often grouped by method of construction, material used, or design. The construction method indicates whether the bag is beaded, crocheted or sewn and the material classification includes fabric, metal, ivory and others.
The design classification tells a collector whether the handbag is a handbag, a shoulder bag, or tiny chatelaine bags (worn at the waist on an ornamental chain).
This means that there are many ways for fashion accessory enthusiasts to shape a collection! Today, vintage handbags are also in fashion, with mid-20th century names in the limelight due to the huge popularity of the designers and their logo.
It’s amazing how complex the subject of handbags can become. But like all clothing or accessories, handbags also represent social history through the ages and are symbols of wealth, status and function. Handbags are clues to daily life in the past.
Even museums include exhibits on handbags and the fashion around them. Purses featured in museums include bags used for everything from carrying letters to gambling purses used to carry tokens and playing cards.
Handbags from famous designers like Schiaparelli, Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent are treasures that can really increase in value if cared for in pristine condition.
My favorite antique handbag brand is Whiting and Davis, who began creating quality metal mesh handbags in 1876. Fashion loves these bags, as do collectors who appreciate the timeless, classic look and beautiful finishing. Visit whitinganddaviscollection.com to view current styles.
The lovely collectible bags featured in today’s column date from the 1800s to the early 1900s and include examples of beading, metalwork and crochet. All come from the personal inventory of a local collector.
According to Schroeder’s Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide, handbags from the early 1800s are often decorated with small colored glass beads. Cut steel beads were popular in the 1840s and remained stylish until around 1930, woven mesh purses date back to the 1820s, and chain link mesh came into use in the 1890s, followed by enamel mesh bags worn by Roaring ’20s flappers.
Since the 1700s handbags have been recognizable as a feminine accessory and in the 1800s handbags became common as money replaced barter.
Interesting handbag names include miser, a very old style that describes itself; the crosshair, another early style of drawstring bag; and the small chatelaine bag, often created in pewter or silver mesh to attach to a lady’s ornamental chain belt in the age of castles and castles.
The handbags were made from an incredible variety of materials, including pearls, ivory, tortoiseshell, straw, prickly pear, metals, celluloid and other plastics and of course many different leathers.
Condition is everything to collectors and affects value. Designer bags of all sizes sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars when in perfect condition.
For example, French manufacturer Hermès is known for its handmade luggage and handbags and commands a high price in the collectibles market for everything from scarves to bags. The value increases even more when a handbag is linked to an iconic woman who selects it, as in the case of the Hermes Kelly bag, named after Grace Kelly. The Birkin bag is a more recent (1986) bag from Hermès that is equally iconic for fashionistas. But out of reach for most people due to exorbitant prices and waiting lists.
Large handbags at all price points are a collector’s item that continues to attract new fans at auctions and sales. So when shopping for a spring look, be sure to check out your favorite resale store. You might discover a passion for handbags.