Colorful vintage and antique purses and handbags have been enhancing the fashion world for hundreds of years. Each distinctively made piece could tell its own fascinating story.
Whether you’re looking to learn more about antique handbags, want to find out how much your vintage purse might be worth, or want to know where to find an antique purse of your own, you’re in the right place!
We’re covering how handbags have evolved over the years and how designer purses and handbags have made their own fashion statements. There are some tips for identifying authentic vintage purses and handbags, and you’ll learn what can affect their values. Finally, we’ve got helpful suggestions on where to find these portable treasures and how to keep them looking their best.
Vintage vs Antique Purses
The terms “vintage” and “antique” are often used interchangeably to describe older items. In truth, though, vintage and antique mean two different things.
According to Merriam-Webster, an antique item was made at least 100 years ago, as stated by multiple customs laws. In contrast, a vintage item can literally refer to a last-season piece that’s now “old” merchandise.
The term vintage can also change based on your personal perspective. If you were in college during the 1980s, for example, you remember the era’s “status bags” as great fashion accessories. Now, 1980s-era purses and handbags are popular vintage fashion choices.
Five Centuries of Old Purses and Handbags
Purses and handbags have been used for fashion and practical purposes for more than 500 years. It’s necessary to learn which handbags came from which era, so we’ll delve into the finer points of their evolution.
- Elizabethan Purse Themes
- Tiny Bags as Status Symbols
- Ornate Dress Handbags
- Ornate Dress Bags with Shapes and Illustrations
- Evening Bags Used as “Gaming Bags”
- Appearance of Three-Dimensional Bags
- Small Bags and Coin Purses
- Belted Hip Bags for Personal Items
- Large Work Bags for Sewing Projects
- Small Hand-held Bags
- Bags for Varied Occasions
- Victorian-era Bags with Embellishments
- Early Handbags and Purses Mirror Design Trends
- Handbags Reflect Ethnic and Cultural Motifs
- Unusual Materials and Flashy Embellishments
Popular Vintage Designer Handbags
Throughout the 20th century, and now in the 21st century, fashion-conscious women have collected vintage designer handbags. Besides each bag’s famous pedigree, they generally feature classic styles and quality construction. The following are some of the most popular vintage designer handbags. Be sure to look for these bags at your next estate sale or auction.
||Notable Vintage Bags
||Celine Black Clutch
Double Flap Macadam Handbag
Monogrammed Canvas Crossbody Bag
||Cloth Crossbody Bag
Kelly Status Bag
Drawstring Bucket Bag (for wine)
Mini Crossbody Bag
|Whiting & Davis
||Metal Mesh Evening Bag
Small Mesh Purse
How to Identify Antique and Vintage Handbags
Correctly identifying an antique or vintage handbag can be a challenge. Fortunately, many brands (especially designer brands) have developed their own product identification standards. Pay close attention to these brand compliance criteria. They can help you to determine if the handbag is authentic.
Construction and Finish
Many handbags display the manufacturer’s signature elements, which typically relate to the bag’s construction or finish. For example, a designer handbag brand might be known for its buttery-soft leather. Evaluate the hardware quality as well.
Determine if the handbag’s logo and hardware stamps match the brand standard for those items. Logo fonts and holograms may also provide clues to the piece’s authenticity.
Not surprisingly, there are countless fake designer purses on the market. Some of those purses may have been distressed or otherwise doctored to give them a vintage appearance.
To rule out a counterfeit handbag, look for the bag’s proof of origin. This can be a purchase receipt, original box, serial number, or certificate of authenticity. If the bag is displayed with original accessories, such as a leather name tag, padlock with keys, or matching mini pochette bags, that’s even better.
Use Caution When Buying Online
Buying a vintage or antique purse online can be risky. There are many counterfeit bags and dishonest sellers on the market, and it’s often difficult to tell whether a bag is authentic or not.
It’s always best to examine a vintage purse in person. But sometimes that’s not an option. If you have to buy an antique purse online, be sure to protect yourself!
Research the company and its online reputation before making your purchase, and only buy from a reputable source. Ensuring you have an authentic antique or vintage handbag will help you protect your investment, guaranteeing its resale value over time.
Vintage Purse and Handbag Value Guide
With thousands of vintage purses and handbags on the market, determining whether a specific piece has value will take some work. By following several general guidelines, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
Common Characteristics of Valuable Vintage Purses
When you’re on the hunt for valuable vintage purses, know that they share three common characteristics. First, the purse’s appearance reflects its production era. For example, if you’re searching for an antique purse from the 1890s, it will carry a higher price if it displays an Art Nouveau style.
Next, the vintage purse or handbag should make a memorable style statement. And, if a renowned designer or well-regarded brand developed the striking-looking bag, that only adds to the piece’s value.
Finally, a valuable vintage bag should be in excellent condition considering its age. The value of old purses shouldn’t be negatively affected by the items’ age-related patina.
However, scuffs, stains, tears, ink marks, odors, and worn-looking hardware will certainly bring the price down.
Variables that Affect a Vintage Purse’s Value
If you’re trying to find the value of a vintage or antique purse, these three factors can make a positive (or negative) impact on its selling price. First, the purse’s material must be structurally sound and able to hold objects without falling apart. Popular vintage bag materials include leather, Lucite, snakeskin, straw, and vinyl.
Second, the purse’s lining should not display any holes, tears, or mildew. Carefully inspect the stitching that links the lining to the bag’s hardware. Also, ensure the interior pockets are in good condition.
Finally, the integrity of the bag’s hardware plays a big role in the item’s value. Metal frames are desirable, as they’ll hold their shape over time. Be sure to also evaluate the condition of other metal hardware, such as clasps, feet, and zippers.
Price and Value Guidelines
Two interrelated variables play key roles in determining a vintage handbag’s price. The first is demand and availability. If there’s a high demand for a specific piece or it’s almost impossible to find, the price will generally go up. If there’s low demand or high availability for the purse, the price will go down.
The second variable is the piece’s condition. An antique handbag in excellent condition will demand a higher price than the same handbag in poor condition. When buying vintage purses online, compare several retailers’ prices for the same purse. Carefully study the photos and descriptions provided with the listing. If there’s a big price difference between the items, the pieces’ respective condition is likely the reason.
Vintage Purses and Handbags with Good Market Value
Certain vintage and antique purses and handbags continue to retain their market value. If you own one of the following high-value pieces, ask a knowledgeable appraiser to evaluate the item. You can also view an antique and vintage purse reference for additional perspective.
Antique Gold Mesh Purses
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, metal mesh purses were seen as part of a fashionable ensemble. Although most metal mesh bags are fabricated from brass or other common metals, gold mesh purses command the highest prices.
Antique Jeweled-Frame Purses
Antique purses commonly have sturdy metal frames. The frame’s materials and workmanship quality often affect the purse’s value. Jewelry-quality framed purses may contain sterling silver, precious gems, and even gold.
Antique Micro-Beaded Purses
An intricate micro-beaded purse features thousands of colorful beads arranged into a design or scene. The piece’s impeccable workmanship only adds to its value.
An antique micro-beaded purse or coin purse in excellent condition is likely worth a pretty penny. Obtaining an antique beaded purse appraisal is a good idea. You might also want to learn about vintage beaded purse values.
Nantucket Lightship Basket Purses
These delightfully different purses resemble small woven baskets with lids featuring carved bone sea creatures. These small purses were popular during the 1950s and 1960s, and they have impressive value today.
Vintage Lucite Handbags
These unconventional-looking clear plastic bags were all the rage in the 1950s and 1960s.
Lucite bags with scratches or signs of wear will be worth less than those in excellent condition.
Caring for Vintage Purses and Handbags
Think of each vintage leather purse, evening bag, or beaded purse as an investment that deserves proper care. To keep your shoulder bags in great condition, place them on a shelf instead of risking damage by hanging them by the straps.
If you enjoy carrying your vintage purses and handbags, cover each one with a cloth dust bag after each use. This helps to preserve the bag’s appearance, and it prevents dirt and dust accumulation.
Where to Find Vintage Purses and Handbags
As you begin searching for authentic vintage purses and vintage handbags, remember these three attributes that apply to vintage bags.
First, these appealing accessories have a good sense of style and often make a fashion statement.
Next, ensure that the piece’s design reflects its production era. Finally, authentic vintage purses and handbags feature quality construction.
They should be in excellent condition, and you should be confident that they’ll hold up well for an extended period of time.
Once you’ve found the handbag of your dreams, be sure to treat it right. Note that vintage purses and handbags typically have limited storage space compared to their modern counterparts.
So, resist the urge to stuff the purse until it’s ready to burst. This practice could cause excessive wear and tear as well as potential damage, decreasing the value of your handbag.
Good Selection of Local and Online Sources
Shop for antique purses, vintage purses, and vintage handbags at specialty retailers and in online marketplaces. Certain auctions may also contain lots of vintage bags.
You may find vintage purses or handbags at professionally managed estate sales. Examples of fairly recent vintage bags include leather bags, suede bags with tassels, and quilted bags.
You could improve your chances of success if the homeowner was known to be fashion-forward, with stylish outfits and purses to match.
Find an estate sale near you this weekend. Look for these vintage treasures gathered from homeowners’ closets and wardrobes.
Look for vintage purses, handbags, and 1970s-era top handle work totes in three types of specialty retail stores. Antique shops may be a good choice, especially those with antique clothing and accessories dealer booths.
Vintage clothing boutiques could be a veritable gold mine, and you might find the 1980s-era monogram status bag you want. Upscale clothing consignment shops often carry quality purses and handbags from fashionable ladies who refreshed their wardrobes.
Finding vintage purses and handbags at auctions can be a hit-or-miss affair. Before visiting a local live auction, try to determine if vintage clothing will be among the lots up for bids.
You may encounter better odds with online auction sites, such as eBay and Live Auctioneers. Sellers from around the country (including collectors) place their vintage purses, handbags, and other collectible bags up for bids. You might even find a special piece from your “must-have” list.
Online Vintage Marketplaces
Vintage merchandise aficionados are increasingly turning to online vintage marketplaces. Fashion-savvy sellers and collectors display their antique and vintage purses and handbags on sites like Etsy, Ruby Lane, and Poshmark. Specialty vintage clothing retailers are also
worth consideration. And, Google searches may turn up some surprising results.
Two upscale retailers have also joined the ranks of vintage clothing sellers. Macy’s Online and Nordstrom Second-hand Online Store may be good sources for vintage designer purses and handbags, many in excellent condition.
Enjoy Your Vintage Purse and Handbag Collection
Once you start your vintage and antique purse and handbag collection, you’ll likely find plenty of bags that pique your interest. When you find a memorable piece you can’t pass up, give it a good home and plan to enjoy this small treasure for many years.