Alterations, Replicas, Reimagined Vintage
Beware of altered vintage handbags and note that only the ones in original, unmodified vintage condition are collectible. Handbags with replaced handles or recently added decorations are not valuable as collectibles, because they had not preserved the original, historical design. That is why a replica should always cost less than an original vintage handbag.
Once in a while you can come across the handbags advertised as "reimagined vintage" or "custom-made from all vintage materials." Such replicas could have various skins, furs, feathers or jewelry (pins, rhinestones, beads, etc.) glued directly to their bodies, frames, handles, or other original parts. It's important to note that such alterations are usually done to conceal flaws or damage. For example, a seller has found a vintage evening bag by Coblentz made from metal and glued on top of it the patches of various skins (e.g. alligator, snake, lizard, or frog), previously removed from some old unrepairable bags. As a result, she got a “Coblentz” that looks quite differently from your typical Coblentz piece, which she then is trying to sell as a “unique Coblentz” - for a higher price. While it's OK to restore vintage to preserve its original features, it's really not OK to intentionally modify its classic design, in order to pass it for something rare and unique.
It must be added that there's nothing wrong with trying to rescue an otherwise perfect vintage bag with a broken handle by replacing it with a new one made from matching skin, leather, vinyl, or even a metal or plastic chain. It is, of course, if you bought it for use, and not as a collectible investment. Note that a replaced handle generally decreases the value of the original vintage, thus it should be disclosed in the description.
To find out if the skin strap on your vintage bag is original or replaced, first examine its shape. Usually, original handles are slightly mishapen due to storage or age, unless they are firmly structured, or semi-structured, with an inside cord. Such handles were often produced in France or Belgium for Lucille de Paris, Rosenfeld, and Bellestone.
Don't forget to check whether the handle's color and material match the bag's body. If it's a metal chain, compare its color and patina to the bag's metal frame and mounts. If it's a replacement, the metal color, quality and finish would probably differ from the rest of the bag's metal. Remember that in the 1930s-1960s very few vintage brands produced handbags with original metal straps, except for Lucille de Paris and Koret. That is why there's always a chance of buying vintage with a replaced handle, if you don't know how to tell the difference. The same applies to vintage bags with plastic straps often advertised as Bakelite or Lucite. Most likely, they are replacements, too.
Sometimes, you can find a vintage bag with a rhinestone pin glued directly to its body or its frame - to "jazz it up" and sell as something special. Always confirm the authenticity of such an adornment, because most likely it is not original to the bag. Check how it is attached. If it's glued, most definitely it is a later addition. Original designer ornaments with rhinestones, enamel or beads were usually bezel, prong-, or pave-set on the frame or clasp. The examples of such original decorations include expensive collectibles by Harry Rosenfeld, Koret, Lucille de Paris, and especially Martin Van Schaak, whose spectacuar, gold-plated handbag jewelry was attached to the bag's body by special holders inserted through the perforated opening on the bag's front panel.
To put it short, if you've found a vintage bag with unusual features (e.g. different materials on the body; jeweled ornaments; metal or plastic straps), carefully inspect the bag to confirm its 100% authenticity before paying a high price.