Flaws & Damages
The price you pay for your vintage bag always depends on its condition. Avoid buying a handbag in lesser than excellent condition for your collection. Before making your decision, be certain to understand its condition details. To know exactly which questions to ask of your vintage vendor, make sure to read our tips on how to identify flaws and damages in vintage handbags.
Slight wear, scuffing, or insignificant soiling is almost inevitable and can be easily corrected by expert cleaning and polishing. Dry rot, cracks and tears, broken seams, discoloration or darker spots, broken or missing parts, bad repairs, damaged or dirty interior, musty odor or cigarette smell, etc. are the serious flaws to avoid. Remember that the worst damage—dry rot caused by time, use and elements — cannot be seen from a distance, or in pictures. To detect it, you must physically touch and feel the skin, to be sure it is flexible, soft and pliable. Do not buy a bag if its skin is brittle, with dark dry spots that peel or flake. The skins damaged by dry rot are very fragile. On contact with moisture or heat, or on impact, the dry spots could crack and break. Avoid bags with bent, corroded, or broken frames or clasps. They cannot be mended.
Even though nobody but you can see behind the “closed clasp,” a clean interior does matter. Major flaws (significant soiling, spots, scuffing, dye loss, odor, pen marks, lipstick, nail polish, water stains, broken zippers, torn pockets) undermine the bag’s functionality and appearance, and reflect on its value.
If you see a bag with “unique” details and features, thoroughly inspect them to be certain they are original and not recently added. Are the “gems” prong-set in the bed of the frame, as on originals, or simply glued on top, or directly to the skin? Is the chain the same color and quality as the handle attachments and frame? Remember that only original vintage is collectible, thus valuable.
Handles are the most fragile part of the bag that gets damaged first. Visible stress marks or multiple surface cracks hiding inside wear-spots could later turn into a break and undermine its value. Replacements also matter. They are OK if you buy vintage to wear, but not to collect. To determine if the handle is original, check its material, shape, and color. The replacement could be made from skin, leather, or vinyl; or a belt (check the back for the markings). Usually, replacements are remarkably “alert,” unlike the originals that are slightly mishapen from storage. Unless, it is a structured handle by Bellestone (rolled, with an inside tube-like rubber core), or Lucille de Paris (semi-rigid, with an internal metal band). In this case, the original must be perfectly arched. Replacements usually don't match in color, especially on brown and colored bags. Chain-straps (plastic or metal) on mid- to large size skin bags (e.g. Vassar, etc) are usually the replacements, too (vintage belts or necklaces), except for some small evening bags by Lucille de Paris and Koret (from the '50s-'60s). If you decide to replace the handle, do your best to coordinate it with the original design, style and proportions, to preserve its historical appeal and secure its value.