If you found an affordable vintage piece with condition flaws, such as a broken handle or dull skins, don’t shy away. A skillful restorer could bring it back to life by replacing the handle and refurbishing the skins.
One of my customers shared an interesting story about the beautiful vintage crocodile handbag he purchased for his wife: "Let me share this with you. I bought a '40s Bellestone purse from you for my wife. She complained that the handle was “old style” in the pocketbook fashion and that wasn’t the style nowadays. So after much reflection I looked through my belt rack and found a real croc belt I’ve had for more than 10 years. After much research I came across a Russian shoemaker. He didn’t even speak English, but his wife worked with him in their shop. He took my belt and cut it both in length and width to match the original handle. In fact, when I was relaying my wishes to his wife, she had me spell and pronounce the word “width” several times for her. The purse looks astounding. The belt matches in every way (color and grain). It now hangs from her shoulder. I tell her friends how it came to be and then turn the strap over to show them the “40” imprinted on it and explain that that is my waist size and now when my wife carries this bag she’s carrying a little bit of me with her. I thought you might enjoy the story and thanks again. I’m sure we’ll do business again, God willing." What a lovely story, indeed! Follow your own sense of style when deciding on a replacement, and be creative.
First, carefully inspect the body of the bag—especially the gussets—for dryness, separation, peeling and cracking, by checking worn stress points. Gently flex them to see between the scales. Avoid handbags with torn gussets; they cannot be repaired. Pay close attention to the most vulnerable areas where the handle is attached to the bag. Stay away from dry and brittle skins. If the skins are soft, pliable and full of life—with no cracks, tears, or breaks—buy it.
Tarnished brass hardware can be cleaned and polished. However, it is not recommended buying bags with badly corroded or bent frames, or broken clasps and closures. Broken handles can be replaced with new ones made from matching skin or leather, or updated with a stylish chain strap.
If replacing the handle of an important collectible, stick to the original design to preserve its historic appeal. Dramatic modification reduces its value considerably.
For the skin restoration, hire a person with proven experience. Dull skins can be freshened up, polished, re-dyed, or re-glazed. However, it is important to remember that re-glazing should be used as a last resort, and done by a professional. Applied incorrectly, directly on the dirty skin, the shiny film could soon peal off. Use professional restoration services to repair valuable collectibles.