How to buy vintage handbags at auction

In the market for a vintage bag? Fellows' auctioneers tell you what to look for

Yesterday (10th October) a red Porosus Crocodile Birkin 35 handbag from Hermès sold for £18,000 at Fellows Auctioneers in Birmingham. It's the sign of a growing trend for women seeking out covetable, and collectable, handbags at auction.

Fellows used to only tag a selection of handbags onto the end of its accessories sale but the demand became so high that it now hosts separate handbag-only auctions. Yesterday's saw a surge of eager women ready to bid on an array of Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Chanel bags.

While the Hermès bag made a record-breaking price for Fellows, other bags can be picked up at auction for much less - some £100 - and yet still be a glamorous investment. The benefit of auctions are that it's likely that you'll be able to snap up much more of a bargain than in a boutique.

We spoke to Alexandra Whittaker of Fellows Auctioneers following its summer showcase sale, The Designer Collection, to give you a guide on how to tackle the auction room in the search of the best deals on the most desired designer totes. We also asked her how handbags in the sale did to give you an idea of the price range.

Here are the auctioneer's top tips...

Do Your Research

Like any outing to find treasured antiques, it is essential to do some research. 'Take a look at what the item you are interested in sold for previously to make sure you are prepared to pay enough,' advises Alexandra. 

Most modern auction houses provide an archive of results to help bidders gain insight into the history of the products and their anticipated prices. 

1970s tricoloured vintage 'Kelly' handbag by Hermès (left) went for £1,800; tan leather handbag, Tiffany & Co (right), went for £180. All prices are results for Fellows' Designer Collection sale on 24th July 2016

Read Everything

Of course when buying anything antique or pre-owned you don't expect the condition to be as new, but it also doesn't mean that it should be completely worn. A quality bag or purse would hold its original form with the linings still intact. 

Catalogues will depict what the product is, but won't always tell you what it's like in the flesh. 'It is important to read the condition report to find out if there are any scuffs or marks,' ensures Alexandra. 

When it comes to handbags, designer labels are marks of promised quality. That said, don't let the emblem of a renowned designer be the sole reason for purchase when investing in a vintage piece if the insides are on their way out. 

Monogram cosmetic case, £840, monogram 'President Classeur' briefcase, £1,200, monogram 'Alzer 70' hard suitcase estimated at £1,400-£2,000 didn't sell, all Louis Vuitton


After trawling the catalogues and looking through condition reports you'll no doubt feel more clued up. Although it may be fun scouting for gems online, 'take advantage of an auction that's local to you,' says Alexandra. 'There is no substitute for viewing a lot in person as it lets you imagine owning it and reduces the chance of buyer's remorse!'

Quilted Mini Classic 'Flap' handbag, £920 (left), Maxi Classic 'Flap' handbag, £1,700 (right), both Chanel

What kind of bidder are you? 

For a first time bidder, learning how to bid can seem like a daunting task. There's being in the auction room itself but there are also three options if you can't make it: commission bidding, telephone bidding or live internet bidding.

For those who worry they might get carried away in the atmosphere of the auction, commission bidding is for you. 'You simply specify a maximum amount that you are willing to go up to and then the auctioneer will bid on your behalf,' Alexandra explains.

If you are feeling a little braver, however, phone or internet bidding may be the way. When phoning, an auction house employee will be your first port of call as they relay what's happening, but you have total control of your bidding. The same can be said for live internet bidding, as you watch everything from your screen and hit the bid button as you go. 

Apple green 'Swift Birkin 35' handbag, £7,600, Hermès

Ask if you're not sure

Auctions are very different to the average retail experience. 'Unlike the faceless internet corporations auction houses are relatively small and accessible with specialists that are passionate about their subject,' says Alexandra. 'Don't be afraid to ask or call the experts if you have any worries!'

(Left) A blue leather bowling handbag, £320, Miu Miu. Others that didn't sell were (from second left) a monogram 'Vernis Bedford' handbag, £120-£180, Louis Vuitton, pink embossed lambskin wallet, £120-£180, Chanel, amethyst monogram E'mpreinte Speedy 30 Bandouliere' handbag, £320-£420, Louis Vuitton

Fellows next handbag sale will on 9th December 2016 at Fellows saleroom, Augusta House, 19 Augusta Street, Birmingham, B18 6JA. 0121 212 2131;


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