Antiques Roadshow Insider : July 2002

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A handbag is more than just an accessory; It's also a fashion statement. We asked the experts to fill you in on what's trendy in this unusual collecting niche.

You may want to take a second look in your Aunt Florence's attic and closets for old handbags that are gathering dust. Even if they don't strike you as a fashion statement, they could be worth a significant amount to dealers who specialize in retro accessories.


Madeline Meyerowitz, owner of enokiworld, an online vintage clothing emporium, says that figural bags are always popular, citing examples that depict - can you imagine? - straw poodles and 3-D strawberries. Sure bets for top-dollar resale; vintage all-leather or suede Gucci, Hermes, Loewe and Roberta di Camerino. These designer bags have "old money" sensibility, Meyerowitz says, adding that they make it seem like the person carrying them "has always been 'in the know' about style.".

Meyerowitz's internet site showcases a decidedly retro-hip feel that captures the day's trends. Products for sale feature enticing, often sassy descriptions, offering suggestions for which current designer clothing you might wear with a particular handbag. Example; If you're interested in a 1960's Magid raffia "beehive" handbag ($135), you should "forget the beehive hairdo and pair the bag with a fringed minidress and Roger Vivier satin shoes.".


If you plan to use - rather than display or store - a vintage handbag that looks worn, you're better off getting it professionally restored and cleaned. On the other hand, don't purchase an antique handbag in awful condition if your hope is to make it valuable. Savvy handbag collectors. says dealer Madeline Meyerowitz, can tell whether a handbag has been repaired. You may pay more for one that's in great condition, but a repaired bag has little or no value. If you buy vintage bags mainly as collectibles, be careful about how you store them. Direct sunlight, humidity, heat and dust can damage handbags, so protecting them on shelves in a closet, says Meyerowitz, is one way to keep them in good condition.


Ultimately, it's personal tastes that determine this market's direction. Meyerowitz, a self-confessed handbag junkie and savvy fashion aficionado, has a tough time deciding whether or not to add a new bag to her collection. She considers "keepers" those bags that she'll be able to use with her wardrobe at least twice. For her, collecting is a passion; she never adds a bag to her inventory if she doesn't like it herself, regardless of its potential value. Her personal prizes; several Bonnie Cashin bags designed for Coach that were valued at $250 three years ago. Today, she has seen them fetch as much as $1,000 at auction. Like all collectors, Meyerowitz has regrets about handbags she has passed over. The "one that got away" from her was a red suede Gucci boxcar bag from the 1960s.


It's never easy to predict which styles in vintage bags will attract attention in the future. But, experts say, female collectors are drawn more to vintage handbags than clothes. "Women who don't normally deal with vintage clothing will go for a great vintage bag," says Madeline. "The human hand doesn't differ as much as the human body" - which means buyers may not bother with vintage clothing because of sizing issues, but may be more likely to snap up a great vintage bag. "If you can make a fist, you can carry a bag", she says.