We understand your passion for fashion and collecting vintage and antique treasures. If purses are your latest obsession, it’s essential to understand what makes a vintage purse valuable. In addition to having your finances in order, there are a few other factors to consider.
To start your journey, it’s crucial to educate yourself about these treasures and explore some of the most valuable vintage purses available. This article will provide you with all the necessary information. But first, let’s delve into the distinction between antique and vintage, as well as the history of purses!
Vintage Vs. Antique Purses
What sets vintage and antique purses apart? While these terms are often used interchangeably to describe older pieces, they have distinct meanings. First and foremost, the difference lies in the names. According to Pediaa, antique purses are at least 100 years old, while vintage purses are younger, typically between 40 and 100 years old. Most vintage purses were made between 1922 and 1999.
It’s worth noting that the definition of vintage can vary, and some individuals may consider last season’s item as vintage. As a purse buyer, how do you define vintage?
Now, let’s delve into the history of vintage and antique purses.
History of Vintage and Antique Purses
Vintage and antique purses have captivated fashion enthusiasts for ages. Their beauty, coupled with their historical significance, translates to high value in the vintage fashion world. As fashion evolves over time, the age of clothing can significantly impact its value. Purses and handbags are excellent collectible options, provided they are in pristine condition.
Bags for personal possessions date back to the Ice Age. The body of a man who lived approximately 5,300 years ago was discovered in the Tyrolean Alps, accompanied by a leather pouch containing herbs. This discovery proves that bags existed even in the medieval period. However, for the purposes of this article, our focus will be on purses from the 16th century to the 20th century.
Each vibrant vintage or antique purse tells its own unique story, representing the era from which it originates.
16th Century Purses
During the 16th century, Tiny Bags became increasingly popular as status symbols. Ornate dress handbags and Elizabethan purses also gained prominence.
Handcrafted from vegetable-tanned goat and calf skins, purses in the 16th century were dyed using period-specific dyes. Towards the end of the century, embroidered purses, known as sweete bags, emerged. These purses were often gifts and were used to carry scented herbs or gold coins.
Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Elizabethan sweete bags!
An exquisite example is this 16th century lady pear-shaped purse, inspired by Pieter Bruegel’s 1568 painting, “The Peasant Dance.” Leatherworker Karl Robinson sold this purse for $76.
17th Century Purses
Prior to the 17th century, both men and women carried purses for practical purposes by attaching them to belts or fabric waistbands. However, as pockets began to appear in men’s clothing during the late 16th century, purses became more of a luxury than a necessity for men. Nevertheless, women’s purses continued to evolve and became increasingly stylish and feminine during the 17th century.
Crafted from silk and velvet, purses from this era were typically no larger than 5 by 4 inches. These purses often had tassels and were used to carry perfumed powder, dried herbs, and flowers. They also served as sewing kits or gaming bags, featuring intricate shapes and embroideries as men gradually stopped carrying purses.
A 17th century ‘sweetmeat’ purse
A 17th century French gaming purse at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
18th Century Purses
The 18th century saw the creation of intricately beaded and embroidered purses. These purses are highly sought after by collectors, as they exhibit exceptional craftsmanship. Among the various stitching techniques employed, the complex Queen’s stitch was particularly favored over Irish stitch, satin stitch, or buttonhole stitch for creating reticles and pocketbooks. If you come across a reticle or pocketbook made in America using Queen’s stitch, it’s worth considering as a valuable purchase.
Beadwork pocketbooks with tiny beads, such as sable beads from Paris, were also extremely desirable due to their exquisite artistry.
A rare 18th Century French sable beaded purse. Source: Pinterest
Misers, also known as ring, stocking, or long purses, were prevalent during this period. These silk purses were usually 19 to 24 inches long and popular in France and England. Misers featured a vertical slit for retrieving coins and sliders to close the ends. They came in striped or colored designs, often adorned with silk tassels.
Misers from the 18th century
19th Century Purses
The 19th century brought forth an array of purse designs that were both visually stunning and diverse. Visual artist and French empress Josephine played a significant role in popularizing designer purses during this era.
Reticules, also known as ridicules during the Victorian era, came in various shapes, patterns, and materials such as straw, paper, wood, and ivory. They were either equipped with drawstring tops or sewn flat by hand to showcase a lady’s feminine prowess.
In addition to reticules, purses mounted on frames, pockets, and misers were also prevalent. However, the quality of misers had declined, as they were now crocheted rather than knitted.
An American 19th century silk & metal purse at the Met Museum
20th Century Purses
The 20th century holds a special place in the hearts of fashion collectors looking to acquire vintage purses. With the Industrial era in full swing, purses became larger and more practical for travel.
Popular makers like Cameo and Bosco produced many leather purses, often mounted in Jemco frames. This period marked a shift toward mirror design trends, the use of unconventional materials, and the incorporation of ethnic and cultural motifs.
Types of Valuable Vintage and Antique Purses
Now that we’ve explored the history of vintage and antique purses, let’s discuss the various types of purses that hold significant value.
Antique Gold Mesh Purses
Gold mesh purses gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These purses were meticulously handcrafted using gold or silver materials, resulting in unique textures and styles. When manufacturers began using more affordable materials like brass, steel, and metal, gold mesh purses became more accessible to the general public. Today, a gold mesh purse can be a statement piece for a dressy evening outfit.
Jewel Framed Antique Purses
Antique purses with jewel-encrusted metal frames are true works of art. The value of these collectibles depends on the materials used for the frame and the jewelry. Sterling silver or gold frames adorned with diamonds and emeralds can fetch high prices, with some collectors willing to pay up to $11,000 for an antique purse.
Vintage Lucite Handbags
Despite their reputation as cheap and low-quality materials today, plastic items in the 1950s and 60s exuded glamour and extravagance. Lucite handbags and purses added a touch of glitz to the fashion world. Lucite, a durable type of plastic developed by the American chemical company DuPont in 1931, made its way from military operations in World War II to the fashion industry. Companies such as Gilli Originals, Charles Foster, Arnold Originals, and Charles S. Khan incorporated Lucite into their designs.
Vintage Purses by Fancied Luxury Brands
Brands like Gucci, Prada, and Chanel have become household names, and their association with luxury is well-known. While some may opt for counterfeit Gucci items due to their high price tags, owning an authentic luxury brand purse is a dream for many. Other designer brands known for their exceptional purses include Louis Vuitton, Celine, Dior, Hermes, Fendi, and Versace.
Nantucket Lightship Basket Purses
Nantucket lightship basket purses are another type of highly sought-after vintage purse. These unique purses, resembling baskets, gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Most Nantucket purses were handmade, with lightship crewmen crafting them during their time at sea. Jose Formoso Reyes, Lisa Bessette, and Stephen Gibbs are renowned designers whose Nantucket purses are particularly valuable due to the labor-intensive process involved in creating them.
Antique Micro-Beaded Purses
Imagine the time and skill required to create a purse adorned with thousands of tiny beads. That’s precisely what went into making antique micro-beaded purses, contributing to their significant value. If you come across a well-preserved antique micro-beaded purse priced above $2,500, don’t hesitate to add it to your collection.
Characteristics of Valuable Antique and Vintage Purses
While the type and brand of a vintage or antique purse are crucial factors, other characteristics also determine its value.
Purses with unique designs often fetch higher prices, especially if they come from luxury brands or renowned designers.
The condition of an antique purse for its age is a vital consideration. Pristine condition is particularly important for micro-beaded purses, as they require meticulous workmanship. When assessing a purse, check for tears, stains, scuffs, and any unpleasant odors to determine its value.
Representative of its Era
Owning an antique purse that perfectly embodies its era adds immense value to your collection. Each period in the history of vintage and antique purses showcases distinct creative influences.
Where to Buy Vintage and Antique Purses
Now that you’re eager to find your perfect vintage or antique purse, where should you look? Here are a few options:
Online platforms such as Etsy, eBay, Ruby Lane, 1stDibs, Macy’s Online, and Nordstrom Second-hand Online Store offer a wide selection of vintage designer purses and handbags, many of which are in excellent condition. These popular sites provide a convenient substitute when you can’t visit a physical store. A simple Google search for “valuable vintage/antique purses” can also yield fruitful results.
Both live and online auctions are excellent sources for vintage purses. Online auction sites often provide better odds of finding multiple vintage purses in good condition.
Professionally organized estate sales offer vintage purses previously owned by other fashion enthusiasts. These sales provide an opportunity to satisfy your vintage fashion needs in a hassle-free manner.
Vintage clothing boutiques, antique shops with clothing and accessories sections, and upscale clothing consignment shops are ideal destinations for serious vintage buyers. These specialty retailers offer valuable vintage purses without the hassle of searching through mainstream stores.
19 Vintage and Antique Purses Worth Buying
If you’re ready to make a purchase, here are 19 gorgeous vintage and antique purses that deserve your attention:
A 1900s Russian Gold Mesh Purse – On sale for $25,000 on eBay.
An extremely rare 20th-century mesh purse – Worth $28,277, this antique 18 karat yellow gold vintage purse weighs 257g.
Ladies Antique Gold Mesh Purse – This 14 karat yellow gold mesh knit purse from the 20th century weighs 151.4 grams and costs $10,500 on 1stDibs.
Circa 1914 Antique Sterling Silver Mesh Purse – This unique 1914 Art Nouveau mesh purse made of sterling silver is $1,000 on Etsy.
An Antique Davis Hall Nantucket Lightship Basket – With its warm color, this Nantucket purse made in the 1880s aboard the South Shoals Lightship is priced at $4,800.
Vintage Jose Formoso Reyes Nantucket Basket Purse – Crafted in 1977 by Jose Formoso Reyes, this Nantucket friendship basket purse is valued at $3,000.
Rare Vintage Nantucket Lightship Basket – This signed and dated Stanley M Roop purse from the 1970s is available for $2,850 on Etsy.
A Lisa Bessette Nantucket Lightship Basket – Consider the classic 9″ oval Lisa Bessette Nantucket purse featured on the cover of Cape Cod magazine, priced at $900.
Rare William De Lillo Jeweled Gilt Metal & Leather Evening Bag – This rare vintage off-white leather purse from the 1960s, set in a rhinestone frame, commands $4,000.
Hobe Bezel Set Crystal Jeweled Encrusted Frame – In excellent condition, this purse is worth $1,849 on eBay.
An Antique Gemstone Encrusted Amethyst Victorian 800 Silver Purse Frame – This rare Victorian amethyst gemstone encrusted antique purse frame from the 1900s is valued at $895 on Etsy.
A Josef Bag w. HOBE Jeweled Frame Purse – Featuring a JOSEF Bag with a HOBE Jeweled Frame signed by Saks Fifth Ave, this purse is priced at $1,750.
Antique Microbeaded Purse – A scenic purse with exceptional enamel and jewel frame, this microbeaded antique is worth $1,599.
Exceptional Microbeaded Purse – This early 20th-century microbeaded purse with a hand-beaded and braided tassel handle costs $2,800.
Antique Beaded Purse – An exquisite antique beaded purse with a colorful, intricate landscape scene is valued at $1,250.
Vintage Chanel Purse – This vintage Chanel accessory shoulder purse, made from ivory leather Lambskin, is priced at $4,999 on eBay.
Vintage Louis Vuitton Luxury Bag – This rare Louis Vuitton luxury shoulder bag from the 1990s is available for $1,226.
Vintage Wilardy Marbleized Gray Pearl Lucite Purse – This highly collectible Wilardy marbleized silvery gray lucite box purse from the 1950s is listed for $425 on Etsy.
A Vintage Lucite Purse – This original Rialto NY clear and white pearled lucite bag from the 1950s can be yours for $345.
You now possess all the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision when purchasing vintage or antique purses. From understanding the various types and their characteristics to knowing where to buy your dream purse, this comprehensive guide has you covered. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming the proud owner of a valuable vintage or antique purse. Enjoy your newfound treasure!