The buyer's guide to second-hand and vintage handbags

What's more enjoyable than buying a new designer handbag? Discovering an even better one that's cheaper.

Louis Vuitton bag

This Louis Vuitton multi pochette monogram Rose Clair handbag with dust bag and box sold for £950 at Vernon Fox in June 2022.

Of course, top fashion brands control the value of their wares by not discounting them. You won't find an 'Everything must go' sale in your local Tiffany store.

So how do you get designer brands at a price you can afford? The solution is to buy second hand.

Pre-owned handbags these days are not the worn-out items you might see at a community centre jumble sale; designer handbags are built to last and their owners tend to look after them very well, often using them only for special occasions and then selling them on.

Buying second hand also enables you to jump the queue. French fashion brand Hermes, for example, limits the number of new Birkin bags it makes available, meaning customers may have to wait up to six months to get their hands on one.

A good option for buying a second hand designer handbag is at auction. A number of auction houses now run specialist handbags departments staffed by experts to provide you with the opportunity to buy a designer handbag (or two), in good condition and at a great price. They hold sales at various points throughout the year and you will find their staff available to discuss with you the bag you are seeking and guide you through the bidding and buying process.

What determines value?

Factors that determine the value of a handbag include the brand, colour, material, condition and rarity of the item.

As a general rule, the more exclusive brands command higher prices, with limited edition examples commanding a premium due to their scarcity.

When it comes to materials, exotic leathers such as alligator, lizard, ostrich and snakeskin bags tend to fetch higher price tags as they are more expensive to produce than those made from other materials used in handbag production.

Hermès bag

This Hermès Birkin 40 Togo black leather handbag came with a receipt and dust bag and had been purchased in 2013 from Hermès Sloan Street. It sold at £8000 at Thomson Roddick in March 2022.

Condition is also a key determinant of value. Two 1960s Hermès Sac Malette for example can make very different prices due to this critical factor. It should be remembered though that pre-owned handbags are naturally likely to have signs of wear but they can be restored, including those well-loved vintage pieces.

If you don't fancy a modern bag and would prefer something a little bit different, look out for vintage handbags. Some designers have been reissuing older iconic looks in their new line-ups, thereby making the originals even more desirable.

Mulberry bag

This Mulberry Lily Grey leather handbag, with serial number 2376349, was originally purchased from Mulberry in Glasgow and has cotton dust bag and labels. It sold for £270 at Halls in July 2022.

Genuine vs reproduction

Plenty of counterfeit handbags have entered circulation and it is often very difficult for non-specialists to spot the subtle differences between genuine items and reproductions.

It’s important to be sure of the quality of the material, its texture, the design and shape of the bag, the quilting pattern, stitching, lining, locks, branding and logos, straps and zips.

Don’t be afraid to contact the auction house and ask questions relating to these matters. You can also ask the auctioneer about the provenance of the bag, whether it comes with its original packaging or original receipt of purchase.

Some handbags may be offered with authenticity cards, but it’s important to note that not all such cards are genuine. Check whether the numbers on the authenticity card match the bag’s serial number (which is often found somewhere within the handbag’s interior lining), and also have the right number of digits that should relate to the correct date of manufacture.

Always satisfy yourself that the item is genuine before bidding. 

Look for auction houses that hold dedicated designer sales. They will have a specialist trained to spot the real thing and will prevent fake items from being entered into their sale so you can bid with confidence.

Ultimately, genuine designer goods are well made from long-lasting materials which, along with the prestige of the brand, is why they are worth buying.

For further information view our guide on how to spot a fake designer handbag

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on to find handbags coming up for sale. You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different brands sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.


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