What’s it Worth? How to Price Your Vintage Finds on Etsy

estate sale

Running a vintage shop can be really fun. I love going to estate sales never knowing what I might find. While some women love a day at the mall, my idea of fun is poking through mountains of stuff accumulated over decades that for one reason or another is being discarded. The more piles and stashes, the more nooks and crannies, the better the shopping experience. I’m perfectly content to sift through all manner of junk in search of treasures, and I often sink into a kind of trance, in danger of forgetting that I’m supposed to be working. Estate sales are where I find most of my inventory for my Etsy shop, Premium Transitions. With that in mind, I try to reign myself in and limit my purchases to things with potential resale appeal.

The danger for me, as someone trying to build a vintage resale business, is getting so caught up in the fun part–estate sale finds–that I neglect the real work involved in actually making sales. A few great finds during a morning estate sale run and I’m riding high–then reality sets in after I arrive home and survey the work ahead. Everything has to be cleaned, researched, priced, photographed, and listed. I’ve become more efficient since I opened my shop over a year ago but these steps still take up significant time. Researching and pricing, in particular, can bog me down for hours. Google search is a little like going down Lewis Carroll’s proverbial rabbit hole which, according to Urban Dictionary, means to “enter a period of chaos or confusion”–a very apt metaphor.

Anyway, don’t mean to discourage anyone! I have, actually, become better at the researching and pricing game over time so thought it would be a good topic for a post. Of course, I’m still learning. But here are a few tips I’m able to share so far:

  1. Bookmark. Harkening back to the rabbit hole analogy, it’s very easy to click your way through a research session without tracking where you’ve been. The excitement of finding a piece of information that actually relates to your item can make you forget about saving the source. I’ve found it very useful to create folders on Chrome, such as “Vintage Purses,” where I bookmark useful sites. Having these valuable resources at your fingertips can save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

    Finding great stuff is the fun part–then comes figuring out what you’ve got.
  2. Review Similar Listings. One of the first steps in my research is looking at similar items on Etsy and other online marketplaces, like eBay. On Etsy, it’s not unusual to find the exact same item listed in other shops but at a range of prices. Finding “sold” listings is somewhat helpful as it tells you that the item is desirable but Etsy does not list the sold price.  When looking at what’s available, I try to get a sense of the price range and price mine somewhere in the middle. Others might be trying to sell the same item for much more but price doesn’t equal value. I try to get a feel for the range of prices and land somewhere in the middle. Remember, shoppers see the same range in their search results and know they can get the same item for less at another shop.
  3. Pay Attention to What Sells. Continuing to use purses as an example, I  eventually settled into a few price points based on what was selling. Most of my purses sell for somewhere between $18-$55 depending on the condition, label, materials, and style. Beaded bags made in Japan or Hong Kong often sell on the high end while basic satin or faux-leather clutches with no labels are on the lower en
    This beautiful vintage 1950s-era clutch is now listed in my shop. I love the tiny pearl flowers and sequins.

    d of the range. Certain bags, such as mesh pouches from the 1920s or 30s, can fetch a lot more if they’re attractive to collectors. Once you decide on a general price range, put it out there and monitor its views in your shop stats. You can always make changes as you go. Correct pricing often comes through trial and error. No matter how much you might think or hope something is worth, the market dictates its value to buyers.

  4. Don’t Lowball. While you shouldn’t overprice your items, neither should you undercut the market if you’re trying to build a quality brand. Low prices might help attract bargain hunters but they can also make your shop look cheap. Besides, your prices should also reflect the time and effort you spend as a curator of vintage goods. Think of it this way: Scouring estate or yard sales is not everyone’s cup of tea no matter what bargains may be waiting for them. By shopping on Etsy, they have access to a curated selection of vintage goods that they can browse at their leisure on their computer and have delivered to their doorstep. That’s worth something!

    A cool silvery mesh purse from the 1940s.
  5. Specialize. When I first started my shop I tested things out to see what would sell, and I’m still doing that to some extent. However, specializing in a few types of items makes sense in terms of efficiency. In my case, I started with vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware, which are still dependable sellers, then expanded to other areas such as vintage purses. Once I started to accumulate a number of midcentury bags I began to recognize names on designer tags and to differentiate between genuine vintage and modern lookalikes. I spent some time reading vintage fashion and purse blogs, like Bag Lady University and Collectors Weekly, among others. Now, I am not only much more likely to pick up a genuine vintage bag at a sale but also better able to describe and price it in my listing.

    Besides purses, I’ve also begun to specialize in vintage jewelry.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more tips on running a vintage shop and check out my last post on Lessons Learned from my First Year on Etsy. I welcome your comments!

1950s Fashion: Decade of the Plastic Handbag

The Lucite Craze: Geometric Gems

The Lucite handbag is one of the most iconic fashion accessories of the 1950s. Collectors Weekly describes them as “geometric gems” that looked like “portable jewel boxes turned inside out.” The cylindrical or box-shaped purses came in a variety of colors and inventive designs. Some, for example, doubled as compacts or jewel boxes. Many were adorned with glitter, rhinestones, or elaborate carvings.

The Lucite bag fell out of popular favor in the 1960s, along with the introduction of vinyl, a more versatile and cheaper alternative. Little did the designers of the day suspect that the “fad” was far from over! Following is a brief overview of some of the most famous designers of the popular and enduring Lucite bag.

 Wilardy Originals began in New York in 1946, the brainchild of Charles William Hardy and his son William Hammond Hardy. Charles was a mathematics wiz and a crack businessman, according to his grandson, Billy Hardy, while William was the artistic visionary. Will ran the business from the 1960s to the 1980s, during which time he designed his now-famous Lucite handbags.

Vintage Handbags
Vanity purses laminated with colored or gold glitter, such as these examples from Wilardy, were popular throughout the 1950s.

Vanity purses laminated with colored or gold glitter, such as these examples from Wilardy, were popular throughout the 1950s. (CollectorsWeekly).

It’s interesting to hear Billy’s story of w hat it was like growing up in this entrepreneurial and artistic family. Following is an excerpt from “Wilardy History” on Wilardy Original’s web site:

 “My father’s concept of “summer camp” was to bring me to the factory and show me how the business was run. The din of the factory was something to be experienced: the whine of the table saws and routers reducing raw material from large sheets into smaller parts; the gasp of vacuum pumps shaping heated plastic into various shapes; the clack of various hydraulic presses stamping out parts; the treadmill-like churning of huge sanding belts being sprayed and lubricated with water; the gentle rhythmic ticking of the riveters attaching hinges, clasps, and handles; and the lapping of the wheels of buffing machines, as every scratch was slowly removed to produce the finished product. The smell of the glues and solvents used to fuse together the plastic joints, the gassing off of the plastics from the friction of cutting tools, and even the tape used to box and ship the product added to the experience.”

1950s Handbags by Willardy Originals (from the company's website).
1950s Handbags by Wilardy Originals (from the company’s website).

Billy Hardy didn’t see his friends’ mothers with these purses and couldn’t understand where all the interest was coming from. But he soon realized they were something special:

“What I didn’t realize was that these were very exclusive items costing plenty at the time. These lucite purses were being sold in Hollywood, Miami, Paris, London, and Fifth Avenue in New York.”

 

Vintage handbags
Will’s Brother-in-law with a Wilardy Original purse display.
vintage handbags
A Wilardy accordian style bag.

Other Famous Makers 

Llewellyn. Llewellyn Bley made elaborately styled handbags that commanded high prices in the 1950s, despite being made of plastic, says Collectors Weekly. Llewellyn known for his innovative designs in Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles. One of his most famous creations was the Beehive, which featured three brass bees on its lid. Llewellyn was a master of making hard plastic appear soft, with sides that appear to be pleated or fanned. The Conestoga Wagon purse, for example, looks like a duffle bag with twisted handles.

Llewellyn was known for its carved Lucite bags, as well as ones like this one made from shell, a hard plastic material composed of cellulose acetate. (Source: CollectorsWeekly).
Llewellyn was known for its carved Lucite bags, as well as ones like this one made from shell, a hard plastic material composed of cellulose acetate. (Source: CollectorsWeekly)

Charles S. Kahn. This Florida designer produced bags in shapes of hat boxes, barrels, drums, and cylinders in a variety of bright, flashy colors and finishes. According to a feature on vintage bags in a 2007 issue of Country Living, plastic handbags designed by Kahn are often identifiable by a distinctive clasp featuring three metal balls and a paper label placed inside the purse below the hinge of the lid. Plastic purses in bright colors like red, aqua, emerald green, and pink are among the most rare and valuable for collectors, according to the article. Design, color, trim, and condition are the most important factors to consider because cracks, crazing, or warping cannot be repaired.

Charles Kahn purse
A Charles H. Kahn purse that was featured in Country Living. It was valued at approx. $900 back in 2007 when the article was written.

Myles Originals, by Artistic Display Company, was the first lucite bag maker in Miami, according to brief history by Bag Lady University, and were popular among affluent resort vacationers to Florida after WWII. The company introduced a composite material called Lamoplex–sheets of plastic with materials like metal strips laminated between–to create a crushed-crayons effect.

myles original bag
A Myles Originals “sports bag” with Lamoplex top and removable compact inside (from Bag Lady University.)
From Bag Lady University: This bag in black and gray is illustrated on page 22 of "Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear," by Kate Dooner. A green example sold online for $178 in 2005.
From Bag Lady University: This bag in black and gray is illustrated on page 22 of “Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear,” by Kate Dooner. A green example sold online for $178 in 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Resources

Looking for more details on vintage bags? Here are some websites that I’ve found helpful:

Wilardy Originals. The web site for the 1950s designer of Lucite handbags features vintage photos, catalogs, and a history of the company.

Guides from Yoogi’s Closet, luxury goods reseller.

PurseBlog: An active blog with links to guides on buying new and vintage designer bags.

The Hermes Birkin Authenticity Guide: 5 Tips to ensure the Birkin You’re Buying is real.

Plastic Handbags: Sculpture to Wear, by Kate E. Dooner. Beautiful photos of over 300 classic plastic handbags. Available on Amazon.

Bag Lady University: A companion site to the vintage bag seller, Bag Lady Emporium, that features great information on the makers and history of vintage bags and jewelry.

A Guide to Shopping for Vintage Purses: The Reticule

Celebrating the reticule Dainty drawstring bags called reticules were fashionable in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “a woman’s small netted or other bag, especially with a drawstring, carried or worn to serve the purpose of a pocket.” As that definition suggests, the bags were initially … Read more