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.

Famous Vintage Handbag Styles from the 1930s-1990s

A Brief Survey of Famous Designer Bags from the 1930s – 1990s

While there are a great many vintage bags—with and without attached brand names—a few have attained almost mythical status over the years. Typically, a bag might become wildly popular after catching the eye of a celebrity who made it part of her signature look. Some bags had fleeting popularity when introduced then faded out of view, only to reemerge years later on a wave of nostalgia.

For this post, I’ve picked out some famous designer bags starting in the 1930s and extending into the 1990s. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these beauties will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in vintage fashion. Many of them are now coveted collectibles that fetch astronomical prices, if you can find them at all.

The 1930s

 The Alma. Named after the Alma bridge over the river Seine, this domed satchel by Louis Vuitton was introduced in 1934 and reflected the Art Deco style of the time. The bag is distinctive for its structured design, long zipper extending over the entire arc of the purse, and rigid handles. Jackie Onassis and Audrey Hepburn—icons of sophistication—were big fans.

vintage Louis Vuitton bag
The most structured of the iconic Louis Vuitton handbags, the Alma was originally designed in the 1930s by Gaston-Louis Vuitton. (photo from Louis Vuitton)

Vuitton also introduced its Speedy Bag during this decade, a structured bag with cowhide leather handles and logo canvas.

Vintage Louis Vuitton bag
The Speedy Bag, shown here in a modern pink version, was originally designed for travelers in 1930, according to Louis Vuitton‘s website.The post-WWII years signaled a return to better economic times, fueling the rise of designer luxury handbags.

The 1940s and 1950s

The Gucci Bamboo Bag. Although this bag is now considered the height of luxury, it was designed with value in mind. European countries were rationing resources after the end of World War II so Gucci artisans began experimenting with bamboo imported from Japan, according to PurseBlog. The bamboo was heated and bent to form the handles. Once attached to the bag and cooled, the wood retained its shape.

Gucci Bamboo Bag 1960s
Bamboo handled bags became an instant hit after WWII and continued to be popular into the 1960s. (Photo from Purse Blog).

The Kelly Bag. This classic bag made by Hermes was named for movie star Grace Kelly, who used it in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film “To Catch a Thief.” It is shaped like a trapezoid and made of leather, with ballasts and clasps made of white or yellow gold. Each bag is crafted individually and takes about 25 hours to make.

Grace Kelly may have been rich and famous but she appreciated a good value and probably would have been a fan of vintage purses if she was alive today. Signs of wear and tear on her original Kelly handbag suggest that she carried the same one for many years, according to an article in The Guardian.

Grace Kelly with her Hermes Kelly bag
The Kelly bag became part of fashion history in 1956 when Grace Kelly attempted to protect her pregnant stomach from paparazzi photographers. (Photo from MyLuciousLife.com)

The 2.55 Flap Bag. Introduced in 1955 by Coco Chanel, the flap bag features a double flap with a mademoiselle closure and metal chain. According to Eugenia (Yoogi) and Simon Han, co-founders of Yoogiscloset, which resells vintage luxury goods, Coco wanted a bag that could be easily flung over the shoulder or arm so she could keep her hands free.

Variations to the original Flap Bag over the years include leather interwoven through the chain, use of different leathers and fabrics, and a single instead of a double flap.

Black Chanel Flap Bag
Chanel Classic Flap Bag (photo from Yoogi’s Closet)

The Jackie Bag by Gucci. As its name implies, this timeless bag was created for Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Genuine bags have the signature Gucci piston clasp and are handmade in Italy.

Vintage Gucci bag
The Jackie Bag is displayed in the Gucci museum in Florence, along with the horse bit, the bamboo handle and the double-G logo, according to Designer Vintage. Gucci designed the bag in the fifties and initially named it the Fifties Constance.

The 1970s

The Coach Willis bag. This was Coach’s best-selling handbag and the first to incorporate its signature dowel frame, according to Glamour.

Vintage Coach bag Willis
The classic Coach Willis bag.

The 1980s

Birkin Bag. Introduced in 1984, the Birkin bag was named for actress Jane Birkin and has become a symbol of wealth, class and fashion, according to BragMyBag. It is carefully handcrafted of genuine calf, crocodile, ostrich, or lizard leather and each bag is handmade individually.

The bag has a famous back story, according to Purseblog. Hermes CEO Pierre Louis Dumas was sitting next to Jane Birkin on a plane in 1981 and saw she was struggling with her carry-on luggage and complaining about the lack of suitable leather handbags for traveling. The encounter inspired Dumas to start working on a leather bag that would combine fashion with function.

Customers who can afford a Kelly or Birkin bag often wait a year or more for them to be individually handcrafted by Parisian artisans. And it isn’t exactly clear whether you can simply purchase one or whether you need to be a celebrity or have some special in with the folks at Hermes. Today, Birkins sell for upwards of $10,000.

The 1990s

The Lady Dior Bag. Like the Kelly bag, this purse was named for royalty, says PurseBlog. The bag was presented to Princess Diana in 1995 by French First Lady Bernadette Chirac. Diana carried it so after that that it was dubbed Lady Dior in her honor.

Christian-Dior-Lady-Dior-Bag-Feature
A modern take on the Lady Dior bag. (photo from Purse Blog)

The Baguette Bag. This bag was introduced by Fendi in the late 1990s and was often featured on the TV show “Sex and the City.” Designed by Silvia Venturini, the bag was made to fit under the arm like a loaf of bread. The bags have been made from many materials, from denim, to pony skin, to crocodile, notes The Richest blog.

P00062336-BAGUETTE-PATENT-LEATHER-SHOULDER-BAG-DETAIL_2
The Fendi Baguette, designed in 1997 by Silvia Venturini. (Photo from The Richest)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never come across one of these storied bags in real life but I do love searching for stylish vintage purses. Here are a few of my favorite finds (photos link to listings on Etsy):

1950s handbag
A 1950s top handle beaded handbag made by Walborg. $50.
1950s handbag
A Kelly-style1950s top handle bag with matching coin purse made by Dorian.
1940s handbag
A 1940s black silk bag made by Ingbar. Vintage brooch and earrings by Trifari.
1950s handbag
A 1950s silk bag with matching coin purse by Morris Moskowitz. (to be listed soon).

Vintage Purse Guide: Evening Bags and Clutches

Clutches, evening bags, box purses and more! Before World War I, most women didn’t carry any sort of handbag or purse. However, as the century progressed, fashion evolved to suit their changing habits and lifestyles. Young women were getting away from wearing the long, full, ample-pocketed skirts and dresses that their mothers and grandmothers wore, and turning toward styles more suitable for … Read more

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