January 12, 2017 / Luxury Lifestyle

Expert View: Collecting Vintage Luggage

Christie's New York-based Rachel Koffsky on the enduring charm of vintage luggage – and how today it's more likely to stay at home than travel the globe

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Antiques, objets d’art, designer furnishings… collecting is one of life’s great joys. And vintage luggage is a particular passion for many. New York-based Rachel Koffsky, a Christie's Associate Specialist, Handbags & Accessories, shares her collecting know-how with Luxury Defined.   

A Christie's auction is a reliable way of acquiring vintage luggage. Banner photograph: Detail of a monogram canvas man’s trunk by Louis Vuitton, 1992, which sold at Christie’s New York in September 2016 for $11,250 against a pre-sale estimate of $6,000-$8,000. Photographs: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2017Why is our love of old luggage so enduring?
If the thought of wheeling your nondescript black suitcase through an airport gives you pangs of anxiety, you are not alone. Today, getting from A to B can be a headache, a necessary evil so that you may arrive at your destination. Vintage luggage recalls a more sophisticated, glamorous, and jet-set lifestyle. It evokes the “Art of Travel,” a life of leisure. Whether it was by steamer ship, rail, or via Pan-Am, traveling used to be an event in itself.This Louis Vuitton monogram canvas wardrobe steamer trunk, c. 1935, sold at Christie’s New York in September 2016 for $7,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $6,000-$8,000. Photograph: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2017What type of luggage is particularly attractive, or collectible, and why?
Today, steamer trunks are the most collectible items of vintage luggage. Most often, they are used as decorative "furniture," such as coffee tables or storage. Other pieces that are very collectible are hard-sided suitcases. Whereas the massive weight of a steamer trunk makes it mostly impossible for travel usage today, these smaller cases could still serve their original purpose – with style! But as collector’s items, they are often stacked, as decor. Vintage jewelry cases and hat boxes are also chic accessories for the home.

Hat boxes are often used as chic home accessories; this monogram canvas <i>boîte à chapeaux</i> by Louis Vuitton sold at Christie’s New York in September 2016 for $875. Photograph: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2017Which are the most desirable brands?
The most collectible brands in vintage luggage are Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Goyard. Louis Vuitton [founded in Paris in 1854] outfitted the world’s most stylish travelers for generations, and innovated and invented many of the travel materials that we take for granted today, such as waterproof coated canvases. Hermès, meanwhile, [dating from 1837] created many of the small travel bag models, such as the Bolide, for automobile travel. These iconic models inspired generations of designers and have influenced almost all the bags you see on shelves today.

If you're buying luggage for its storage potential, as well as its decorative aesthetic, check the condition of its interior before buying. This Louis Vuitton monogram canvas jewelry case sold at Christie’s New York in September 2016 for $2,375 against a pre-sale estimate of $1,000-$1,500. Photograph: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2017What should collectors consider when buying vintage luggage at auction?
When considering a piece at auction, pay particular attention to its condition – including whether or not the piece has been restored. Cracked leather, missing handles, and peeling canvas often cannot be fixed. Whenever possible, ask to see the item in person at a viewing before the sale, or request additional images from the auction house. If you are planning on using the piece for storage, check that the interior is clear and odor-free. Steamer trunks and cases adorned with monograms and stickers from various far-away ports are especially appealing; they are interesting conversation pieces, and you can spin your own romantic back-story...

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