Your luggage is more than just a way to cart your belongings from point A to point B—it’s a fashion statement, a travel companion, and a reflection of your personal style. And for some people, vintage suitcases are the ultimate expression of all those things. But what exactly is vintage luggage? Is it simply any luggage that’s more than a few decades old? Or is there more to it than that?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about vintage luggage brands, their history, and everything else you need to identify and value your own pieces.
How Has Luggage Changed Over Time?
A hundred years back, only wealthy people could afford to travel by train or ship, and they brought along large, heavy trunks carried by an army of porters. But as travel became more commonplace and affordable, luggage needed to evolve to meet the modern traveler’s needs.
In the early 20th century, the train and automobiles became the primary means of long-distance travel. This required a lighter and more manageable type of luggage, so slim, leather valises and suitcases started to become popular. By the 1920s, companies like Hartmann, Samsonite, and Louis Vuitton were producing some of the most iconic and well-made luggage of the time.
As air travel became more common in the mid-20th century, even more changes were made to luggage. Now, weight and size restrictions meant travelers needed to pack even more efficiently. This led to the development of lighter-weight materials like vinyl and nylon and the invention of new types of luggage, like the hard shell suitcase.
Then, in the 1980s, luggage took yet another turn with the introduction of the soft-sided rolling suitcase. This luggage style was popularized by brands like Samsonite and quickly became the standard for travel.
Nowadays, there are a seemingly endless array of choices when it comes to luggage. But for many people, nothing can compare to the classic style and craftsmanship of vintage luggage. And they’re willing to pay a premium for it.
The Most Iconic Vintage Luggage Brands
When the suitcase began to gain popularity in the early 20th century, a handful of companies rose to become the most iconic and well-known brands of the time. These companies set the standard for quality and craftsmanship, and their names still carry much weight today.
The vintage bags from these companies are highly coveted by collectors and can fetch a pretty penny at auction.
Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s most iconic luxury brands, and its vintage luggage is no exception. The company was founded in 1854 and quickly gained a reputation for its high-quality, monogrammed bags. In the early 1900s, they released their first line of trunks, and by the 1920s, they were one of the most popular luggage brands in the world.
Their trunks were used by some of the most famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Today, their vintage luggage is highly sought-after by collectors and can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
This 1920 Louis Vuitton steamer trunk is listed for a whopping $23,537 at 1st Dibs.
Founded in 1877, Hartmann is one of the oldest luggage companies in America. The company started making steamer trunks and eventually expanded into producing high-quality leather travel bags. In the early 20th century, they introduced their iconic Tweed Collection, which was a hit and put Hartmann on the map as a major player in the luggage industry.
This popular 1960s Tweed Hartmann bag is currently listed for $104.
Another iconic American luggage brand was founded in 1910 by Jesse Shwayder. A unique aspect of Samsonite is its constant quest to innovate and create new products. In the 1958s, they introduced the Samsonite Silhouette, a scratch-proof, long-lasting bag that proved very popular.
Samsonite also remained affordable throughout the years, which helped them gain a large following. And this also means you can get your hands on a vintage Samsonite suitcase for a pretty reasonable price.
A beautiful electric red Samsonite statement piece from the 1960s can be found for $54.
Gucci doesn’t need much introduction. The legendary Italian fashion house has always been synonymous with luxury, and its vintage luggage is no different. Gucci luggage first came onto the scene in the 1950s and quickly became a favorite among celebrities and socialites. These were part of Gucci’s first woven hemp collection and featured the now-famous GG logo.
This rare Gucci luggage set from the 1970s is currently listed for $1450.
Founded in 1933, American Tourister is one of the newer luggage brands on this list. But don’t let that fool you; their vintage bags are highly sought-after by collectors. The company started making high-quality, low-cost bags and quickly became a favorite among budget-minded travelers. Samsonite owned the brand for many years. In 2009, it was sold to a private firm that now also owns the Samsonite.
This classic American Tourister rouns bag from the 1950s is currently listed for $80.
Another legendary French fashion house that needs no introduction. Hermes is well-known for its luxurious handbags, but they also have a history of making high-quality suitcases. The brand is so coveted that even their vintage luggage is out of reach for many people. And there are just a few in number, which makes the competition even higher.
1st Dibs has this one Hermes beauty from 1900 listed for a staggering $2,743. It’s a leather suitcase with brass hardware.
How to Identify Vintage Luggage?
Generally, anything at least 40 years old can be classified as vintage. However, in the world of fashion, 20 -30 years old is often considered vintage. This means there is a wide range of options when it comes to finding vintage luggage. And you’d need to look into different indicators to help identify if a piece is actually vintage or just a retro reproduction.
In addition, the market is flooded with fake vintage luggage. Often highly convincing, these fakes can deceive even the most seasoned collector. So it is important to be able to properly identify vintage luggage before making a purchase.
Here are some tips on how to do just that:
Closely look at the brand logo and labels
While it may seem the most obvious thing to do, many people forget to consider that many vintage brands have changed their logos and labels over the years. So it is important to familiarize yourself with the different logos and labels throughout the years.
For example. Gucci’s now-famous GG logo was first introduced in the 1990s. Before that, the label used the full name GUCCI.
In addition, labels often provide helpful information such as the country of origin and materials used, which you can verify against known materials used by the brand at that time. Sometimes even fonts can provide clues as to the age of a piece.
Check for a Serial Number
Luxury brands often use unique serial numbers for every piece they produce, which can help verify the authenticity of a piece and its age. Serial numbers are usually stamped on the lining, the interior of the luggage, or the bottom of the piece.
If you are looking at a vintage Gucci piece, you can use this helpful reference guide to date the piece by its serial number.
Examine the Hardware & Materials Used
This is another area where things have changed a lot over time. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, brands often used Bakelite, Catalin, or other early plastics for handles and hardware. These materials are now very hard to come by. Nowadays, hardware is often of aluminum or other light metals.
Similarly, the type and condition of the lining can also provide clues as to the age of the luggage. Modern suitcases are often lined with less durable polyester or nylon. In comparison, older vintage luggage is often lined with higher quality and more durable fabric such as gabardine, cotton, or even silk.
Get Help from an Expert
Vintage luggage is difficult to date and authenticate. A vintage leather suitcase can be a convincing reproduction or a pretty good fake. The best way to be sure is to consult with reputable vintage dealers or luggage experts. They’re usually familiar with the market and can help you make a more informed decision.
What is The Value of Vintage Luggage?
So once you’ve managed to identify a piece of vintage luggage, the next important question is, “what’s your old suitcases value”? Remember that vintage luggage can cost anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars, so you’ll need to consider a few important factors before making a purchase.
What brand is it?
The brand name is often the most important factor in determining the value of vintage luggage. A piece by a well-known and respected brand such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Hermes will always be worth more than a piece by an unknown or lesser-known brand.
Like this Louis Vuitton truck from the early 1940s, currently offered at $8,800.
But the charm of vintage luggage is that you can often find hidden gems among the less well-known brands. For example, this 1970s Bantam Floral suitcase is listed for $33.95.
What is its condition?
A well-maintained and pristine piece will always be worth more than a piece that is in poor condition. But in the case of vintage luggage, the condition of the piece is of utmost importance because it’s meant to be used and abused.
However, a well-loved and well-used piece will often show signs of wear and tear (which of course, adds to the charm). Here are a few points to keep in mind when assessing the condition of vintage luggage.
- Make sure the main frame of the piece is sturdy and in good condition. Check the corners; it’s the place where dents and dings often occur.
- Check all the zippers, handles, and wheels to make sure they’re in working condition. These are the areas where most problems occur.
- Examine the lining and the exterior fabric to see if there are any rips, tears, or stains. These can often be repaired but make sure they can be.
- Make sure all the connections snap shut and open easily. Try to open and close the luggage several times to ensure it’s not going to break on you.
- And finally, give the piece a good sniff. Your sense of smell can also help assess the condition of vintage luggage. If it smells musty or moldy, that’s usually a sign that it’s been stored in a damp place and the fabric has begun to break down.
Consider the restoration cost
If your piece is not in great condition, you’ll need to factor in the restoration cost. This can be a few dollars to hundreds of dollars, depending on the piece and the extent of the damage. But usually, only the most high-end branded pieces are worth the restoration cost.
But they also cost a lot more to source suitable material and to find a good restorer who knows how to work with vintage luggage. So before you purchase a piece that needs to be restored, make sure you factor in the restoration cost.
What is the style?
Though it is a subjective factor, the style of the piece can also affect its value. A more classic and timeless style will always be worth more than a trendier or more eccentric piece. Except, of course, if you’re able to find a collector specifically looking for that style.
The most popular and valuable styles of vintage luggage come from the Mid-Century Modern era or Art Deco period. But there is a growing market for more funky and kitschy styles from the 1970s and 1980s.
This unique made-in-France Louis Vuitton with a big Doller sign is from the 1940s and is currently offered at $6,400.
Is it rare?
Brands make tens of styles and thousands of pieces every year, but only a few of them become really popular or iconic. And even fewer become truly rare and sought-after by collectors.
To determine if a piece is rare, you have to consider its popularity, age, and condition. But it’s not always easy to tell how popular a piece is just by looking at it. So it’s best to get help from an expert or do some online research.
For example, this rare Goyard Trunk from the early 20th century is currently being offered at $7,500.
This oxblood Gucci leather luggage tote with gold embossing is from the early 1970s and is currently being offered at $649.99.
Is there a provenance?
A vintage suitcase belonging to a celebrity or someone with a famous last name will always be worth more than a regular piece. Even heirloom pieces with a strong family history can be quite valuable. But the provenance has to be backed up with some sort of evidence. Usually, such pieces are sold at high-end auction houses. So if you’ve such a piece in your possession, get in touch with an auctioneer to find out its real value.
Marie Antoinette’s travel trunk was sold for £40,000 at a Paris auction.
What is the current market trend?
Though vintage items are quite immune to fashion trends, sometimes a certain style or type of vintage luggage becomes popular again, and its value goes up. Something like Vogue featuring vintage trunks or a popular TV show using trunks as props can drive up the prices for a short period of time. Most such trends are short-lived, but they can still significantly impact the piece’s value.
How to Take Care of Vintage Luggage?
If you have a vintage beauty in your possession, it is best to take good care of it to keep it in top condition and possibly even increase its value.
However, before we get into how to take care of vintage luggage, let’s remember that caring and restoration are miles apart. Vintage luggage is usually made by extremely skilled artisans and with high-quality materials. So if you think you have a potentially valuable piece, it is best to take it to a professional restorer for an evaluation.
If you don’t think there is any major damage to the piece and it just needs a TLC, you can definitely do that yourself. There are different methods to care for different materials and levels of damage, so we’ll just cover the basics. Here is a quick video explaining the basic caring and cleaning:
Let’s get started!
Step #1: First, empty out the contents of the suitcase, if any. Gently remove any dirt or debris from inside and outside the suitcase using a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner with a soft attachment.
Step #2: If the suitcase isn’t too dirty, you can use a mild soap and water solution to clean it. Just dip a washcloth or soft bristle brush in the solution and gently rub it on the surface. However, you might need to use a stronger cleaning solution if there are stubborn stains. Hydrogen peroxide is a good option for removing stains. Just remember to test it on a small, hidden area first to ensure it doesn’t damage the material.
Step #3: Once you’re done cleaning outside, it’s time to move on to the lining. Fabric lining often gets too dirty and frail over time. So it’s best to replace it altogether. You can follow the steps in the video or find a tutorial online. But in most cases, you’ll only need just a few supplies like fabric, cardboard scissors, and adhesive.
Step #4: If the hardware looks old and rusty, you can use a metal polish to clean and restore it. Just apply a small amount of polish on a soft cloth and rub it on the hardware until it shines. Once you’re done cleaning and restoring the suitcase, store it in a cool and dry place.
Luggage changed its form, function, and materials over the years. From big square-shaped trunks to more modern and sleek suitcases, there is no limit to the different styles and designs you can find. However, the charm of vintage luggage lies in its history and the stories it can tell. Which, fortunately, is still something you can find in many pieces today. This guide should help you in your journey to find the perfect vintage luggage for you. Here are our takeaways:
- Most demanded vintage luggage belong to iconic brand from mid 20th century like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Samsonite.
- The luggage market is flooded with fakes and replicas, so be sure to do your research before making a purchase.
- The first step of authentication is identifying the exact brand and era. Things like hardware, materials, and labels can help with this.
- The value of a vintage luggage piece is determined by its condition, style, and market trends. But the big price items are always from big brands.
- Vintage luggage is a wide and varied market, so when you can, always consult with an expert to get the best advice.
- When it comes to restoration and care, always err on the side of caution. Keep it clean and polished, and when it needs more, take it to a professional.