Forget stocks – handbags have outperformed them all

A surprising collectable has been trouncing other asset classes

Hermès Ombre Birkin handbag
(Image credit: Sotheby's)

No longer mere fashion accessories and Margaret Thatcher’s weapon of choice, handbags are this year’s darlings of the collecting world. So says the oft-quoted 2020 Wealth Report from Knight Frank. The value of handbags rose by 13% last year, the most of any collectable asset class (see below for the others). That was also slightly better than the 12% the FTSE 100 managed for 2019 – remember those days?

Of course, expensive handbags have been around for at least as long as there have been chihuahuas to put in them. But as a collectable, they’re relatively new to the scene. And, until very recently, there hasn’t existed any index to track prices. So Art Market Research (AMR), the company that supplies Knight Frank with data for its Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), made one.

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“It’s only been possible to create an index on handbags now because of the frequency with which many iconic pieces are coming to auction today,” says AMR’s Sebastian Duthy. That has left some auction houses scrambling to catch up. Bonhams, a major auction house founded in 1793, only opened its handbags and fashion department in January, having pinched a couple of staff members from Chiswick Auctions, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette.

The west London auctioneer is big in the way of selling handbags. Last March it launched its free The Handbag Report email newsletter, offering tips and auction news.

Hermès Ombre Birkin handbag

(Image credit: Sotheby's)

What to buy

Collectable handbags should be kept in tip-top condition. “The only person who has got away with mistreating theirs was Jane Birkin,” says Carol Lewis in The Times. Then again, the actress did lend her name to one of the most sought-after of all handbags – the Hermès Birkin (so much so, in fact, that its rising value has been termed “Birkinomics”).

She sold one of her beaten-up bags on auction site eBay in 2011 for £100,100 for charity. And the most expensive bag ever sold at auction was a Birkin. Made from crocodile skin, with gold and diamonds, it fetched HK$2.9m (£293,000) in Hong Kong with Christie’s. And last June, a Himalaya niloticus crocodile Birkin 35 sold for £162,500 in London, also with Christie’s.

Hermès is arguably the most prestigious of marques and custom-made bags, known as Hermès Horseshoe Stamp (HSS) bags, featuring the stamp inside the bag, are the “ultimate status symbol”, says Chiswick Auctions’ Winnie McGee. Chanel bags also carry status. Bags made from ethically sourced exotic skins, such as crocodile, fetch high prices, as do limited editions.

A “rare” Hermès Ombre Birkin handbag, made from Varanus salvator lizard with “palladium hardware” (pictured) sold for $137,500 at Sotheby’s online auction recently. Bonhams, Chiswick Auctions and Christie’s are holding sales in London in April, May and June.

This article was originally published in MoneyWeek

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