A Buyer’s Guide to Vintage Luggage

Written by Luke Honey

Vintage luggage evokes the golden age of travel and serves as a timeless, functional piece of history. This buyer's guide provides essential tips for purchasing vintage luggage at auctions, focusing on identifying authentic pieces and recognizing key features that distinguish high-quality craftsmanship.

Photo by Mary J. Friedrich

Before the dawn of the jet airliner, in the era of steamships and railways, travel was more or less the preserve of the rich. During the 19th century and early 20th centuries, the leading French and British luggage makers— Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Paul Romand, Au Départ, Finnigans, Asprey and Drew & Sons of Piccadilly — manufactured beautifully constructed luggage for the luxury market, including wardrobe trunks (for steamers), vellum hat boxes, fine cases in leather, crocodile, ostrich, lizard and snakeskin— and luggage for the automobile market, for the early days of motoring was an expensive and elitist amusement.

Louis Vuitton led the way in luggage innovation. In 1858, Vuitton designed a steamer trunk with a flat top (as opposed to a rounded top), allowing the trunk to be stacked neatly and efficiently aboard ship. The famous 'LV' monogram, emblazoned with a Japanese-inspired floral motif and hand-painted directly onto the canvas, was invented by Louis' son, Georges Vuitton, in 1896, specifically to thwart counterfeiters. Today, it's one of the most recognisable brand logos in the world.

Advertisement for Louis Vuitton July 1898, Le Théatre (Juillet 1898), inside front cover. Public domain image

The 20th century saw an increase in travel for the middle class. In 1958, the BOAC de Havilland Comet made the first regularly scheduled commercial jet airliner flight across the Atlantic. And during the 1970s, the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet brought international travel to the mass market. A fully loaded Jumbo Jet slashed a ticket price by half. The luggage manufacturers responded in kind. The new airline weight restrictions meant that luggage became lighter and smaller in size: carried on board as personal luggage by the owner rather than by a servant or porter, as in the past. So manufacturers experimented with lighter materials, such as vulcanised fibre, raffia, wicker, plastics, and lightweight alloys. Practical additions included zips in the 1960s and wheels, first patented in 1970.

Louis Vuitton, trunk, early 20th century. Photo © Uppsala Auktionskammare

Today, vintage luggage is popular with collectors and interior designers. Aficionados appreciate the nostalgic aspect, attracted by the glamour and romance of luxury travel in an earlier, more elegant age. Designers also like to stack trunks and suitcases, as much for display as for use.

What To Look For

Luxury French manufacturers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Louis Vuitton and Goyard, are highly sought after. Prices for the rarest antique luggage (in good condition) can run into thousands of pounds or dollars at auction: it's a specialist market. A rare, zinc-covered Louis Vuitton 'Explorer' Cabin Trunk from 1895 sold for £66,000 (hammer price) at Toovey's auctioneers in 2023. 

Goyard suitcases and trunks, 233 rue Saint-Honoré, Paris. Photo by Daniel Stockman | Licence CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED (detail)

Other famous luxury brands from the 20th Century (Gucci, Hermes, Fendi, Asprey and Dunhill) are more affordable. A 1980s Gucci leather briefcase (with provenance) sold for $1,927 on eBay in January 2024, while a vintage Fendi suitcase (acquired by the previous owner at the Harrods department store in London) made £180 on eBay. A tan leather suitcase by Dunhill, protected by a canvas outer case, fetched £250 (hammer price) at Phillip Serrell auctions in 2019. Revelation (the London maker, founded in 1923) is another quality manufacturer to look out for. As is Globe-Trotter, the brand of choice for the historic British airline BOAC. Established in 1897, Globe-Trotter pioneered lightweight but durable vulcanised fibre board. 

A Dunhill black motoring trunk, black Rexine covered trunk with nickel plated brass catches and locks. Photo © Bonhams

Even more affordable are the slick, post-war brands (Samsonite, Jet Flite, Starline and Lady Baltimore), evoking the stylish world of Pan Am, Mad Men and international air travel— and still useable if found in good condition. Established in Denver in 1910, Samsonite designed the 'Streamlite' range of 1941: sleek, tapered suitcases clad in a practical, lightweight, scuff-resistant vinyl to create a 'rawhide' effect. In 2023, a lady's Samsonite Streamlite suitcase with an 'ivorine' handle made a bargain $25 on eBay. Samsonite also produced one of the first 'executive' attaché cases, the classic ABS attaché, from 1962— as carried by Bond in You Only Live Twice. At the same time, a Lady Baltimore vintage make-up case, in red with a fitted interior mirror, suitable for a train or an aeroplane, sold for a slightly more expensive $89.99 on eBay in 2023. In the vintage luggage market, there's something for everyone.

Photo by Nick Fewings

Maker's Stamps

Look out for the maker's stamp on the edge of the case, applied to the inner lining, stamped on the lock, or, in the case of post-war luggage, the manufacturer's— or retailer's— brand logo. Some manufacturers, though, did not stamp their luggage.

Luggage Tags and Labels

Luggage is sometimes stamped with the previous owner's monogram or initials, and a distinguished provenance can substantially increase the value: Jack Lemmon's Fendi suitcase (with luggage tag) sold for $1,200 (against an auction estimate of $300-500) in 2022. Royal warrants can also be helpful when establishing a piece's age. Genuine vintage hotel, shipping, and airline labels are especially attractive, too, adding to the nostalgic appeal.

Goyard, trunk, early 20th century (detail). Photo © Bukowskis

Condition, Patina and Repair

As with any other antique, the condition of a piece is crucial to its value and desirability. The more original the condition, the higher the potential value. A gentle patination—  the scuffs, knocks, and minor wear acquired over time— is desirable. It adds to the story. Watch out for cracked, dry, crumbling leather which might be difficult, even impossible, to repair, unless patched—  which again, will lower the resale value.


Luxury brands (especially at the upper end of the market)—  Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermes—  are, sadly, often the targets for counterfeit reproductions, deliberately made to deceive the unwary. With the less valuable brands, this is less of a problem. Establishing the provenance of a piece, especially when buying online, can be helpful. Serial numbers can be useful, too, for identification. Hotel, shipping and airline labels, alas, are often faked: it's relatively easy for a rogue seller to print out a supposedly 'vintage' label and attach it to an unremarkable leather suitcase, increasing its sales potential. It's very much a case of 'Buyer Beware’.

A trunk and a suitcase, both covered in labels, circa 1950. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Buying at Auction

Although auctions are often a good source for bargains, buyers should bid carefully and use common sense—especially when using the ubiquitous online auction sites. A traditional brick-and-mortar auction house will add a considerable buyer's premium to the hammer price, and you may also have to factor in the shipping cost. A reputable auction house, or an honest online seller, should provide a detailed condition report and extra photographs on request. When in doubt, it's always best to stay away: another opportunity is always around the corner.

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