In In my closet, Style, What I bought

Owning a piece of vintage fashion history: The Hermès Kelly Bag 35cm c. 1952

So… you all know I already own a piece of fashion history when I bought this 1982 – 1984 vintage double flap Chanel leather bag right?

 

Here is what it looks like:

It was my $1M net worth present to myself when my net worth (including my home and car at the time) hit $1M in total. Before I even bought the bag, I made sure to read a million and one articles (I’m exaggerating but it felt like this), to see what I should look for in a vintage bag. I read about how to authenticate visually and so on, and I could not be more pleased that this bag (also independently verified) is a true gem.

Alfred Hitchcock has been credited with bringing the handbag into the limelight. In 1954, Hitchcock allowed the costume designer Edith Head to purchase Hermès accessories for the film To Catch a Thief, starring Grace Kelly. According to Head, Kelly “fell in love” with the bag. In 1956 she became princess of Monaco and was photographed using the handbag to shield her growing belly from the paparazzi during her first pregnancy. That photograph was featured in Life magazine.

And now? My newest find (this is not my second vintage bag, I have a few others but they aren’t as iconic) is the coveted Hermès Kelly, and not just any one, it’s one from the 50s, specifically 1952 before Grace Kelly made them iconic in 1954!

 

And here she is with her version:

Her iconic bag that she used at the time sits in the museum now, clearly well-used, and well-loved.

At the time, her bag originally cost $29 or $232 (thereabouts) in today’s dollars, but the bags as you can see in this post, I did on the prices over time sell for thousands more today.

\I absolutely 100% have wanted a Hermès Kelly bag for a long time due to its shape, the history, and so on but I was hesitating because thousands for a bag seemed insane, until I saw this piece of history pop up:

It was priced lower because of the condition (but it wasn’t horrific like some other bags I’ve seen), and it was missing the keys, lock and clochette which I am not happy about but if it bothers me that much I can buy a new set from Hermès.

However, it is EXACTLY the bag on display in the museum (not exactly-exactly, but you know what I mean). It’s a gorgeous nut brown, same shape, same everything, and I could not be more thrilled.

Also, who knew, but it almost matches the Hermès boots I already owned, I guess I have an affinity for this colour:

I even love the personal story behind it (true or not, I am a sucker for these). The story is that her grandmother in 1952 got her first job as a secretary in Germany, and she bought this bag for $29 with her first paycheque as a sign of financial independence. As there weren’t many women who worked at the time, this was truly revolutionary and such a perfect fit to everything I stand for.

I also did more digging and found out that this 50s bag is also quite rare as it is one of the first Kelly bags produced of its era (the name of the bag wasn’t officially changed to “Kelly” until 1977 however), and considering all that, it is in good shape. I am contemplating taking it in and paying for it to be properly cleaned by Hermès as well, as the original owners tried to touch up the bag on their own and I can see the job was shoddily done as the paint is on the hardware and the metal rivets weren’t properly cleaned.

IS IT A RETOURNE OR A SELLIER?

In the past, they didn’t have the distinction I think, between the two. They didn’t create a Retourne and a Sellier difference at the time in the 50s because they all seemed to look the same, as it was sold under the style Sac à dépêches which means “Dispatch bag” usually a name given to men’s briefcases.

In the 1930s, Hermès’s son-in-law Robert Dumas redesigned it as a spacious travel bag called Sac à dépêches. It was a sharp contrast to the dominant purses of the time, which were simple, small and flat, resembling envelopes.

The Retourne is where the edges of the bag are ‘turned’ in as per this guide and the Sellier has a harder, crisper look that is harder to manufacture (and makes them twice the price):

The Sellier keeps its shape better than the Retourne, it is made of stiffer leathers and has more work to keep it so boxy, and the Retourne is less fussy.

I guess if I had to say, it is more like a modern Retourne than a Sellier as the sides of the bags are turned in and have a more casual, slouchy look, which I prefer.

 

HOW TO AUTHENTICATE

To be honest, I would LOVE to have the Hermès Kelly bag Grace Kelly had come by on exhibition again and to BEG THEM to open the bag so I can verify the sangles, stamps and so on against my own bag. LOL!!!!

How great would that be, to confirm these things?

Failing that, here is what my sleuthing came up with:

HERMÈS PARIS LOGO STAMP IN GOLD

In this list, it tells you how it should be stamped and when I looked at the logo, it matched up.

The E in Hermès isn’t as pronounced these days with the È that you see and a bold accent. The accent for the bags of this time, is very faintly there on top of the second E.

You can also see the letters are spaced out and look like they fit into an invisible rectangle for each (the font is good).

The only thing that gave me pause was it was stamped MADE IN FRANCE. I found another bag from 1952 in a smaller size – Kelly 32 CM and this bag has the same stamp and font but without MADE IN FRANCE.

Common theories online is that the stamp MADE IN FRANCE was not put there until the 70s, however someone else wrote that the idea of everything being standardized and following a proper consistency in bags and things, is a relatively common notion in today’s modern times. In the past, people were artisans who did things the way they wanted, so to speak.

Furthermore, it is stamped MADE IN FRANCE, perhaps because it was purchased in Germany, and I wonder if it was because when importing goods from another country in the 50s, they had legislative laws that stipulated that they MUST put where it was made, like today.  I tried to look up the import legislation in Germany in the 50s online but to no avail. (I also didn’t try super hard, to be honest).

The black bag that doesn’t have the MADE IN FRANCE stamp, is actually coming from a seller in France, so I feel like my armchair guess at why this bag sold in Germany would have MADE IN FRANCE but the one in France of the exact same year does not, may also hold true with import regulations, the way we insist that things are labelled properly today.

Or, just artisanal whimsy but I doubt it.

I found another listing for an authenticataed 1945 bag but called a Sac à Dépêches rather than a Kelly (the name we know it today), and it looks like they did indeed stamp it with MADE IN FRANCE:

THE SANGLES / BAG BELTS

The HERMES PARIS etched on the sangles (the belt pieces with the gold end), are also consistent of the time. You can see the bag I got has HERMES then PARIS underneath, and so does the black one of the same year:

 

STAMPING OF THE YEAR INSIDE THE SANGLES

This guide talks about the date stamps and how before 1971, the letter for each year was stamped on the leather (H = 1952), and the picture in the reference guide looks like this:

With my sangles, you can see the H very clearly and neatly stamped in between the two rivets kind of where this one is tamped, and the letter size and shape looks similar to the one shown:

In the black bag of the same year, the H (it’s hard to see), is turned 90 degrees and is stamped nearer to the rectangular opening and of a larger font:

I enhanced it and wrote out the letter for you to see:

I searched around for a reason why, and in the listing it gave me a clue in that they mention the bag having had its top handle replaced by the Hermès Spa, which stands to reason that if the sangles were also in bad shape, Hermès could have also replaced them completely and stamped them with an H without any shapes around the outside to keep it consistent to 1952. The H for the black sangle stamp above also isn’t as small or as neat as the original ones above in the reference photo and on my bag. It looks far fatter/bigger.

Another reason is again – consistency in brand markings was not a thing in the 50s, so an H was an H was an H to them, no matter what it looked like, as you can see in the reference photo above the M was stamped sideways and off center, whereas my H was stamped super neatly in the middle between two rivets.

I also want to point out that there’s an odd “O” on my stamp on the sangles just above the H.

There are again, two possible reasons for this – either that the bag was first specially stamped with an “O” to mean “not for sale in France”, or secondly, for some other marking reason Hermès does not or has not disclosed (many of their newer bags today, sometimes come out with strange markings/stampings people do not understand, but are valid stamps and authentic bags from the workshops).

Sometimes, Hermès stamps the newer bags to mean: Not for sale by anyone because it’s an employee bag, a gift, or a sample, etc. Maybe it was something like that – either in response to the legislation that it had to be marked WHERE it originated from (not Germany), or it was an employee bag, a sample bag, whatever. Who knows? If only someone at Hermès could give me a company history rundown, I’d be thrilled.

I did find in the other 1945 listing of the authenticated bag, it had the same light circled O on the inside as well stamped with an A beside it nearer to the cut – it’s hard to see, but the listing notes there is an A and an O, just like how mine has the H and the O.

It further underscores my belief that maybe the bags were created with MADE IN FRANCE and an O for a certain market outside of France, and the other bag that just simply had a rather large H (bigger than the other markings we have seen so far), is because they also replaced the belt sangles with modern ones, and they are not original to the bag as they no longer have those stamped letters in that size.

THE RIVETS

Lastly, the rivets should look like ‘pearls’, and not be glued on, or tacked on messily. Apparently that is a crazy hard thing to do, to get the rivets properly tacked on and to look the way they do.

They may not be perfectly consistent and inside the sewn lines like today’s quality controls (they were all handmade artisans back then), but they should look like ‘pearls’ which is consistent in what I see in my bag (although one of the rivets looks broken near the H in my case):

And this is the other strap, you can see it isn’t as clean as the other one:

 

THE INSIDE

Before about the 60s, there were NO ZIPPERS INSIDE OF BAGS. If there are zippers, it means the bags were altered to add a zipper.

Definitely in the 50s, Hermès did not add zippers to the inside pockets of their bags, and only had 3 pockets – two near the back and one in front.

My bag is consistent with that and hasn’t been altered with only open pockets, and it looks pretty clean, though the leather needs some work and care:

And a similar 32 CM bag from the same year shows the same:

Special thing to note: If the inside of the bag is TRASHED, like peeling leather, horrible, Hermès Spa WILL NOT RESTORE THE BAG INSIDE. They can restore the bag outside, replace the metal bars, sangles, etc but they will not touch the inside, FYI.

So when looking for a secondhand bag, please do not buy trashed ones.

Aside from that, the bag sits up well on its own which is also a key thing to check for, as the shape of the bag sitting on a flat surface should not slouch to the side:

 

WHAT I PAID

I paid $5470.91 in total which includes about $1100 in customs duties and fees (highway robbery I tell you LOL), and the bag itself sold for $4370.

I think it was a major steal for a few reasons.

The condition was Fair, but pretty excellent for its age, being 69 years old. I mean c’mon. For it to be pretty clean, not perfect and pristine but not BAD, is amazing.

The other 1952 bag for sale on another site, was going for $7073 before import duties and taxes, so this bag was $4370 or $2703 cheaper.

Not only that, the other black bag had a literal RIP in the corner of the leather at the back by the handles.

This bag had ZERO rips, and only just a few small gouges in the leather at the bottom corners as you can see:

And a badly done paint job on the leather as the feet seem to have gotten attacked:

The other black bag did have the clochette, keys but they had no padlock, and I don’t have any of that.

The third bag that was selling that was much older from 1945, was going for $8800 USD which is about $10,798 CAD however it did have all the original padlocks, and so on, and was in equally as good condition.

I still think I got a decent price for the bag, padlock or not.

Some detailed shots of the inside

Here are some actual bag shots

Here is Little Bun holding it out for me to take a photo of it:

 

And here’s a posed shot:

 

What’s my next purchase?

I need to get some bag straps for this, and I already bought some off Etsy. I will do a separate post on that later.

As for what BAG?

It’s likely to be vintage. I find I am not as excited by newer bags without character, stories or history, and if it’s just a bag to have it for bag’s sake, I am less thrilled by it.

I like pieces that have a very old history, that are rarer, maybe have a cool personal story like this one, and show a life well lived and pre-loved rather than something pristine and never worn, just looked at in a closet.

I mean, the whole point of fashion is to ENJOY IT. It isn’t a museum! It isn’t a piece meant to be precious and looked at, I want to use the bag and be careful with it for sure, but not let it sit and collect dust.

I haven’t decided. I am thinking about a vintage beaded bag for some reason but I haven’t settled on anything.

Maybe a Céline Box Bag? Céline Triomphe? Another vintage Hermès but an older men’s briefcase?

Possibilities are endless but I am leaning towards a Céline Box Bag.

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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