Handbags at a New Dawn

At a time when some of the more traditional art and antiques have fallen out of vogue, the auction market can provide compensations in other collecting areas. Sworders hold specialists sales in a number of these burgeoning disciplines including Asian art, 20th century design and Modern British art. The demand for vintage and luxury fashion and accessories was the catalyst for the creation in 2015 of a designated Designer Handbags and Couture department headed by Prudence Hopkins. Here she answers a few of our questions.

Prudence Hopkins 

Sworders' Head of Accessories Department - Prudence Hopkins


How did you get started in this field?

Just over three years ago Sworders decided they wanted to branch out in to the luxury handbag and accessories market. When I joined the company the very first auction was being curated by my colleague Catriona Smith.  I had previously worked for two other auction houses in their vintage textiles and fashion departments: my background in historical fashion really helped me step into the role.  


What other fields of the market interest you?

I also work in our jewellery department. I catalogue jewellery for our weekly sales and assist with the cataloguing of the specialist jewellery auctions (the next will be held on Tuesday 3 July). Fashion and textiles has always been my passion but this interest sits well with my fascination for gems. I have a diploma in gemmology and am currently studying for my diamond diploma. 


How often are your sales?

We hold an ‘Objects of Desire’ sale twice a year, usually in April and October depending on which other sales we have planned. The sale includes luxury designer handbags, accessories and couture.


What has been your favourite item that you have sold and why?

The bestselling items are always the Chanel 2.55 handbags which are extremely popular. As an auctioneer it’s a real pleasure to sell items that have competitive bidding. However, my favourite consignment has to be a collection of fashion drawings from the Norman Hartnell fashion house - complete with notes on the measurements of royal and aristocratic customers of the time. 


Have your sales opened the saleroom up to a new audience?

I believe they have. Sworders is well known for selling traditional antiques and works of art but the Objects of Desire sale was a new concept. It did feel like we were really taking a risk promoting a fresh take on the auction industry to new clients - but it has worked.


Are there any particular fashion trends / areas of strong demand vendors should be aware of?

Chanel bags in good condition are always a winner. Hermes Birkin handbags famously sell for high prices and Art Deco items such as costume jewellery and accessories are also very popular.


How do you calculate the second hand value of a typical designer handbag? 

It’s rather like selling a used car. We will usually estimate the selling price at around a third of the retail price. But there are examples where vintage handbags are now more valuable than when they were first purchased. For example, catwalk pieces from Alexander McQueen, exotic skin Birkins or 2.55s purchased in the 1980s all command a premium. Condition, provenance and original receipts all add to the value of your handbag.


Fakes are always cited as a problem in this area. How do you counter against them?

I have seen a lot of handbags, so I’m pretty good at spotting fakes. However, the ones now being made in China are incredibly close to the real thing. So if the handbag is worth a lot of money we will have them authenticated by an external company who provide a letter of authenticity. 



Why not unlock the value of your unwanted designer handbags and invest in something you love? We are currently accepting entries of designer handbags and couture for our Autumn 'Objects of Desire' auction. Closing date - Friday, August 17.

For more information about the sale or to discuss potential consignments, please contact Prudence on:


or call

01279 817778

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