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How to buy vintage leather goods


Like fine wine, quality leather goods will only improve with age. Nothing can replicate real, distressed vintage leather, but special care must be taken when shopping for quality. Here, we examine what you should look out for when buying vintage leather goods.

When looking at vintage leather pieces, consider all of the following:

Colour - A deep, rich patina will develop over time to give the leather a unique look that is almost impossible to replicate in modern pieces, but instantly recognisable.

Wear and tear - Expect to see signs of normal wear and tear, often on the edges of a bag or case, caused by rubbing. With vintage leather luggage items, you can expect to see much more wear but again, listen to your instincts. If in doubt, the specialist antique dealers you will find at Hemswell, will be far more knowledgeable than a vast onsite auction site.

General condition - Steer clear of any marks that cannot be removed with a leather cleaning product; although leather specialists can refurbish vintage leather goods almost back to an original condition,  they will charge for the service. Remember, too, that if a vintage leather item is not in pristine condition, its price should reflect this.

Clothing - When searching for items of vintage leather clothing, particularly jackets, it’s important to be aware that, as vintage-style clothing has become more mainstream, the resale market has been flooded with items designed with a vintage look. The term vintage, specifically when used in connection with leather goods, means anything younger than antique (100 years) but older than 20 years. Thus today, any leather items pre-dating the early 1980s can be classified as vintage. A very good tip to remember is that a vintage leather jacket is more likely to be lined with a hardwearing cotton fabric, rather than a super shiny polyester lining. If you have any doubt, a reputable dealer will know the origin of the item, its era and how long it has been in their possession.

Damage - While rips in the lining of a jacket (or bag) can be mended, avoid damaged leather. A vintage leather item should be aged but NOT beyond repair. Check fastenings such as zips, buttons and press stud fasteners, ensuring they are in full working order. Remember too that the type of leather will influence the way a vintage leather item ages, for example lambskin is much thinner than a full grain leather.

Beyond functional vintage leather goods such as bags and clothing, decorative ornaments and figures can also be found. One name to look out for is Omersa. Founded in 1927 by a luggage craftsman who made animals from leftover scraps of hide which he sold through Liberty’s, Omersa was renamed in 1958 after the husband-and-wife team who took over the company. These animals are all hand crafted and an original piece in good condition can command £1000s.

For any collectors worried about the legalities of rarer hides, vintage items made from crocodile, alligator or caiman skin are considered high end, luxury items. These are sought after by collectors and fashionistas alike, but be aware that new luxury goods made from these skins are banned from trade import into the UK, so items you come across should be genuine vintage pieces.

A vintage leather piece, whether a bag, clothing, luggage and even ornaments, will always represent an investment. With vintage leather bags and clothing particularly, a buyer will have the confidence of knowing that very few, if any, people will have the same piece. But where should you buy vintage leather goods?

When searching for vintage leather goods of any type, always seek out a reputable seller, like our dealers at Hemswell Antique Centres, who are extremely knowledgeable and who love to share their expertise with our clients. Only purchase from a seller you can trust and for whom authenticity is paramount; our dealers specialise in various types of vintage leather goods, from clothing and footwear, to handbags and ornaments and much more besides. Their experience means they can be relied upon to source genuine, authentic items and give you the peace of mind needed when making an investment purchase. Visiting Hemswell will not only allow you to handle vintage leather goods yourself, something that is vital in a world where the counterfeiter is becoming more and more adept and skilled at creating fake goods, but you will also be able to spend a wonderful few hours browsing our vast array of bygone treasures, in beautiful surroundings. 

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