Upcycling, Alterations, Replicas, Reimagined Vintage
Beware of altered vintage and note that only handbags in original, unmodified vintage condition are considered collectible. A vintage handbag with a recently replaced handle or added ornaments is good for use, but not for a collection, because it does not reflect the importance of its original, historical design. The handbags with new bodies and lining mounted on antique or vintage frames - called upcycled - are not considered collectible vintage either. That is why it is important to remember that replicas should be valued and priced accordingly - below the originals.
Photo: (before, on the left) Lucille de Paris with broken handles; (and after, on the right & bottom) the broken handles were replaced with metal and plastic link straps.
There's nothing wrong with replacing a broken handle on an otherwise perfect vintage bag. It is, of course, if you bought it for use, and not as an investment. You can have such a replacement made from matching skin, leather, vinyl, or even a metal or plastic chain. Generally speaking, a replacement would decreases the value of the original vintage.
To find out if the skin strap on your vintage bag is original or replaced, first examine its shape. Usually, originals are slightly misshapen due to storage or age, unless it is a firmly structured, or semi-structured arch handle with an inside cord. Such handles were often produced in France or Belgium for Lucille de Paris, Rosenfeld and Bellestone.
Don't forget to check if the handle's color and material match the bag's body. If it is a metal chain, compare its color and patina to the bag's metal frame and mounts. If it is a replacement, the metal color, its quality and finish would probably be different from the rest of the bag's metal. Remember that in the 1930s-1960s very few vintage brands produced handbags with original metal straps, except for Lucille de Paris and Koret.
That is why there is always a chance of buying vintage with a replaced handle, if you don't know how to tell the difference. The same applies to vintage bags with plastic straps often advertised as Bakelite or Lucite. Most likely, they are replacements, too, like the featured Lucille.
Sometimes, you can find a vintage bag with a rhinestone pin glued directly to its body or its frame - to "jazz it up" and sell as something special. Always confirm the authenticity of such an adornment, because most likely it is not original to the bag.
Check how it is attached. If it is glued directly to the skin, it is most definitely a later addition. Original designer ornaments with rhinestones, enamel or beads were usually bezel, prong-, or pave-set on handbag's frames or clasps.
The examples of such original decorations include expensive collectibles by Harry Rosenfeld, Koret, Lucille de Paris, and especially by Martin Van Schaak, whose spectacular, gold-plated handbag jewelry was attached to the bag's body by special holders inserted through the perforated opening on its front panel.
Once in a while, you can come across handbags advertised as "reimagined vintage" or "custom-made from all vintage materials." They could have various skins, furs, feathers or jewelry parts (pins or beads) glued directly to their original, vintage bodies. Quite often such an addition is done to conceal pre-existing flaws or damage.
For example, an original metal Coblentz evening bag could have been taken as a base to create a "custom" bag by means of gluing on its metal body different skins previously removed from some other damaged, old handbag with the intention to create a "unique" example sold at a higher price.
While it's OK to restore vintage to preserve its original features, it is not appropriate to intentionally modify its classic design to pass it for something rare and more valuable.
To put it short, if you found a vintage purse with unusual features (e.g. different materials on the body, jeweled ornaments, metal or plastic straps), carefully examine it to confirm its 100% authenticity before paying a high price.
Photo: A vintage snakeskin clutch with a glued-on ornament.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY