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A vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase calls to mind a more elegant time when the journey was as good as the destination. Whether cruising the Nile on steam ships or lounging aboard the Orient Express, first-class passengers with lavish wardrobes appreciated Vuitton’s strong, well-crafted trunks with hand-stitched leather handles and burnished brass locks that secured the goods with style.
Monsieur Vuitton began designing luggage in 1854, but it wasn’t until the 1890s when son George wrapped valises in LV-monogram canvas in an attempt to thwart copycats. In 1959, when the smart set began to tote some of their own baggage, grandson Gaston Vuitton lightened their load with "soft" luggage, required accoutrements for swanning around Charles de Gaulle airport.
But it’s the earlier, heavier hard-sided trunks and suitcases that turn heads at auction. "Soft-sided luggage can’t transform into a side table or coffee table," notes specialist Abigail Rutherford of Leslie Hindman auctions in Chicago. Topped with glass or boxed in acrylic, a vintage set of well-worn suitcases, preferably plastered with stickers from grand hotels, becomes an art object, adding a multi-culti vibe to any room.
Luggage collectors love the ripe aroma of aged, honey-colored leather and a good vintage (pre-1950). "They shouldn’t have that spooky attic smell or stains inside," cautions Rutherford. Lost keys also depress value. But compared to retail, Vuitton luggage is a bargain at auction and buyers are never wait-listed.
At Doyle auction house in New York, a medium-size hard suitcase in LV fabric, bound in leather and brass, the interior stamped "made in France for Louis Vuitton Paris London" went for $813. At Leslie Hindman auctions in Chicago, an early steamer trunk in the "Daumier" checkered canvas pattern, circa 1900, went for $1,830 last year.
If pre-loved luggage grabs you, place your bids on a complete set of four--count them, four--classic Vuitton hard-sided cases in the L.V. monogram pattern at Christie’s interior sale April 6 and 7. With an estimate of $1,200 to 1,800 for the set, each 32-inch wide by 21-1/2inch deep case could go for as little as $300!
And mystery lovers are in for a treat. It’s possible to trace the provenance through a serial number on the lock, but the French firm won’t disclose the original owner’s name. "Vuitton will reveal when it was made and where it was purchased," says Rutherford, "but the process is time consuming."
Other luxury brands worth carrying away include Goyard and Asprey, but fashion historian Caroline Milbank, author of The Couture Accessory (Abrams), says that Vuitton leads the field. "Vuitton stays current because of designer Marc Jacobs. He keeps the Vuitton name alive."
To learn more, read Vintage Luggage by Helenka Gulshan and visit www.vintageluggage.net. and www.londonvintageluggage.com.
- Louis Vuitton suitcase
With stamped leather trim and brass fittings, leather handle, LV stamped locks, the interior of saffron coated canvas with four wood jacket hangers, wood bar stamped: made in France for Louis Vuitton Paris London, three compartments, with stickers from Grand Hotel Marienbad, Excelsior Hotel, Rome, Continental Palace Hotel, Saigon, red and yellow painted monogram E.V.L., New York.
Dimensions: 30x20x8-1/2 inches
Sold for $813 at Doyle auction house in 2009.
- A Louis Vuitton steamer trunk garnished in leather and brass. Stamped: Louis Vuitton.
Dimensions: length 43-1/2 inches, height 21-1/4 inches, depth 13 inches
Pre-auction estimate: $2,000-$4,000
Actual: Sold for $1,830 at Leslie Hindman's auction house in Chicago in 2009.
- A Louis Vuitton monogram-canvas train case, circa 1970s, with original key. Stamped: Louis Vuitton.
Dimensions: 28x8x18 inches
Pre-auction estimate: $600-$800
Actual: Sold for $915 at Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago in 2009. lesliehindman.com
Call 312/280-1212 and ask for Abigail K. Rutherford
- A group of three Louis Vuitton hard-sided cases in the L.V. monogram pattern canvas. All stamped: Louis Vuitton/112113.
Pre-auction estimate: $800-$1,200
Actual: Sold for $3,120 at Leslie Hindman's auction house in Chicago in 2008.
- A group of four Louis Vuitton travel cases, circa 1950s, comprised of two train cases, a cosmetic case and a shoe case, all with a yellow monogram JHW from the previous owner. Sold with original keys. All stamped Louis Vuitton.
Pre-auction estimate: $2,000-$3,000
Actual: Sold for $4,148 at Leslie Hindman's auction house in 2009.
- A Louis Vuitton signature wardrobe trunk, early 20th century, conjures up visions of traveling on the QE2. When standing upright, the front opens up into multiple drawers on one side and hanging compartments on the other, monogram at side A.G. New York, with hotel stickers throughout. Stamped: Louis Vuitton/Paris London. 43x21x17 inches.
Pre-auction estimate: $4,000-$6,000
Actual: Sold for $7,962 at Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago in 2008.
- Louis Vuitton square suitcase, circa 1935
Monogram canvas, LV stamped leather trim, brass locks and corners, lock number 104269, stenciled in red on side VHG Rosemont, PA, the interior of natural linen, fitted with webbed tray and elasticized pocket, interior labels: Louis Vuitton/Paris/London/ Cannes/Vichy/Nice/ with addresses, number 812132, and Bought From John Wanamaker/New York/Philadelphia.
Dimensions: Height 19 inches, width 19-1/2 inches, depth 8-3/4 inches.
Condition: very good, minor marks to canvas.
Sold for $1,625 at Doyle New York in 2002.
- A vintage Vuitton suitcase on later mahogany stand
Height: 18-1/2 inches, width 31 inches, depth 20-3/4 inches
Pre-auction estimate: $2,000-$3,000
Actual: Sold for $3,750 at Christie’s New York in 2008.
- A complete set of vintage Vuitton luggage in the L.V. monogram pattern hits the auction block at Christie’s April 6 and 7. The set of four is estimated to go for $1,200 to $1,800.