Just 35cm long, 25cm high and 18cm wide, a matt, white Himalaya Hermès bag sits modestly on its white plinth.
But – despite its muted appearance – this rare, bleached Niloticus crocodile skin bag in the iconic shape created for actress Jane Birkin has a price tag of €60,000 to €80,000 (around €5 per cm3). It is the most expensively valued item in the Amsterdam Christie’s first auction of iconic handbags.
The first two parts of this sale from a single collector, Inside the Orange Box, were held in Milan and netted a record-breaking €4 million. On the 27th and 28th of June, 352 lots – including 260 bags, plus scarves, watches and other Hermès items – will go under the hammer, raising an expected €900,000.
According to Lucile Andreani, head of the Christie’s department for handbags and accessories for Europe and the Middle East, a whole new market has developed in these kind of collectibles in the past decade. “We launched this category in Christie’s in 2014, so it’s quite a new thing,” she explained. “Bags were sold within fashion, but at some point the market was growing and we saw the need for a new department.”
Although items begin at €100, this sale also has some rare items using unusual materials, such as a “Shadow” Birkin bag from the environmental range Petit H, reusing fur and crocodile leather and estimated at €15,000 to €20,000.
While the originals, hand made in Paris and often customised to order, are pricey, the secondary value of classic handbags can be much greater at auction, said Andreani. “It would be cheaper [to buy first hand],” she said. “The price goes up because it’s historic and rare. The demand is there and a secondary market develops because the supply is limited: people are willing to pay more for the pieces they want instead of waiting and maybe not getting the bag.”
Their appeal is both in the craftsmanship and their story, she adds. The legend is that the English actress Birkin got onto a flight from Paris to London, spilled the contents of her handbag all over the aisle, and then got into conversation with the executive chairman of Hermès about a more practical design.
The name of the private collector behind this sale is not being released but she became a “patron” for the Petit H line, which focuses on reuse and recycling, and spent 40 years building up her Hermès collection. Many of those interested in the auction goods – which are currently on view at the Christie’s showroom overlooking the Vondelpark in Amsterdam – are expected to be first-time buyers at auction.
The interest in handbags grew, particularly during Covid, even though people were not going out. “People have an interest in luxury,” said Andreani. “When you want to spend your money well, you want to buy things that keep their value. It becomes a passion investment.”
Handling one of the sandy-brown Birkin bags with white gloves, she points out the sleek outside, with a little lock, and a tote-style space inside with two side pockets. Some of the bags in the Amsterdam sale, which will take place online, look scarcely touched. “When you have so many bags,” she added, “you don’t use them all.”
Public viewings of highlights from Inside the Orange Box: A Lifetime of Collecting, run from 13 June until 27 June