Coach Authenticity Guides - Facts and Myths
*by "Hyacinth" for Salearea
It seems like every day we hear about someone who bought a Coach or other designer bag or accessory based on what some online "Authenticity Guide" said was proof that the item was genuine, or about some honest seller being reported, receiving Negative Feedback, or being forced to refund the cost of an absolutely genuine bag because the buyer or someone looking at the listing read in some Guide that a detail in the construction of the bag absolutely proved it was fake. Regardless of how good the motives of the people who write and post these Guides both here at Ebay and elsewhere might be, the information they're based on is often a hodgepodge of "Rules" copied from earlier Guides and usually years out of date, or based on just a small percentage of Coach's products, or only true for a very short time period, or that have exceptions that are never mentioned, or that were never true at all. Online Guides should NEVER be depended on to authenticate a Coach.
This Guide isn't a complete Authenticity Guide and doesn't pretend to be, it's a warning about some of the incorrect information posted in so many other Guides.
Let's look at some of the Rules that have caused the most problems.
THE YKK ZIPPER RULE -
The worst offender - Hyacinth (the author of this guide / salearea contractor) wrote another entire Guide about this. It can be found here at Salearea's list of Reviews and Guides:
The simple fact is that having zippers that say YKK on a Coach bag or other item can NEVER prove the item's genuine since Coach has used at least 5 or 6 different brands of zippers over its history and even today a few new styles use zippers that don't have a YKK stamp. That Rule also ignores the obvious fact that any fakes maker can buy either genuine OR fake YKK zippers.
THE CREED STAMP RULES
First of all, just having a creed stamp or a serial number DOESN'T prove anything's genuine. Almost all fakes have creed stamps and numbers, often accurate ones that match the bag's style.
Also, not all Coach items have creeds or serial numbers. Aside from the obvious items like wallets (although I've seen maybe 6 styles with genuine creeds) small bags that Coach considers ACCESSORIES such as Swingpacks, Pouches, Demis, Cosmetic Bags, Crossbodys - anything small enough to fit into a larger purse - may or may not have a creed patch, and those patches may or may not have serial numbers. There are no Rules about what style gets and doesn't get patches and numbers. NEVER assume that a smaller bag is fake because it doesn't have a creed. When in doubt, ask at Ebay's Purses forum or other purse authentication venues.
Going back a few years - very old vintage bags might not have creed stamps, just a Coach stamp or small plaque clamped into the leather. Creed stamps didn't become the norm until some time around the later 1970s and serial numbers followed shortly (early ones sometimes were just stamped onto a long strip of leather which was glued under the creed stamp).
In the early 1990s, Coach introduced the Italian-made Dakotas that only had a creed specific to the bag with no serial number at all, and those were followed by the Sheridans with creeds but no numbers for many of its styles (see Hyacinth's for Salearea Guides on Coach creeds, serials, and Italian-made bags for more information).
and the related SERIAL NUMBER RULES
Again, not all Coaches have serial numbers, mainly handbags, business and travel bags, luggage, etc.
Any Guide that claims to tell you exactly how many numbers and letters should be in a Coach serial number is probably wrong or will be soon. Coach numbers can be as few as 6 digits for 1996 Summer Olympics items, up to 11 and possibly more for current year (2011) items if they were made for the outlets or for Coach's retail partners.
However, Coach numbers should never have 5 or fewer digits, should never be missing the "No" in front of the serial #, and should never have 2 dashes in the number. There should always only be 1 dash EXCEPT for a very few vintage/classic leather bags where the plant didn't set the number stamping mechanism correctly and it stamped 8 numbers and no dash. These should be verified by the Coach experts at Ebay's Shoes and Purses Discussion Forum:
Having gaps in the serial number doesn't prove it's fake. Newer plants and older items where the numbers were hand-stamped would often have gaps and other glitches in the numbers.
The last half of the serial number on items made before 1994 does NOT include the style number and can't be used for looking up the style, on Google or anywhere else. If the serial number doesn't include any letters of the alphabet, it's from before 1994 and is just a random bunch of numbers. Please don't use it for authentication or identification.
THE "COACH EMBLEM IS STAMPED ON ALL THE HARDWARE" RULE
This Rule can vary from "on all the hardware" to "on at least one piece of hardware". NONSENSE. Most genuine Coaches don't have any stamps on the hardware at all. Some may have one or maybe even two pieces stamped, but the more hardware is stamped, the more likely it is that the bag or item is counterfeit. If all the hardware is stamped, it's 100 percent fake. In this case, Less Is More.
THE CENTERED C RULE or THE C'S ARE PERFECTLY STRAIGHT RULE
MOSTLY true, with plenty of exceptions. The center seam or a line down the front of a bag with Signature or Op Art C's should usually divide it into 2 halves that are mirror images of each other.
Sometimes the back isn't correctly centered like style 10483 and the front is mistaken for the back.
Some C patterns on styles like some older Scribble Hobos don't follow the rule.
Some Messenger Bags like # 70077, Heritage Stripe Crossbody Messenger have NOTHING centered.
Most Signature Tartan Plaid bags and accessories made for the outlets in 2010 and 2011 don't follow the Rule, like #15229, 15485 and a bunch more.
Some older bags with Shearling Lamb trim from 2005 like 8K47, 8K48, have the C's set at a 45-degree angle, and so do some of the coated Canvas items sold at the outlets in 2011.
Many fabric patterns don't or won't follow the Rule, like almost all the Scarf Pattern items, and ALL the Optic Signature items where you couldn't line them up if you tried because the pattern is designed to make the C's look randomly scattered all over the fabric.
Many newer patterns and embossed leathers from 2011 don't seem to follow any sort of alignment rules either.
If you're not sure what these styles and patterns look like, Search for them on Ebay. Ask at the Purses Forum if you're not sure.
THE C'S SHOULD MATCH AT THE SEAMS RULE
They often do on bags with straight up & down sides, but it's almost impossible to match them along curved seams
THE C'S SHOULDN'T BE CUT THROUGH ALONG THE SEAMS
I don't know who came up with this one but they must have gotten Coach confused with Louis Vuitton. It's IMPOSSIBLE to cut and sew a regular Signature or Mini-Sig pattern without cutting through Cs. Try it sometime.
THE C'S OUTSIDE - NO C'S INSIDE RULE
MOSTLY TRUE, with exceptions. When the outside fabric is predominantly Signature Cs of any kind or the Coach name or logo, the inside of the bag should NEVER have Signature C, Op Art or any other name or logo lining. A lot of counterfeiters do this and it's a huge red flag. To make it worse, they use some amazingly bad fabrics and patterns for their fake linings, like shiny mini-C pattern acetate in many older bags, and a cheap printed C or Op Art C pattern in newer ones.
THE EXCEPTIONS - very few when the outside Cs take up more than half the bag's fabric surface. The Wave Gallery bags from the mid-2000s #s 1439, 1441 and a few others are among the rare exceptions. If there are C's or logos outside and inside, don't bid. (BTW, this does NOT apply to wallets which often have Cs in & out).
The more the maker seems to be trying to convince you that it's a Coach, the more cautious you should be.
THE PATCHWORK FRONT AND BACK RULE
True, all Patchwork bags & accessories should have the same patchwork on both front and back. If one side is Signature C fabric, it's counterfeit. No exceptions.
THE "COACHES ARE ALWAYS PERFECT" RULE
Not in my lifetime or in yours. Perfection costs money, how much are you willing to spend?
Coach plant employees make plenty of mistakes, especially in new plants, some of the stitching at early Chinese plants was more like waves than lines. Older bags had plenty of mistakes too, especially in how the creeds and serial numbers were stamped. Sometimes even the wrong style or serial number was stamped, but any bag with that kind of mistake needs to be authenticated at Ebay's Shoes & Purses Forum before buying or selling. That's a good reason for sellers to show a full set of photos of their items, inside and out and NO ONE SHOULD EVER BUY ANY COACH ITEM, NEW OR USED, WITHOUT SEEING A FULL SET OF PHOTOS INCLUDING A READABLE CREED AND SERIAL NUMBER IF PRESENT.
THE "COACHES ARE ONLY MADE IN..." RULES
Depends. Coach bags have been made in the USA, Italy (a few very expensive exotic leather styles are still made there), Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Hungary, Turkey, Thailand, China, India, and Vietnam. Coach will soon be making bags in the Philippines and other countries where they can find cheap labor, and they have made accessories like wallets in even more places such as France, Spain and others. Other than Italy, only the Asian plants except for Turkey and Thailand are still active at this time (2011). Production moved almost completely to China starting in 2000, and all Signature C fabric bags are only made in China and the other Asian plants and have only been made since 2000. Any Signature C bag with a year code from before 2000, or with a plant code or place of origin that indicates it was made in the US, is counterfeit.
BTW, I'm sure a few people will question the inclusion of Thailand, but I've seen more than enough evidence to believe it.
THE INSIST ON A RECEIPT RULE
Useless. Someone can buy one genuine bag, or wallet, or keychain, and dozens of fakes in the same style, and then just send a copy of the receipt for the genuine item - or maybe from a totally different item, and if the buyer can't read the style and color codes, she or he will probably never know. But even better from the professional fakes-seller's point of view is that fake receipts are available all over the internet, for any imaginable brand. That's why Ebay doesn't accept receipts as proof of authenticity.
THE NO SPACES / UNEVEN NUMBERS / FLAWS IN SERIAL NUMBERS RULE
Nope, except on recent bags made after the mid-2000s. Plenty of older genuine bags have mistakes, like I said earlier.
THE NO PLASTIC ZIPPERS RULE
Nonsense! Plastic zippers were used in many bags from at least as early as the 80s and 90s. Most were used on the inside pockets especially in the Lightweights line, but the early 1990s Sheridans and probably Dakotas used them on the outside too. There were plenty of cases where Coach wanted to either reduce the weight of the hardware or color-match the zipper to the leather or lining colors. And modern Coaches still use plenty of plastic zippers.
THE "IF YOU CAN'T FIND IT ON GOOGLE OR ON COACH'S WEBSITE, IT'S FAKE" RULE
This one just doesn't make sense. First of all, Google is a Search Engine, not an encyclopedia. It picks up anything fed into it, real or fake. Second, Google was only started in around 1999, if memory serves. So trying to find something on Google that may have been made and sold before Google even existed (or in some cases, before the INTERNET even existed) is an exercise in futility. Even with newer items, unless they've been posted someplace on the 'net other than Coach's website, Google won't pick them up.
Second, Coach has only had a website for about the same time, maybe less. They no longer have any public archive of older styles or style numbers, and the ONLY things on their website are items CURRENTLY IN STOCK and available for sale. So that makes maybe a few hundred current items you may be able to find on their website, versus everything else made or sold in the last 50 years that ISN'T there. So what does searching Coach - or Google - prove? Anyone who uses either one to determine authenticity is pretty much wasting their time.
THE "IF THE SELLER SAYS IT'S AUTHENTIC, IT HAS TO BE" RULE
Sorry to have to say this. PEOPLE LIE.
THE "IF IT HAS A COACH PRICE TAG AND ALL THE PAPERWORK AND AN AUTHENTICITY CARD, IT'S REAL" RULE
Why does that this Rule assume that counterfeiters can't copy a piece of paper? Or a gift box, or a piece of wrapping tissue? Or can't stick a fake Care Card in a wallet? (There's no such thing as an "Authenticity Card", BTW, no piece of paper can EVER prove a Coach is genuine).
When someone's counterfeiting $400 handbags, they're fools if they don't include the fake paperwork - that's one of the ways they get all those professional fakes sellers to keep buying inventory from them. And the fakes-makers are pros too, not some little Mom-and-Pop business run out of a shack. Professional criminal organizations aren't going to cut corners like that, they wouldn't be around long. It would be like making fake hundred-dollar bills with pictures of Bozo The Clown. How hard is it to copy a few pieces of paper?
ANYTHING A MAKER CAN MAKE, A FAKER CAN FAKE.
THE "IF IT'S PRICED TOO CHEAP IT MUST BE FAKE " RULE
Not always - quite a few very honest sellers start their listings low, even as low as 99 cents, to generate interest and attract bidders.
Low price can be a warning in some cases though, like a seller who sells dozens of the same style wallet or keychain, and often for the same price or less that the lowest prices available at the outlets or during special sales. Multiple listings for the same styles can be a big red flag.
THE "ALL CREEDS AND HANGTAGS SHOULD BE EXACTLY LIKE EACH OTHER" RULE
Coach details including creeds, hangtags, stitching, etc can ONLY be compared to exactly the same style number bag made in the exact same plant, month and year. Details change constantly, and any Rule that was written with one style or one production year as an example has NO relevance to any other style or year. Saying that all bags should have the same hangtag as someone's 2007 Carly is sheer lunacy. Many Guides say that "all metal hangtags are fake" and that isn't true either, quite a few genuine bags have had metal, and on a few styles even plastic, hangtags.
Coach is constantly changing, and as a lovely Coachie named Denimbarks often reminded posters here, "the only consistent thing about Coach is its inconsistency".
THE "YOU CAN VERIFY IT'S REAL BY CALLING COACH OR TAKING IT TO A COACH STORE" RULE
OK, this is a tough one.
Coach's employees especially the SA's and store managers are lovely, hardworking people - but they shouldn't be trying to authenticate what they've never been trained to analyze. They have no training from Coach about even the most basic signs of fakes unless they're items currently on their shelves, they don't have the time to spend 4 to 8 hours a day studying photos, comparing details between multiple photos of the same style bag, keeping files of each and every style number and factory and manufacturing code they can find on Ebay, saving literally thousands of photos and tens of thousands of lines of text posted by Coach experts and poring over photos with a magnifying glass to spot discrepancies and incorrect details, and spending a small fortune on back issues of catalogs that tell them when something was made (their computer files don't go much past 2000) and what details a potential fake might be missing.
And to make it worse, the info on their computers is very limited - they can look up a style number of most recent full-price items and tell you when they were made and what colors were available. But the full-price stores' computers don't have records of the Made-For-Factory items at all, so any item made for and bought from the outlet won't even be in their system. When told that they can't find it on their computers, the person who brought the item in naturally assumes it must be fake.
And if it has a legit style number - let's use the Big Daddy of Fakes, NT-4903 as an example. If someone brings a fake with that number into a store and the personnel punch in the style number it comes up as a Sonoma Flap bag. So the number's in the system and it must be real? But the store personnel may have never seen that style bag since it's 15 years old and they don't realize that it isn't a Sonoma Flap and doesn't look anything like one. The computer has no information at all on the prefix, which can't be looked up for any item (the prefix is where all the factory codes are). The fact that N isn't a valid month code, T isn't a valid plant code, and there's no year code at all between the two letters means absolutely nothing to their computer.
So because of no training and no effective computer records, my estimate would be that from what I've seen or read in these forums by posters who have already gone through this kind of experience, at least 80 percent of items taken to a Coach store are misidentified, and almost always it's genuine bags especially older classic leather bags or bags from the outlet stores being ID'd as fakes. So buyers unfairly accuse sellers of selling fakes, honest sellers get claims filed against them for refunds, maybe receive negative Feedback, dinged stars, and may lose some of their discounts or have their fees raised and even get put on listing restrictions. And many of them did nothing wrong.
It's even worse by phone. If the store employees can at least see the bag, how is someone at the other end of a blind phone line supposed to be any more accurate? Even if she knew as much as some of our Ebay Coachies, she's still literally working blind without being able to examine the item. What's even more disturbing is that employees who are unable to effectively authenticate anything still keep doing it, especially when Coach's website clearly says "Coach DOES NOT authenticate merchandise or determine whether serial numbers match actual Coach items" So why doesn't Coach enforce that rule?
I'm sorry to have to say it, but one of the worst places anyone should ever have any Coach authenticated is a Coach store. And thinking that a style name given over the phone by an employee who just punches 4 or 5 numbers into a computer is a valid authentication is just wishful thinking.
So those are some of the Rules, and the reasons why very few of them are valid. One of the most important Rules in today's world is still "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."
Unlike what way too many of these Guides would have you believe, there are no one or two or even three magic details that can ever prove a Coach is genuine. Proving something's a fake is sometimes easy, but proving something's genuine requires knowledge of Coach's production codes and sometimes plant and style history, and often photos of or a known genuine version of the item being authenticated for comparison. No one can read a Guide and become a Coach expert, there's real work and research involved just like with most things worth learning.
And I hope that clarifies why those "authenticity guides" are so dangerous - not just because their information is usually totally wrong, but because authenticating a bag invovles so much more than just looking at a zipper, or seeing if the numbers in the serial are lined up straight! There are dozens of different things to analyze and if someone isn't familiar with that exact bag or family and also with Coach's designs and production methods during the time period the bag was supposedly made, they can't make an educated authentication. There are no simple Rules and it requires an lot of experience and actual research to be able to authenticate some of the trickier bags and wallets - and spot the fakes.
(*guide written by "Hyacinth" specifically for Salearea Co. under paid consultant contract)
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Coach Authenticity Guides - Facts and Myths
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September 1, 2011
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