Coach Serial Numbers - the Basic Facts
*by “Hyacinth” for Salearea
Coach serial numbers can be confusing, and are constantly changing. They, along with the creed patch or stamp (that thing that begins “This is a Coach Bag...” stamped inside every full-size Coach handbag and some but by no means all accessories like Pouches, Swingpacks, and other smaller items) are also the most useful and dependable parts of any Coach bag in helping determine age, style, origin and especially authenticity.
Unfortunately there's so much misinformation about serial numbers that it's getting harder and harder to find accurate information. Many so-called "authenticity guides" spout that all serials must follow such-and-such a rule, which is absolute NONSENSE. Serial numbers have been changing almost since they originated, and there are no “rules" that apply to even a small percentage of them at any one time.
The Coach creed came first - it began to be stamped in Coach bags some time in the mid to late 1970s, a few years after Bonnie Cashin left Coach. There's no verified date when Coach began numbering their bags but late 1970s seems to be close. The first numbers were all numbers - the always-present "No" (with the "o" underscored) for "Number", followed by 3 numbers, a dash and then four more numbers. The order was completely random and every bag had its own unique number, so any time the same exact number appears in more than one bag, it's an absolute certainty that at least one, and probably both, of the numbers AND bags are counterfeit. Good examples are "308-9875” and “123-3445” but there are many others. The style number was NOT part of the serial number. (And some early bags had numbers that were just stamped into a long thin strip of leather and then glued under the creed stamp, and those would sometimes come loose with wear.)
Up until the end of the 1990s, the serial numbers were mostly hand-stamped using a mechanism that allowed the operator to change numbers quickly, and often in early Coaches you can see the top or bottom of the next number in line above or below the actual serial number. And rarely the dash between the two halves was skipped over and a string of 8 numbers would be stamped. Neither of these production glitches means that the bag is a fake, and neither did numbers that were off-center, angled, or bumping into the border of the creed statement. Contrary to what all too many “guides” say, early Coaches were NOT perfect and uneven numbers are NOT always signs of a fake. But they still need to be checked by an expert since the same things can be found in fakes.
Changes came in the late 1980s. Along with a change of ownership, Coach also made changes to both the creeds and the serial numbers. Instead of the “Made in New York City, U.S.A.” stamp, the addition of new plants meant a change in the creed to “Made in the United States” up until the early 1990s when off-shore plants were added and the wording changed again. The serial number also changed during the 1989-1990 period and now was “No” followed by FOUR numbers, a dash and three more numbers. As before, none of these numbers have ANY significance - they don’t indicate the date or plant and most important, they don’t include the style number! Any serial number from before 1994 that’s all numbers does NOT include the style number and can’t be used to identify or authenticate the bag. It doesn’t mean that a bag is fake if the last three or four digits don’t seem to belong to the right style - they’re not supposed to.
To create even more confusion, some bags don’t have serial numbers at all. Coach made several lines of pebbled leather Spectator-style bags in the early 1990s that break that “rule” too. The Dakota family was pebbled, unlined, and made in Italy, and none of them had serial numbers. Right behind them came the Sheridans - also pebbled but with a textured taupe fabric lining and made in the U.S., Italy, or Costa Rica, and about a third of them didn’t have numbers either although both lines used sewn-in creed patches that were unique to those two style families.
The major change came in 1994. Production codes and the bag’s style number now became part of the serial. The first digit was the month code, always a letter of the alphabet and supposed to include only A through M, although a few mistakes were made and a rare “N” might slip through. (The letter “i” was avoided because it was too easy to confuse it with the number 1.) The second digit, always a number, was the year the bag was made. Since the new formatting began in 1994, “4” was the first year code used, and single digits would continue to be used for a decade - “0” for the year 2000, “3” for 2003, etc. In 2004 a Zero was added to differentiate between 1994 and 2004 and to match the actual year abbreviation, and that continues to the present with the Zero changing to a One in 2010 so that the code for 2010 is “10”. The year code is still the 2 center digits in the first half of the serial number.
The third or last digit was the plant code, originally a letter of the alphabet but with the expansion to Turkey, China and beyond, Coach ran out of letters and began using single numbers. Since the original New York City plant was closed before the new codes began and only a very small production area may have been left at that location for things like sample bags, repairs and possible production emergencies, there are only a very small number of bags that might have used the A code that would have belonged to the original NYC location, and they should always be carefully authenticated. (NOTE - This is a correction to the earlier Guide). “B, C and D” stood for the US plants that took over from the NYC plant. And although it’s remotely possible that Coach may have used the same code for more than one plant (or maybe even tried to disguise the non-USA origins of some bags by using a “Made in the US” creed stamp but with the correct non-US code digit in the serial number - this is strictly speculation on my part), usually a contradiction between the plant code digit and the country actually named in the creed means the bag has a discrepancy that needs to be examined and authenticated. The actual plant codes weren’t made public but a few Coachies have figured them out pretty well.
Coach bags have been made in the USA, Italy, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Hungary, Turkey, Thailand, China, India, and Vietnam. Coach will also be making bags in the Philippines and other countries where they can find affordable labor, and they have made accessories like wallets in even more places such as France and Spain among others. Only the Asian plants (except for Turkey and Thailand) are still active at this time (2013). Production moved almost completely to China starting in 2000 although some Business and Travel items were made there as early as 1996. 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 almost sure to be counterfeit. And any bag or wallet that says it was "Made In Korea" IS fake - Coach has never had any plants in Korea.
The second half of the number, after the dash, was now the product’s Style number and was usually four digits long, but some bags and accessories had 3-digit style numbers, like some early Scribble bags. If something like an older-style Cabin Bag from the Travel line only had a 3-digit style number (502), a Zero would sometimes (but not always - it depended on the year!) be added in front of it to make four digits. So a Cabin Bag made in the “B” plant in March 1994 would have a serial of C4B-0502. (BTW, those 3-digit style numbers beginning with -5 or -05 always belonged to items from the Travel and Business lines - any HANDBAGS with serial numbers where the style number starts with -05 such as H4B-0532 are counterfeit). But since there also were some bags with only 3 digits in their style numbers Coach sometimes confused the situation even more by issuing totally different 4-digit style numbers for the same item. Most of this waffling about serial and style numbers took place between 2005 and 2006 and those serial numbers break every so-called “rule” ever written. As one of Ebay’s most respected Pursies once said, “the only consistent thing about Coach is its inconsistency”. Always remember those words and take them to heart.
Coach serial numbers will usually have at least 7 digits with only one exception - items made for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Any Coach item that has only 5 or fewer digits in the serial number, and / or is missing the “No” in front of the number, is almost 100 percent certain of being fake. If the creed also says “Made in Korea” the “fake” percentage goes up to 100 percent. Every Coach made in or after 1994 will always have at least three digits in the first half of the number including a one or two-number year code in the center position. If there’s just a letter and a number, or only 2 letters and no number, the item is FAKE - no exceptions. “NT-4903” is the most common example but there are dozens more.
The style number itself has also changed constantly over the years. In 2005 Coach was running out of numbers between 001 and 9999, so they experimented with using a mix of letters and numbers, such as 8F41 for a Scribble Brights Pocket Zip (which also had a style number of 2166 - see the “inconsistency” comment above), and by using up previously unused numbers including some of the 3-digit numbers already mentioned. In late 2006 they finally came to their senses and began using 5-digit all-number style numbers. So now not only is the style number longer, but remember that the year code now also has 2 numbers as of 2004, meaning the minimum number of digits in a serial number has gone up to Nine. Apparently Coach prefers round numbers so in 2006 after realizing that their major expansion into manufacturing in the Far East meant that they were not only out of alphabet letters to use as plant codes, but they’d run out of single numbers as well, all plant codes were changed from one number to two - for instance Italy went from “E” to “12” - and now the minimum number of digits was a nice round “ten”.
“But wait - there’s more!!!” Almost at the same time Coach started to include the letter “F” at the beginning of the style number to indicate when an item had been made specifically for their Factory (outlet) stores - sometimes referred to as “MFF” for “Made For Factory” - and they have added a few MORE codes to confuse things even further, such as a “P” after the style number to indicate a “pilot” bag released in limited numbers to test buyers’ response, and a few other letter codes to indicate what specific retailer the bag was made for.
And that’s the way things sit at the moment. But change is inevitable, especially with Coach, and more new codes and more serial number changes will show up sooner or later. So as I mentioned at the beginning, ANY so-called “guide” that claims that serial numbers alwys follow a certain rule or always have “x” number of digits or always have only numbers in them are, to put it politely, full of hot air. Don’t EVER depend on any online Guide that claims that Coach follows certain Rules - they don’t. They make them and almost immediately break them, but so far I’ve only found 2 consistent unbreakable Rules, one of which is that Coach never made bags in Korea. Of course now that they’re moving production out of China to cheaper sources like Vietnam, India, and the Philippines, that Rule may not last long either.
I hope I’ve given the reader an idea of the complexity of that little string of numbers and letters stamped inside every (OK, almost every) bag. Not only can it tell a bag’s history and pedigree, but to an experienced Coach specialist it can tell whather or not the bag is The Real Deal. Just as I said in our other guide about creed patches, DON’T buy from sellers who don’t or won’t show clear photos of the serial number! There are dozens of serials used only by counterfeiters that would never show up in genuine bags, and there are numbers frequently used in both real and fake bags that can raise a red flag. There are even lists of commonly-used fake serial numbers available several places online including a major purse forum, and the ladies here at Ebay’s Shoes, Purses and Accessories forum can usually spot a fake or questionable number pretty quickly. Ask for advice there or here before you bid. And don’t bid unless you can see that number and read the creed statement, as long as the bag opens enough for a camera to fit inside.
(*guide written by "Hyacinth" specifically for Salearea Co. under paid consultant contract)
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