The Glory Days of Travel: Buying Vintage Luggage and Travel Accessories

With the proliferation of travel sites online, group travel packages, and credit cards that include travel rewards, it’s easy to forget that travel was once the domain of the very wealthy. As such, the luggage these travelers carried not only held their clothes, it denoted their social status as well. Nowadays, if you’re a travel or history buff, it’s likely that you love these vintage luggage pieces for their beauty, their solid construction and design, and in some cases, even for the travel stickers that remain affixed to some of them.

How to choose vintage luggage on eBay

For you to truly have a vintage piece of luggage, it needs to be at least 10 years old. Once upon a time, a vintage piece wasn’t classified as vintage until it hit the 20-year mark, but that has changed. It’s also the 10-year mark that classifies the bag as “vintage” instead of merely “used.”

That being said, not all pieces of vintage luggage may come with a date, which means you may need to look at the style of the bag or travel piece to get a better idea of its age. A hard-case 18th-century steamer trunk looks very different from a hard-case, hand-sized make-up case from the 1960s.

These much-older pieces of vintage/ antique luggage may be easier to identify than pieces that manufacturers created in the past 10 or 20 years. The trappings of a piece like buckles, interior fabrics, construction, and colors also offer up clues as to how old a piece is.

What to look for in vintage luggage

By their nature, vintage suitcases for sale on eBay have already been owned by someone else. As such, the possibility for obvious signs of wear and tear exist. In light of this, it’s best to have a checklist to remind yourself of the possible issues you may encounter when looking at a piece. These imperfections may affect the value and the beauty of the bag. Some of the key areas to pay attention when making a selection of old luggage on eBay are the following:

  • The outside - Is it intact and clean?
  • The latches and other hardware - Do the latches, hinges and zippers work?
  • The interior - Is the lining clean?
  • Function - If it’s a suitcase, does it close all the way?
What are some of the materials that vintage luggage pieces are made of?

One way for you to tell right off the bat if a piece is vintage or even antique is by looking at the materials it’s constructed from. The earliest luggage manufacturers made their luggage from very sturdy materials, like wood and leather; steamer trunks and antique suitcases on eBay often had hard bodies like this.

Once weight restrictions were introduced by cruise companies and then later, airlines, the materials got lighter. That’s when you begin to see items made from wicker or raffia and even some metal alloys. Once the 20th century rolled around, and particularly, the mid-20th century, luggage manufacturers introduced materials, like vinyl, plastic, and nylon. However, it wasn’t out of the question to see leather or cloth exteriors on these bags.