Vintage Luggage Styles: Take a Journey Through Time

Updated February 23, 2021
Vintage 1930s Black Leather Suitcase Luggage

As recreational traveling became more and more commonplace in the 19th century, a need for having designated containers to carry your goods from one place to another arise, and pieces of vintage luggage help visually display this transition over the course of a hundred years. Spanning the length of the 20th century, luggage has transitioned from meaning large trunks into highly-compactible, formidable side-rollers, with there being so many stops along the way. Take a look at how changes in transportation have impacted the way luggage was made and discover which brands and styles you should pick up from your local antique store.

Transportation and Vintage Luggage Timeline

As worldwide transportation evolved, so too did the styles of luggage that people carried around. Up until the early 20th century, large luggage trunks were the primary tool that people used to move their personal goods from one location to another. However, these heavy and cumbersome containers weren't made for modern travel methods. Thus, luggage shifted into something smaller, lighter, and eventually, incredibly durable. Here's a look at a few distinct moments in vintage luggage history.

Slim Leather Suitcases of the 1920s-1930s

With the rise of the automobile industry in the 1920s and the widespread use of the locomotive system came the need for smaller, easier to transport luggage. Large trunks were no longer the best option for people to carry their personal items in when they went to and from vacation; rather, slim, leather suitcases were designed to fit into the tops of train cars and in vehicle's trunks. However, you had to be careful with these suitcases because they often crumpled under extreme weights and temperatures.

Hard-Shell Suitcases of the 1950s-1960s

In the post-war period, air travel became an option for the average western citizen. Pilots, battle-hardened by the rigors of World War Two, took to flying passenger planes and the famous commercial airline industry was born. Thus, there was a newfound need for type of luggage that could withstand high altitudes and pressure. So hard-shelled luggage was devised, and companies like Samsonite led the charge in bringing these pieces to the public.

Roller Luggage of the 1980s

Although the 1980s isn't exactly known for its spectacular luggage, you do begin to see roller luggage and collapsible handles being widely used during this decade. By this point, traveling is considered a well-oiled machine and luggage manufacturers were focused on refining luggage to provide travelers with the best experience. This included changes like increasing mobility and including safety features like built-in locks.

Vintage Luggage Brands

Unfortunately, vintage luggage does come in a myriad of brands which can make it difficult to pin down exactly which piece of old luggage your grandparents have tucked away in their closets. However, you can use this compendium of luggage brand names to better date any brand tags you find on your luggage. For now, here are some of the most notable vintage luggage makers, many of who are still in business today.

How to Value Vintage Luggage

In nearly every antique store or consignment shop, there's at least one piece of vintage luggage that you can find which is often hidden underneath stacks of early 2000s purses and beside lamps without lampshades. Of these pieces, you might find soft duffels, hard makeup cases, large hat boxes, and more. Now, before you get attracted to the $10 ticket price, make sure you look over and inside the luggage to ensure it's something worth bringing home.

  • Check the lining - If the luggage has a lining, see if its still intact and if not, how easily it can be reattached.
  • Assess the corners - Older luggage especially was built on steel or wood frames and given rounded corners using brass. If this brass is missing, the integrity of the suitcase could be compromised.
  • Look for a label - Not every piece of vintage luggage you find is going to still have a label or have a logo on its front or top. However, one's that do, especially if they're luxury brands, can be worth a lot of money.
  • Use your nose - This is the least glamorous portion of buying old luggage but open the luggage and take a big sniff. A strong mildew smell could indicate a rotting frame and mean it's practically useless.

Vintage Luggage Values

Vintage luggage are rather unique collector's items in that you can find pieces for as little as $5 and as much as $5,000 depending on their quality, age, and most importantly, their brand. With luxury brand names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci having produced luggage for over a century, there is high-paying a specialty market for luggage from these luxury brands. For example, a leather suitcase from 1920 is listed for about $350 from one seller while a 1935 'Vache Naturelle' leather suitcase from Louis Vuitton is listed in an online auction for close to $8,000.

Make Vintage Luggage Into Art

While you might not be putting your vintage luggage to use anytime soon, you can satisfy that luggage craving by finding a cheap piece at a local shop and turning it into a work of art. From shelves, to bookcase, to chairs, the options are endless for what how you can transform a piece of vintage luggage into something perfect for your space.

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Vintage Luggage Styles: Take a Journey Through Time