Of course, top fashion brands control the value of their wares by not discounting them. You won’t find an ‘Everything must go’ sale in your local Tiffany store.

So how do you get designer brands at a price you can afford? The solution is to buy second hand.

Pre-owned handbags these days are not the worn-out items you might see at a community centre jumble sale; designer handbags are built to last and their owners tend to look after them very well, often using them only for special occasions and then selling them on.

Buying second hand also enables you to jump the queue. French fashion brand Hermes, for example, limits the number of new Birkin bags it makes available, meaning customers may have to wait up to six months to get their hands on one.

A good option for buying a second-hand designer handbag is at auction. A number of auction houses now run specialist handbags departments staffed by experts to provide you with the opportunity to buy a designer handbag (or two), in good condition and at a great price. They hold sales at various points throughout the year and you will find their staff available to discuss with you the bag you are seeking and guide you through the bidding and buying process.

The classic Hermès Kelly bag preceded the Birkin. Its namesake Princess Grace (formerly actress Grace Kelly) of Monaco famously used hers to hide her pregnancy from paparazzi in 1956. This Kelly 32, 12½ x 9in (32 x 23cm) in black calf leather with gilt hardware, has a 1955 date code. Estimated at £600-£800, it made £1000 at Chiswick Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) on May 31, 2016.

With an estimate of £500-700, this early 20th century gem-set evening handbag attributed to Van Cleef & Arpels sold in the Fellows Designer Collection on April 5-17, 2016 for £1020 (previewed in ATG No 2237).

What determines value?

Factors that determine the value of a handbag include the brand, colour, material, condition and rarity of the item.

As a general rule, the more exclusive brands command higher prices, with limited edition examples commanding a premium due to their scarcity.

When it comes to materials, exotic leathers such as alligator, lizard, ostrich and snakeskin bags tend to fetch higher price tags as they are more expensive to produce than those made from other materials used in handbag production.

Condition is also a key determinant of value. Two 1960s Hermès Sac Malette for example can make very different prices due to this critical factor. It should be remembered though that pre-owned handbags are naturally likely to have signs of wear but they can be restored, including those well-loved vintage pieces.

If you don’t fancy a modern bag and would prefer something a little bit different, look out for vintage handbags. Some designers have been reissuing older iconic looks in their new line-ups, thereby making the originals even more desirable.

A tan Swift Birkin 35 handbag with maker’s padlock and key, 14in (35cm). Complete with maker’s dust bag and rain protection cover, it sold for £4750 at Fellows’ April 5-17, 2016 Designer Collection sale.

A Chanel New Mini Classic Flap handbag from 2005-2006 that was offered with its original dustbag, authenticity card and box. It sold for £1250 (est: £900-1400) at Wright Marshall of Knutsford on 23 March 2019.

Genuine vs reproduction

Plenty of counterfeit handbags have entered circulation and it is often very difficult for non-specialists to spot the subtle differences between genuine items and reproductions.

It’s important to be sure of the quality of the material, its texture, the design and shape of the bag, the quilting pattern, stitching, lining, locks, branding and logos, straps and zips.

Don’t be afraid to contact the auction house and ask questions relating to these matters. You can also ask the auctioneer about the provenance of the bag, whether it comes with its original packaging or original receipt of purchase.

Also be aware that some bags may be ‘in style of’ or ‘after’ Chanel or Hermès and these are reproductions rather than the real thing.

Some handbags may be offered with authenticity cards, but it’s important to note that not all of such cards are genuine. Check whether the numbers on the authenticity card match the bag’s serial number (which is often found somewhere within the handbag’s interior lining), and also have the right number of digits that should relate to the correct date of manufacture.

Always satisfy yourself that the item is genuine before bidding.

A Louis Vuitton ‘Melrose Avenue’, a bleu nuit monogram vernis leather handbag which came to auction with a Louis Vuitton cloth, care booklet and dust bag. It sold for £900 (est: £700-1000) at Dreweatts sale in Newbury on 13 February 2019.