Of Pin-ups and handbags: a meditation on thinking like a collector

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Gil Elvgren, Lucky Dog (Dog Gone Robber) Brown & Bigelow calendar illustration, 1958

By Noah Fleisher

Working at a place like Heritage I’ve learned a few things. With more than 36 categories now it helps to be a sponge. Fortunately for me, my classic Liberal Arts education has served me well – I know a little bit about a whole lot of things, but not a whole lot about any one thing. So be it.

Often, the things I have learned at Heritage have bolstered knowledge that I already was firmly grounded in: comics, sports, books, pop culture. I’ve seen and handled the best. Most interestingly, my knowledge has been broadened in subjects far beyond what I ever thought I would ever have the opportunity, or the inclination, to learn. This place is full of geniuses – you all know who you are, and you know I am indeed talking just about you - who have taught me how to understand collectibles, contextualize them, appreciate them and, most of all, how to think like a collector.

I am not a collector, though I do now indeed, through all that training, know how to think like one.

I haven’t examined the idea much, but the Elvgren painting you see above, his masterful 1958 pin-up Lucky Dog (Dog Gone Robber) Brown & Bigelow calendar illustration, set me thinking the other day when I was looking at the bidding on it – it sells this Saturday, Oct. 26, in Beverly Hills – when a detail in the painting set me off on a totally different path. Illustration Art is one of those categories I knew nothing about five years ago, but that I can now lose myself in for hours.

Take another look at it and tell me, if you think like a True Collector, what’s the one thing you would want to know about the situation in the photo:

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Gil Elvgren, Lucky Dog (Dog Gone Robber) Brown & Bigelow calendar illustration, 1958

Breed of dog? No.

Color of her eyes? Possibly.

Exactly what kind of handbag is that poor pooch holding in its mouth? Give that collector a prize!

I don’t comport too poorly, but I’m no fashion plate. I can tell you honestly that the most thought I ever gave to a handbag, prior to three years ago, was when I’d wonder how my wife crammed so much junk into hers. I didn’t know Vuitton from Chanel and the only thing I knew of Hermes was that I dressed up as him for “Greek Gods Day” in sixth grade.

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Now I wonder if that bag in the image is from the French handbag design house Hermes, if it’s a Kelly or a Birkin, or if that’s a Chanel Shoulder Bag, or a Small Tote. I know it’s not a clutch, an overnite or a minaudiere – though I do have a fondness for the colorful work of Judith Leiber.

I’ve narrowed it down to one of the four below. Likely I’m wrong on all counts and one of our Handbags staff can and will let me know what it is.

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Chanel White Caviar Leather Small Tote Bag with Gold Hardware.

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Chanel White Lambskin Leather Shoulder Bag with Gold Hardware.

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Hermes 40cm White Epsom Leather Kelly Bag with Gold Hardware.

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Hermes 35cm White Clemence Leather Birkin Bag with Gold Hardware.

My money is on the Kelley.

Handbags are a very hot collectibles category, and the Director of Handbags at Heritage, Matt Rubinger, is the best at what he does. He lives and breathes the best handbags in the world and his enthusiasm is very contagious. As a result I have gotten a crash course in handbags over the last three years from Matt and his staff. I can indeed tell a Birkin from a Kelly and Louis from a Leiber. I cannot tell you what they are worth, but I find the market, the materials and the collectors all fascinating, especially as I have learned how they think. I will never own a high-end handbag, but I will understand why someone would want to.

I would also understand why whoever buys this Elvgren painting would do very well to find a matching handbag for their wife (assuming it will be a male purchaser). It’s an irresistible collecting combination, and every collector will be happy in the end.

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4 comments to Of Pin-ups and handbags: a meditation on thinking like a collector

  1. L.A. Davis-Almond says:

    Loved your blog! Loved how your liberal arts education played into every part of the blog. I will look for new ones in the future.
    Loved how you worked the Kelly bag into the mix and how you were able to put all the pieces together. Entertaining and well written. (I’m a former freelance journalist turned estate seller).

  2. Mr. Fleisher,
    I do appreciate your treatise on the meaning of the purse. I myself, am more obsessed over what compels someone to pay $173,000 for an original pinup painting!
    Although, if I had sufficient wealth, I too would acquire the painting just so I could see the pinup girl every day and imagine seeing her live.
    LM

  3. Martin says:

    I’d prefer to find a matching wife that came with the handbag. Can’t afford either.

  4. Debbie says:

    Elvgren’s are my single favorite artist we sell. LOVE his works and that seems counterintuitive given that i’m a women. People think that only men buy these but that’s not the case. LOVE the bags too.

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