How to buy a vintage suitcase

>> Sunday, January 13, 2008

The best way is to find one abandoned on the street, thrown out by someone who just doesn't appreciate it. I'm still haunted by the one I found several years ago, kept for a bit, then decided I didn't need anymore. I know now that it was a suitcase from the 30s, and it would be kind of nice to have it now.
But I lucked out (after some fruitless searching yesterday on Queen W), when I went to the St. Lawrence Sunday Market flea market. I have to admit that I'm definitely a night owl, so I usually get down to the market by around noon. But I'm haunted by an old work friend who asked me when I usually go to the market, and was shocked by my answer. He assured me that by noon only detritus was left, and there was no point in going. That's the word I always think of, ringing in my ears: "detritus... detritus... detritusss..."

So the last couple of times I've managed to get there by around 9 or 10. (Still not the recommended 5am but I'm more likely to stay up until 5am then get down to the market by then.) And I have realized that there is actually better stuff the earlier you go. It starts to get crowded by noon and some of the tables do seem to be picked over.

When I went today to look for a vintage suitcase I was lucky because usually you never find what you're looking for. (You do end up with things you didn't even think of, such as the tiny box of gramaphone needles pictures at the top of this post.) But I actually found one seller who had several vintage suitcases and was very friendly and patient as I opened them up and tried to decide which size, which colours, which condition, which lining. I love the one I finally picked, so while I'm no expert here are the features I can suggest that you might want to look for.

1. materials: some are made from cardboard, some leather and some are made from coated wood. Mine is made from coated wood and I like it because it's sturdier than cardboard and it has that charming textured finish typical of the 30s/40s suitcase.

2. condition: I was tempted by one with a crack but decided it would be better to have a sturdy one that definitely won't fall apart. Mine has corners reinforced with little metal plates which will help protect it against damage from knocks.

3. smell: definitely check that it doesn't smell musty, especially as that will probably transfer to anything you put into it.
4. latches/hinges: should work easily and seem secure. Ask if there's a key because that's always nice to have.

needs a little bit of a vacuuming

5. lining: I like pockets and compartments of any kind, and of course colour and type of fabric depends on your taste. I love the grosgrain ribbons in mine that are meant for securing the contents, presumably with a jaunty bow. The satin is a sort of pale tan/grey/champagne kind of colour.
6. outer appearance: Some have stripes, some a mock wool plaid kind of pattern, or you can move ahead to the 60s/70s and get a psychedelic floral number. Mine is mustard yellow with a cream border, and it has a nice nubbly texture that looks like fabric. I suspect that suitcases with a label with the name of the manufacturer are more collectable. It's just nice to know where things come from.

7. size/comfort: mine was large enough to be useful but isn't too heavy and has a comfortable handle.

8. price: you decide, I paid $30 which was well worth it to me.While I was at it I found these darning eggs. The little pink one is apparently a "baby" darning egg. Not sure but I guess it's for darning little booties and such, although I don't like to think of some poor baby wearing worn out socks. This is possibly why I've never seen a "baby" darning egg before but since I bought it at the same place with the suitcase and other darner, the seller gave me a big discount and I couldn't resist the charming little thing.


Jen Anisef January 14, 2008  
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toronto craft alert January 14, 2008  

oooh, great find claire!!! i'm excited to check it out at the show (and all of your beautiful things inside, of course)

i love how systematic you were about this decision.

and when i was a market regular (had to stop for budgetary reasons & because coronation street sunday am digests took over our lives) my husband would have us out the door by 8am MAX. the few times we went later (and i'm talking 10am) it was definitely more picked over. so there is value in early rising.

oh, and re: crazy lady fabric shopping, this week has gotten crazy with homework & meetings, but can we make a plan to do this next week? i'm excited to visit again...


Claire Louise Milne January 14, 2008  

I agree, I have to set a budget for each trip in my mind but can easily convince myself to go over.

I wasn't that systematic at the time, I got a little thrill when I saw that suitcase, then tried to think it through a bit to confirm it was the best one. When I got home I noticed some extra features I liked so that's when I wrote the post. I was thinking I sound more crazy than systematic but thank you!

Fabric shopping next week sounds perfect.

Junie Moon January 14, 2008  

What a fun and instructional post--I've wondered about how and where folks find the vintage suitcases they've been refurbishing. The darning eggs are awesome--I remember my mom and grandmother darning socks.

Anonymous,  January 17, 2008  

I love the darning eggs! I thought they were maracas at first.....haha.

Laurie January 19, 2008  

I'm stopping to say hello. We, too, are working our way through with renovations on our house (both inside and out), so I feel your aches and pains of the process as well as the elation of a completed section.

FYI: the "eggs" are for darning socks. Homemade knitted socks, as well as commercially made ones, do eventually wear out, usually in the toe, ball, or heel. Since these pieces of clothing are designed to fit over a tightly curved area of the body, using a darning egg to stitch up the hole/tear can keep the sock from bunching poorly from the repair. They are indeed a great find! Congrats~

sweetie pie press January 25, 2008  

jen and claire,

can i go crazy lady shopping with you? i'd like to.

also, aitor is very jealous of the needles and case. he even has a gramophone.

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