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In the last century, travel has paved its way into the list of Great British pastimes as we gradually began to explore foreign shores across Europe and the rest of the world. We teamed up with online luxury superstore and travel connoisseurs, Kensington Bespoke, to take a deeper look into the Great British sunseekers.
On the cuff of the 20th century, only the upper classes and those who could afford it had the opportunity to travel. A popular means of escaping the United Kingdom often came in the form of an ocean liner voyager. This gave passengers the opportunity to enjoy all the luxuries offered by the finest cruise ships before they finally reached their destination, which undeniably added to the whole prestigious experience.
For those passionate about sartorial sophistication, the finest clothes and accessories to accompany were a necessity. In turn, this meant that high quality luxury became essential to transport such goods from British shores to holiday destinations. Much like the way we dress ourselves to present an image and a message to those who observe us, the style of luggage carried by passengers was equally important, to portray high status and wealth. Luxury brands recognised within fashionable circles today were equally as prestigious at the time, such as French brand, Louis Vuitton. Cases dating back to the 1900s have often been known to fetch as much as an eye-opening $21,000 (just over £16,000) at auctions today.
In 1804, English engineer Richard Trevithick built the first railway steam locomotive. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the connection was made between travel and trains – the railways served as a quicker and more affordable method of travel, which allowed more people to explore further parts of the world, and of the United Kingdom. With this boom came the rise of the Pullman style of luggage. The name Pullman originated from the railroad seats, which the Pullman bag slotted effortlessly into. Around this time, it became commonplace for travellers to apply a number of stickers to luggage, depicting the various locations they’d had the pleasure of visiting in the past. A British brand which became prominent with the increasing popularity of rail travel was Globe-Trotter, who date back to 1897 and today are still recognised as a symbol of luxury, favoured both by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond himself. Her Royal Highness opted for a Globe-Trotter case in 1947 when travelling for her honeymoon, and still supports the brand to this day, often spotted with various pieces. Handmade in Hertfordshire, Globe-Trotter luggage still utilise traditional methods which date back to the Victorian era today.
In the closing years of the 1940s, travel had increased massively, and was no longer only available to the rich and famous. This meant that luggage too became less elitist, and began utilising more affordable materials, meaning a wider range of styles and aesthetics became more widely available. One of these changes came in the form of plastic handles, which replaced the former leather handles, this allowed for a firmer and more durable grip. At the same time, hats were rising to the forefront of the fashion world, and with them came the necessity for carry cases, often emblazoned with the initials of their owner for a personal and prestigious finish.
In the years that followed World War Two, travelling changed from a luxury to a necessity. This growth in travel called for a growth in luggage, where functionality surpassed aesthetics in importance. Cases placed more focus on feasibility, becoming bespoke to allow the transportation of a wide range of goods. This ranged from make-up holders to trinket boxes to pet carriers and everything in between. Colours of these designs often became bolder and brighter, to shed some light on an unfortunately dark few years.
In the 1960s, the popularity of air travel greatly increased, meaning that the need for suitable luggage and easily transportable cases rose. Heavy trimmings were required to be removed in order to fit in with weight regulations. This called for new lightweight materials such as vulcanised fibre, raffia wicker and plastic to be introduced into the luggage industry. The 1960s are often cited as the resurgence of hard case packers. An endless pallet of colours remained a prominent aspect of their overall aesthetic.
A 1962 travel advert for American Tourister luggage
So what should collectors of luxury luggage be aware of?
It’s important to recognise that with vintage luggage, the quality and condition of the piece will have a direct effect on its value. One should always consider the material utilised to produce the piece – Kensington Bespoke recommend looking for genuine leather and the use of quality wood. The manufacturing process should also be taken into consideration – ensure that the piece in question has a maker’s stamp; this is one of the most important indicators of the piece’s quality. These can often be found on the leading edge or inside it; other locations include the internal fabric of cotton, silk or chamois.
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