Just like the stock market, the values of antique purses fluctuate and are impacted by the general state of the economy. When hard times hit and folks have less discretionary income to spend, prices can drop. When the economy is humming along, prices rise.

To better reflect the value of purses in relationship to each other versus the vagaries of the general economy, I have established a sliding scale from 1 to 10. The cheapest purses have a value of one while 10 is the most expensive. The goal of this scale is to reflect the value of a specific purse without actually assigning a price.

What to consider when valuing a purse

Before I get down to general factors used by myself to establish the purse values listed on this website, I’d like to address personal taste. Purses, like any item, have features that can appeal to or offend your own personal tastes. These factors greatly impact your personal value scale.

For example, I’m not a fan of three-dimensional flower celluloid purses. The flowers always reminded me of iced flowers on a wedding cake. On my personal value scale, these purses have an extremely low value. However, and this is a big exception, there are collectors who avidly seek and buy these purses. So while my personal value scale would rank these purses low, the general collecting environment ranks these purses high.

When I set the values for purses on this website, I made my best effort to remove my personal tastes from the equation. So, there are purse themes that I don’t particular care for, but in observing how others actively seek them, I have ranked them accordingly.

It is important to remember that value guides are just that – guides. They don’t reflect personal values. If a purse reminds you of your great grandmother, you may value it higher that the market does. Two bidders, who both want a purse for personal reasons, can drive the price of a purse outside of its average value.  Every collector eventually comes face-to-face with an item that doesn’t follow the guide. However, the following factors should help you in determining celluloid purse value:

Rarity of the design

The first step I use in determining the value of a frame is to evaluate how rare the frame or purse design is. How can you judge rarity? I began by finding every purse book that I could that shows celluloid purses. You’ll find a list of those books in the FAQ section. I’ve been actively searching for and purchasing celluloid purses for about three years. In the course of doing this, I’ve become very familiar with the types of purses being offered on auction and antique websites. Finally, becoming a member of the Antique Purse Collecting Society has allowed me to see collections amassed by others and attend informative workshops like Ellen Foster’s 2009 presentation on celluloid purses. Exposure to all of this allows you see what purse patterns repeat and what are unusual.

Quality of the design

It’s important to take into account how well the purse design is executed. If the purse features a person or animal, are they distinguishable? Are human figures anatomically accurate or hopeless out of proportion? If the purse is carved, is it done with care or does it look like someone took a penknife to the frame? Judging quality of design becomes easier as you see more and more purses and can gauge when something was well-done versus a hack job.

Popularity of the design

The more popular the design is the more folks want it and the higher the price can go. Popularity is a nebulous and ever-changing factor. What is popular now, can change in 5 or 10 years. However, the following collecting areas have withstood the test of time and continue to be popular – Egyptian Revival, Asian and grotesque. By grotesque, I don’t necessarily mean ugly. The term is also applied to the unusual. For example, designs featuring bugs or monsters can be called grotesque. If a purse features a popular design, it adds to its value.

Condition, Wear and Damage

 A number of celluloid purses were cast from molds, which can result in varying quality. In addition, plastics wear down; especially plastic that rubs against clothing. A purse that was carried sometimes shows wear in the form of rubbed edges on the side that was held against the body. Evaluate a purse to see if the design is crisp.

Celluloid is a brittle plastic and prone to cracks. It is also one of the more unstable plastic, and does not age well. A purse should be inspected to make sure that there are no breaks. Breaks are extremely hard to fix and there are only a handful of folks who will even attempt them. Even with a good repair, plastic will always be weak where the repair occurred. Personally, I avoid purses where there is a break in the frame as I’ve found them too hard to repair.

Finally, we reach the dreaded topic of celluloid disease. Celluloid disease, also referred to as celluloid rot, is the process by which celluloid decomposes at fast rate. Let’s be up front. All plastics degrade. Celluloid degrades at an even faster rate than most modern plastics because of its unstable molecular structure. Celluloid rot or disease is when this happens at a faster than normal rate. No one’s quite sure what causes it, but the result is the polymer compounds begin to unravel.

Celluloid disease is believed to be catching, but no definitive study has been made. However, collectors have found that if other celluloid items are stored with a piece that has celluloid disease, the other items begin to show signs of the same problem. The theory is that the gas given off makes the polymers unstable, infecting the other items.

Needless to say, you don’t want to purchase a purse with this disease as its incurable. Signs of celluloid rot include: brittle and decomposing plastic, flaking and cracking. Celluloid disease will destroy any value that a purse has.


Celluloid purse frames by themselves are unique and very collectible. However, having the original bag on a purse does raise its value. Having an original beaded bag in good to excellent condition raises the value even more. Having an original bag that is unique in some way and the price goes up again.

Celluloid purse bags come in four varieties: crocheted, beaded, leather and velvet. While you’ll find purses with fabric bodies, other than velvet, every example I have seen has been a replacement. A fabric bag immediately sets off my replacement radar. Judging whether a fabric bag has been replaced is quite easy because most fabric types, patterns and dying/weaving processes have been well documented and dated in books on textiles.  

Spotting replacement beaded bags is a lot harder. You’ll need to evaluate the beading style, and the types of beads used. Also check for a label. For example, there’s a company called Revivals that took old frames and put new bags on them and their label is clearly displayed inside purses.

A number of beaded bags made during the 1900s-1930s had plain celluloid frames. Sometimes folks remove the plain celluloid frame on these bags and add a more unique celluloid frame. If the transition is done correctly with appropriate antique bag and antique frame, the overall purse will increase in value.

Another way to check for a possible replaced bag is to examine the lining. Check to see that the material used is age appropriate. Be cautious. While the lining may be an indicator of a replaced bag, it is also possible that the bag is original and only the lining was replaced.

While crocheted bags are age appropriate (and usually not replacements because the number of folks crocheting has dwindled), they don’t add as much to the overall purse value. This is because there are not a lot of folks who love crocheted bags, they’re plain and the size is usually quite cumbersome. You’ll get a slight addition to value, but a beaded bag is preferable.

Finally leather and velvet bags need to be closely evaluated. There are original leather and velvet bags on celluloid purses, but there are also replacement bags. Careful examination of the leather and velvet, wear patterns and how it is attached to the frame usually reveals if it is original or a replacement. A dead giveaway on a replacement is the use of fishing line to attach the bag to the frame.

The ultimate bag is one that complements the frame. If you find a celluloid purse where the design on the frame melds seamless into the purse design, you’ll have a celluloid purse at the higher end of the value guide.


I’ve left this topic to the end because there’s really no hard and fast rule for whether color adds to the value of celluloid purses. A poor addition of color that obscures the purses design will definitely devalue it, but the addition of color is a trickier judgment.

Rather than say color increases a purse value I prefer to ask the question: Does the color add to the design’s popularity? If the color makes the design more popular, then the increased popularity raises the value of the purse. If the color detracts from the design’s popularity, the purse decreases in value.

Please be aware there are folks who unscrupulously add color to celluloid frames. I’m sad to say I’ve seen folks sell purses that have been obviously altered with the addition of color using markers and have not made buyers aware of this. An honest dealer will answer your questions truthfully and with patience. If they don’t know the answer they will say that. When inspecting a purse, if you have any doubts, ask questions.

Most color was originally added through either paint or dye. Examine the wear pattern on color and you’ll usually be able to tell if a frame was enhanced at a later date. In the case of markers – it’s rather obvious as the color looks drawn in with a pen instead of applied with a brush.