With a lineup of bags that has earned Holy Grail status in the world of accessories, Hermès is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, yet there are many small signifiers on each of its creations that people wouldn’t recognize. These are the markers that indicate the year, skin, and even the craftsperson who put your treasure together. One example? Crocodile bags are identified by two dots stamped next to the logo, alligator by a square, and lizard by a double hyphen. As a collector, I’ve come to recognize various features, but even the most dedicated aficionado can learn more through research. In this post, I’ll be sharing my findings with you, starting with the blind stamps that identify the year a bag is made…
How to Read the Hermès Blind Stamp:
The letter “A” inside of a square denotes a bag from 1997, the first year that letters were encased in squares instead of in circles. My vintage Kelly bag has a “B” stamped in a circle, and it’s from 1972. Bags made after 2014 may or may not have a square around the letter or even a blind stamp at all.
Years 1997-present: Stamped with letters inside of squares
Years 1971-1996: Stamped with letters inside of circles
Years 1945-1970: Stamped with a letter corresponding to the year
The letter P in a square denotes the year 2012, which is when I acquired my lovely Rose Tyrien crocodile!
A 2005 bag with a double ring on the handle, an updated strap, and Ruthenium (gunmetal) hardware
A bag from the 2000s with a double ring and modern clasp
The letter “A” inside of a square from 1997, the first year that letters were encased in squares instead of circles.
Strap hardware on a 20cm Kelly from the 1990s
An updated clasp on the strap of this mid 1980s bag but note the single ring on handle.
Claw clasp from the 1970s – early 1980s
1971 A – From 1971-1996, letters were stamped inside of circles.
A bag made prior to 1970 is identified with a letter only that has no circle or square stamp around it.
Hermès Sizing for the More Popular Bags:
Kelly bag: 15cm and 20cm are very rare and have been discontinued since the ’90s. Custom orders are on a case-to-case basis. More common are 25cm/28cm/32cm/35cm/40cm.
Birkin bag: As with the Kelly, barking sized 15cm and 20cm are very rare and have been discontinued since the ’90s. More common are 25cm/30cm/35cm/40cm/50cm.
Constance bag: 10cm/18cm/23cm
Evelyne bag: 18cm, 29cm, 33cm (TPM/PM/GM/TGM)
Hermès’ signature orange boxes and bags have come to be associated with the highest form of luxury, but the color was initially chosen for its inexpensive price. Post-WWII, no one wanted the hue for their bags, thinking customers would prefer other colors like black, so there was an abundance of orange dye.
The Sac à dépêches was a saddle holder. After a few changes in design, it was renamed the Kelly bag, as Grace Kelly had popularized it while using the now-beloved style to hide her growing baby bump from the paparazzi.
The HAC (Haut a Courroies) is the original iteration of what we today know as the Birkin. In my opinion, this is highly collectible. Created in 1892 as a horse feeder bag, it was updated in the ’80s and customized for Jane Birkin’s jet set needs after Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas saw her fumbling to fit her straw bag in the overhead compartment on a flight from Paris to London. They customized the Birkin to be wider and shorter than its predecessor. This year, Birkin requested her name be removed from the crocodile version of the bags due to allegations of abusive practices in obtaining the skins.
Hermès uses the most expensive alligator (American alligator mississippiensis) in the world, the skins don’t have small holes on the scales, as you see with less expensive alternatives. This is slightly more costly than crocodile skin, of which the company prefers the niloticus and porosus species (they don’t fool with Caiman croc or any lesser crocodiles).
Vintage: An Hermès 20cm Kelly with a shoulder strap, a super rare Hermès Amsterdam bag, an Hermès 20cm Kelly with top handle
A square stamp next to the logo denotes alligator skin. This is a matte malachite alligator; see how perfect its scales are without a single pinhole? It’s truly perfection.
Rouge Vif lizard with gunmetal hardware
A double hyphen stamp signifies lizard.
A 25cm orange ostrich Birkin. Hermès ostrich quills are hand-pounded.
A 30cm Rouge H matte niloticus crocodile Birkin
This identifies the craftsman who made this Birkin bag.
Rose Tyrien shiny, porous crocodile. Hermès uses an agate stone to polish its crocodile and alligator skins to a shine. They don’t glaze their skins as other brands do, so your bag won’t peel or crack as easily. With use, the shine will dull, creating a nice patina.
You can order canvas straps (Bandouliere Supplement) for your Kelly bags. It’s a sportier look and can transform an exotic like my white ostrich into a casual bag. I mix and match my straps. It’s so much more fun!
The 20cm orange Kelly is a Retourne with a soft and supple finish. The others are Sellier with sharp and stiff edges.
Dust covers from different eras
Constance bag (18cm Rouge Vif ostrich)