You never know what will be brought to the salerooms for valuation. Recently an old trunk was brought to Toovey’s for valuation and sale. The owner’s hopes were confirmed, when it was identified as a rare early Louis Vuitton ‘malle cabine’ trunk dating from around 1895. It sold last week for £26,000.
The famous Louis Vuitton ‘LV’ monogram decoration was not introduced until 1896 as part of George Vuitton’s worldwide expansion of the firm. This early example was beautifully crafted but quite plain in comparison to the George Vuitton’s trunks. All Louis Vuitton trunks are numbered and it was the original numbered paper label in the interior which confirmed its authenticity and value.
The early story of Louis Vuitton is a romantic one caught up with the industrial and political revolutions of 19th century France. Its founder, Louis Vuitton, spent his early childhood in Anchay in the Jura region on the eastern borders of France. The 1830s witnessed a significant migration in France from countryside to city. In 1835 the thirteen year old Louis Vuitton left home. It took him two years to walk the 292 miles to Paris as he worked to feed himself along the way. He arrived in the city in 1837. These qualities of determination and hard work would inform his life and success.
At the age of sixteen Louis Vuitton was taken on as an apprentice in the workshop of the successful packer and box maker Monsieur Marechal where he quickly gained a reputation for his abilities in this fashionable field of enterprise.
In 1854 he married Clemence-Emile Parriaux and left Marechal to found Louis Vuitton. To begin with he specialized in packing fashions and fragile objects. It was not until 1858 that he introduced his revolutionary rectangular, stackable trunks which were an immediate success and the business expanded. His reputation for boxes of the finest quality was assured.
Napolean III and the French Empire was re-established in 1852 and Louis Vuitton was hired as the personal box maker to the Empress of France, Eugine de Montijo. This patronage and the period of urbanization and industrialization that ensured brought Europe’s elite to his firm.
The quality of Louis Vuitton’s work, his determination and hard work continued until his death in 1892. His son George Vuitton would build on his father’s foundations and establish Louis Vuitton as a worldwide company.
It was George who launched the famous LV monogram on a brown ground that you can see on the larger Louis Vuitton travelling trunk illustrated. It had a paper label to its interior inscribed ‘1 Rue Scribe, Paris, Louis Vuitton, 149 New Bond St. London’ and numbered ‘108407’. The other Louis Vuitton trunk illustrated is more reminiscent in its size and shape of the earlier plain example. It too had its original paper label. Both trunks dated from the late 19th/early 20th century and sold recently at Toovey’s for £5500 and £2200 respectively.
The story of the founder, Louis Vuitton, together with the beautiful craftsmanship which he established ensure that the earliest and rarest examples of the company’s work attract international attention at auction and underpin the continued reputation of this luxury brand today.
By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.