Whether you're looking to buy a Coach bag or just want to find out more about one you already own, you'd probably like to know if the purse is authentic. A careful look at the workmanship can help you, but it's the bag's serial number that has a lot to say about the history of that particular purse, including whether it's fake or not.
Finding the Serial Number
The general rule of thumb when it comes to Coach bags, both new and vintage, and their serial numbers is simply that there are few hard and fast rules.
That said, most Coach bags have a number on them. If you look inside a purse, you'll usually see a "creed," a small rectangular sewn-on leather patch. At the bottom will usually appear the word "No.," (the abbreviation for "number,") plus an embossed and possibly also inked number.
A word of caution: Even though most purses have a serial number, the absence or presence of one isn't always a sign of the bag's authenticity, because at certain times in the company's history, bags didn't have serial numbers. Keep in mind that just because the bag has a serial number doesn't mean it can't be a fake; counterfeiters often use legitimate serial numbers on their bags, too.
History of Coach Serial Numbers
There have been some changes over time in Coach purse serial numbers.
Coach began in 1941, and the company's earlier bags didn't have serial numbers. Those first appeared in Coach purses in the 1970s. At that time, the serial number was three digits long followed by a dash and four more numbers in the format xxx-xxxx. This was a true serial number, unique to that particular bag, and didn't contain the style number.
1980s Serial Numbers
In the 1980s, the serial number was four numbers followed by a dash and three digits: xxxx-xxx. This number still didn't signify anything; it was just a unique number for that bag.
Bags Made in 1994 to Mid 2000s
Then this all changed. Starting in 1994, the number on the creed isn't technically a serial number. The company and Coach aficionados refer to it as the style number.
In bags made since then, this number, which is still widely called a serial number, includes production codes. The number can tell you a lot, including:
- The month and year the bag was made
- Where it was made
- The style number
In other words, the serial number was now made up of production codes, before the dash, and style number, afterward. This is the point at which letters started to be used, too, for example.
Here's what your post-1994 bag's serial number may contain: (An example, according to VintageCoachBags.com, is: F5D-9966):
- The first digit, a letter, is the code for the month when the bag was made.
- The next digit (which later became two digits) is the year it was made.
- The final digit is the code for the plant where the bag was made.
- Dash, plus
- The style number
Changes Made in Mid-2000s
Change kept coming, and included the following:
- In the mid 2000s, the serial number was usually four digits with a dash and four more digits. The last four were the style number. For example: 8060-9790 (according to Sacs Magnifique Guide to Coach Hangtags and Creeds).
- Around 2006, the style number became five numbers, and the production numbers were four and then five digits, for a total of 10 numbers, such as: M032-P14706 and B1182-16808 (examples from to Coach Rehab Project).
- In late 2014, Coach stopped putting the serial number on the creed altogether and instead placed it on a tiny white tag, usually sewn into a seam in a bottom corner inside the bag or inside an interior pocket. An example of this (according to The Purse Blog) is G1493-F21227.
Today, occasionally a special edition Coach bag may have a serial number stamped on the creed. For the most part, though, bags have just a five-digit style number on the little white tag.
Adding Letters to the Serial Number
Sometimes Coach puts a letter at the beginning of the serial number to indicate where the bag was originally sold. The letter typically appears after the hyphen in the serial number. According to the Coach Reference Guide from Real Authentication, the letters include:
- F, which means the bag is made for factory and sold at outlets or an online factory sale
- X, at the top of the creed, which means the bag is factory grade and sold at a discount store
- M or N, which means the bag was made specifically for Macy's or Nordstrom
- P, at the end of the style number, which indicates it's a so-called pilot bag, a product that might never have actually been produced and sold
A "bullet" or target symbol stamped into the corner of the creed indicates the bag was a full-price boutique bag sold at an outlet at a discount.
Coach Purse Without a Serial Number
Most Coach bags have serial numbers, but not all.
- Smaller items, including wallets and pouches, wristlets, cosmetic bags, and other small accessories, don't necessarily have them at all.
- Vintage bags from before the 1980s often didn't have serial numbers. (Though some do).
- Some pebbled leather bags from the 1990s, including Dakotas and some Sheridans, didn't have serial numbers.
These are just more reasons why the absence or presence of a serial number shouldn't be construed as evidence of whether the bag is real.
Spotting Counterfeit Serial Numbers
There's a huge market in fake designer handbags. Some are fairly high quality and look similar to their authentic counterparts, which makes it tough to identify the real thing. According to Forbes, in fact, it can even be difficult for the company distinguish the real thing, although they have both overt and covert ways to tell (such as hidden stitch counts).
While it's tough to identify a counterfeit Coach bag, the serial number contains certain clues. They include the following:
- According to Bag Bliss, if the serial number doesn't begin with "No.," the abbreviation for "number," then it's probably not authentic.
- A bag with fewer than seven digits in the serial number is almost certainly a fake.
- If you're considering buying a bag from an online consignment store or a site like eBay, ask the seller for a picture of the creed and serial number. If the seller won't send you these pictures, you may want to pass on making that purchase.
- Bags made after 1994 will have at least three digits in the first part of the serial number. If there are only one or two, or if the number is letters instead, then the bag is likely a fake.
Authenticating Your Bag and Its Number
Coach does not offer authentication services, and according to their website, will not authenticate handbags or other merchandise, nor will they determine whether serial numbers match actual Coach items. They encourage customers to only buy from authorized Coach retailer to ensure they are purchasing an authentic bag.
There are some other ways you can try to authenticate your bag, however.
A quick, though imperfect, way to authenticate any bag that you think dates from 1994 or later is to enter the serial number into your browser's search bar, then click on "Images." This will bring up photos of bags. In some cases, you may quickly be able to see that your bag is completely different from the ones your search calls up. In that case, you likely have a fake on your hands. (Keep in mind that even if images of your bag do pop up, it doesn't necessarily mean your purse is real.)
If the serial number has numbers only, no letters, it's from before 1994; it's a number unique to that particular bag and an image search may not be much help.
Handbag Community Authentication Help
Another way to find out what the serial number in your Coach bags has to tell you is to turn to online handbag communities. Coach enthusiasts are serious about serial numbers and may have near-encyclopedic knowledge of them. They're usually happy to tell you about your bag's serial number and, if asked, to help authenticate your new or vintage bag. You can find them and ask for their help by visiting:
- The Purse Forum, in particular its "Authenticate This" thread specific to Coach, can be helpful to those looking to verify a serial number and authenticate a bag. To get help, you'll need to register to become a member of the forum. This is a free service, and designated Authenticator members will respond to your post, but you'll need to include detailed information. For auction listings, you must include item, listing number, seller, and any comments about the bag or item. For all other items, you'll need to include the item name if known, link if available, and photos of the item, including a clear, readable image of the creed stamp and serial number, along with the bag's measurements for older or vintage Coach items.
- eBay Community Discussion Board on Fashion: You can post requests for handbag help on this board, and you may find other members that are very familiar with Coach bags that are willing to help. Give as much detail about the bag as possible, and include photos if you have them along with your specific questions or concerns regarding the serial number. You can also search for past posts on this topic that have been 'Solved' that may help you.
In both of these cases, it's important to post questions and requests for help with tact and expressions of gratitude, since authenticators, while knowledgeable, are neither professional nor compensated.
Paid Handbag Authentication Services
In addition, there are businesses whose sole or primary purpose is to authenticate vintage handbags for a small fee, either solely with photographs or, as an option, in person. They include:
- Authenticate First: This service has a large list of brands that it will authenticate, including Coach. The company utilizes experts well-versed in designer merchandise to verify the authenticity of bags and other items. The authentication statements from the company are recognized by PayPal and credit card companies, and they are able to provide Significantly Not as Described (SNAD) certificates individuals may use in claims cases. They offer both in-house authentication for those local to the San Diego area, and they also offer photo authentication that can be done via file sharing or by photo upload.
- Real Authentication: Founded by a group of handbag experts, Real Authentication offers authentication services for Coach bags along with a host of other designer names, and they have helped over 100, 000 consumers with their merchandise. The company offers photo authentication services via their contact form online and email, as well as by text. They guarantee their authentications.
Both of these websites have services starting at roughly $10 or $20, with the option of adding additional services, such as expedited services, various certificates, and an opinion about estimated value.
Information Needed for Authentication
With both the forums and the business websites, it's important to follow a few general rules if you want to authenticate your bag. For instance:
- Read the rules carefully. Your request may be denied or ignored if you don't follow the rules.
- Include the desired number, types, and quality of photographs. Since authenticators are relying on photographs, these need to fit the desired specifications.
- Don't forget to include as much information as possible about the bag, such as style number and name, place and date of purchase, link to the purse listing, plus any other details you think would be useful or questions you may have.
A Clue to a Handbag's History
It's easy to look right past the little patch of leather with numbers on the inside of your bag. But once you notice it, and do a little research, you may realize you have a window into how old your bag is and where it's from. In fact, it's a bit of history hanging right on your arm.