The design elements of the iconic Hermes Kelly bag have been around for over a hundred years, and starting in the middle of the twentieth century, these elements were rendered together in smaller and smaller handbags. While 25cm Kelly bags have surfaced dating back to the mid 1960’s, the truly mini 20cm Kelly started coming out of the Hermes atelier in 1980. These petite versions of the already iconic Kelly bag were darling, and the height of ladylike sophistication at the time, as they are now. The classic style was adapted into four versions: a charming top-handle, built in both Sellier and Retourne construction, which featured an exaggerated handle that fit over the wrist like a bracelet, and Sellier versions with long leather straps in place of the handles that were either shoulder or cross-body length. Hermes produced this original group of mini-Kellys for over 25 years, with the final examples leaving the atelier around 2006. Over that period, the Kelly 20 would be produced in every skin, color, and combination imaginable.
For the sake of this article, we’re referring to mini-Kellys as any Kelly bag under 25cm. The 25cm Kelly as we know it today was introduced about thirty years ago, though prior to that, Hermes had produced similarly sized Kelly bags by special request, as there are examples of Birkins less than 35cm produced before the 30cm version was perfected and put into regular production. Below 25cm we cannot find any examples prior to 1980, meaning this was likely a size designed specifically for general release. The details of pre-internet handbag releases are always difficult to pin down with certainty, but auction results stretching back more than a decade provide us with a bevy of secondary market pieces that act as a public historical archive. The vintage mini-Kelly’s most collectors are familiar with are the 20cm versions, though extremely rare 15cm micro-Kellys were also produced at the same time. While the majority of mini-Kellys were made in Calf Box leather, some were made in other leathers, and rare examples were crafted in precious skins such as ostrich, lizard, crocodile and alligator, including the original Natura Vert Celadon Himalayan alligator. Hermes also used this miniaturized version of its iconic handbag to showcase the incomparable skill level of their craftspeople, creating exceptional examples in silk, intricately printed lambskin leather, and even crisp woven Panama straw.
Some may say the trend of big bags is what killed the mini-Kelly in the mid-2000’s. After a twenty-five year run, the house discontinued the size during Jean-Paul Gaultier’s tenure. This period saw the introduction of many other small Kelly designs that would try to fill the void left by the mini-Kelly: the Kelly Pochette, Longue, and Cut were the three main new Kelly designs developed during this time. At the conclusion of this period, a new mini-Kelly came into the picture, though a more appropriate term would be micro-Kelly. This nearly charm-sized ‘bag’ was released as part of the Candy Collection in bright Epsom leather, along with a companion micro-Birkin (some were even produced in Lizard), and was shown on the runway with the straps wrapped around the models’ wrists like bracelets. After this, the trend for smaller and smaller bags grew stronger and stronger, and the vintage mini-Kelly became sorely missed.
In 2016, nearly a decade after the original’s retirement, Hermes announced they’d developed a new mini-Kelly; the Mini Kelly II. This Sellier-structured bag would be released in the fall of that year, and quickly became the most sought-after bag Hermes was making. These new Kellys have been produced in Epsom, Calf Box, and Chevre leather, as well as Ostrich, Alligator, and Crocodile (we’ve yet to see any emerge in lizard or other precious materials). The main difference in the design is the smaller handle with double-loop hardware, which is supposedly more proportionate to a full-size Kelly than its predecessor, though it no longer fits over the wrist. The bag is also slimmer, so it sits flat when worn crossbody. A detail many collectors might never have noticed is that neither the old nor new mini-Kellys have ever come with a lock, keys, or clochette.
The past ten years of auction results for these bags all around the world provide us with some very interesting insights. Looking at average realized prices for the vintage top-handle versions and the new mini-Kelly II in various materials, we can see the vintage mini-Kellys have risen in value an average of about 20% annually, while the new mini-Kelly II has fared quite differently since one first crossed the block in May 2017. Leather mini-Kelly IIs have held steady since then averaging around $17,000 at auction, with sixty or so results ranging from $9,100 to $30,000. Ostrich versions have only sold at auction five times, and average around $32,000, but Alligator and Crocodile minis have come up far more often and tell a far different story. Anomalously, these bags have declined in value by 10% each year since their release, with average prices in 2018 falling to $41,000 from nearly $46,000 the year prior, and down again to around $36,000 in 2019. Rumors swirl that Hermes is substantially lowering production of the mini-Kelly II, and may even re-release the classic design. Another few years of auction results for these bags will likely turn around the downward trend on exotics, and if production is further limited, prices for leather examples will likely also rise.
If Hermes does re-release the original mini-Kelly, it will surely be met with much excitement. The average price at auction for these bags in leather has risen sharply in recent years, with 2019 averaging $17,000 (equal with the average for the mini-Kelly-II), a substantial jump from their all time average of $10,000. Lizard and Ostrich examples have been generally stable on the auction market, with most results clustering in the low-mid $20,000 range. Crocodile and Alligator vintage mini-Kellys have recently overtaken their younger cousin’s auction average, jumping from an all-time $38,000 to $48,000 in 2019. The beautiful pleated satin editions have similarly grown from $19,000 overall to $28,000 this past year, but nothing tops the regular doubling in value Suede mini-Kellys experience. Only four have ever sold at auction, with one coming up about every three years, and each time the price doubles, from just under $3,000 in 2010, to $6,500 in 2013, $12,000 in 2015, and the latest example selling this past year for over $22,000. Based on these results, all signs point to a surge in collector appreciation for these special vintage bags. The family of mini-Kelly designs is a large one, full of whimsy and wonder with so many variations to fall in love with! It’s no surprise so many Hermes lovers find themselves lost in this delightful world of miniatures.