Each year for my blogiversary, I do a history-of-beauty post. Last year, it was Beauty Trends over 100 years - see here. In 2014, it was Vintage Beauty Advertisements - see here.
This year, I was going to show you vintage vanities and dressing tables I had spotted around the world but my recuperation from antibiotics at my parents' meant I spied my Mum's powder compact collection.
She has been collecting them for ages and now has about 80-ish vintage compacts, including an ivory one that was owned by HER grandmother (Neither I nor my living family members support buying ivory in any form).
She flatly refused to take out the oldest, mother-of-pearl, ivory and jewel-encrusted ones, but agreed to share her tips and thoughts on collecting vintage compacts, and allowed me to "photograph, from a safe distance only", half a dozen of them.
Scroll down for tips on collecting vintage powder compacts, where to find them, pricing and photographs.
How do you go about collecting vintage compacts?[All information courtesy my Mum, who has been collecting vintage compacts for three decades]
You can either specialise in certain brands, such as Stratton, KIGU, Vogue Vanities, Volupte, Yardley, Amami or Elgin, or you can focus on the material or even collect musical compacts. You can also restrict yourself to a decade, or a design theme, such as birds or flowers. For my part, it coincided with my blooming interest in makeup - when I was a teenager, my grandmother handed a gold and rhinestone compact to my cousin, who was not even interested in makeup. I decided then and there that I would have better compacts - and makeup products - across brands, all with gold plating or embossing. So you can say I began collecting out of jealousy.
|A mint Vogue Vanities compact with fabric case.|
Where do you find them?I took over, for want of a better term, about half a dozen compacts from my mother's and grandmothers' vanities, and also helped myself to whatever my aunts and friends discarded. Some people just don't want to keep them. My aunt discarded a musical compact her brother had gifted her. You can find them in antique shops, fairs, flea markets, from fellow-collectors who want to swap or even eBay, but keep a lookout for fakes, and the ones with attached plaques. My biggest sources have been antique shops and flea markets, both locally and when I travel.
Are musical compacts difficult to find or care for?A decent watch repairer worth his salt can sort out any issues with the music. These are mechanical, not digital, and as long as you wind them carefully, keep them away from water and do not use a lot of force or drop them, they go on forever. There are professional compact restorers to sort out enamelling and other aesthetic problems.
This musical compact features carved glass with Mt. Fujiyama on the lid and comes with its original case and pouch.
Is it expensive to build a vintage compact collection?No. Average prices are in the range of £15-40, but mother-of-pearl, jewel-encrusted, musical and sterling silver compacts obviously cost more. Pieces in mint condition with original packaging cost more. The ones with attached cigarette holders, atomisers or lipstick holders cost more. There are very rare, expensive pieces out there. However, the average compact costs less than most of our lipsticks.
Are these a good investment?Prices do not skyrocket but they are not going to fall anytime soon - they have remained steady for a while now. If you are looking for quick profit, then compact collecting may not be the best choice.
|Hand-painted birds were a Stratton trademark, from flamingoes to swans; this one is in pristine condition.|
Where does the appeal lie in collecting vintage compacts?Compacts have always been the only way of touching up your face makeup during the day - you cannot reapply liquid foundation while on the go; and people understand the appeal of a vintage compact, especially in this plastic, instant-gratification era. You feel a lot more glamourous powdering your nose using a vintage compact with beautiful workmanship. Apart from the aesthetic appeal, a lot of these vintage compacts were passed on as heirlooms, so there is also sentimental appeal. I know people who are still looking for refills for their vintage compacts.
|A cheaper, used example with scratches on the enamel.|
Are refills hard to find?I used refills until the mid-1990s - you could even find Yardley refills in India 15 years ago. Now I have put all my compacts away as collectibles. The easiest way, if you want to use them, is to fill them with loose powder and add a sifter and a puff. Remember, unless the compact is very clean and you have used plenty of alcohol, you are putting hygiene on the line.
|Best not to touch the powder in there!|
What is the most popular vintage compact brand?Probably Stratton. Because they flooded the market worldwide for a few decades, they are easy to find. They began in the 1920s, hit their heyday in the 1930s and were bombed in the 'Blitz, but revived in the '50s thanks to the polished Hollywood look in vogue at the time. They invented self-opening lids. If you want to focus on one brand, my pick is Stratton because of the large variety of designs they had.
This mint Stratton set with lipstick holder and original box (c.1970s) is from Henley Antiques in Stratford-Upon-Avon. They have a large collection at reasonable prices.
Will there be continued interest in vintage compacts in the near future?The compact collector fraternity is widespread and I do not see the interest dying out. I am among the small fry - I only have some 83 or so pieces - of which a few are repetitions - and am no authority on them. I know people with more than 200 vintage compacts! People who can identify the exact manufacturing date at a single glance.
Estee Lauder continues to launch vintage-inspired metal compacts, sometimes even with precious stones. They also have limited edition solid perfume compacts every year. A number of us would love to see more brands bring out metal compacts, but sadly, plastic rules our lives. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Wow. I want a few dozens of these! They certainly beat pulling out some of those black or brown plastic compacts from the handbag. I am going to start keeping a lookout for them. The book shown in the photographs is Buy Keep Or Sell?, 2004 edition.