Antiques to make you look beautiful...

Our antiques expert looks at the antique world of make-up

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:30 pm

We’re passing another milestone: pubs and restaurants opening indoors. Whether you’ve been counting down the days or are taking it cautiously, it’s lovely to know the opportunity’s there to enjoy a relaxed drink or meal out in good company again!

As we consider swapping our loungewear for glad rags, there’s a vintage vanity accessory I know well- from a collectables point of view, that is!- the makeup compact. Loved for their style and practicality, these small makeup mirrors remain popular collector’s items today.

The first powder compact was created during Louis XIV’s reign by French perfumers in the 17th century, reaching mass production with the rise of the cosmetics culture in the 1920s.

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This Stratton compact is in virtually mint condition, complete with original powder and puff applicator

Flashing their trendy compacts, scandalous young beauties even applied makeup in public, as the older generation looked on, aghast!

Drawn by the undeniable glamour of a vintage compact, many collectors consider the Art Deco era (1920s-1930s) to be the peak for makeup compact design. By the 1970s, liquid foundation, cheaply manufactured powders, and the ‘natural look’ marked the end of the statement compact mirror.

Most compacts hinge open to display a mirror, and a compartment for loose or pressed powder. Most vintage compacts were a circular shape, with differing decorative designs, however, some were moulded into unusual shapes, like sphinxes, clams, and pyramids.

Popular compact designers include well-known cosmetic names such as Coty, Max Factor, and Helena Rubenstein. Estée Lauder is well-known among enthusiasts for releasing yearly limited edition compacts since 1963, like the Golden Alligator, whose case resembles an alligator’s scales; 1967 originals can fetch over £100.

Without doubt Stratton were the most successful mid-20th century British powder compact makers, with quality enamelling clearly superior to their contemporaries. Highly collectable today, many have proved to be a good investment. Dating can be difficult, with the best clues coming from certain base designs and contemporary magazine advertisements. Stratton’s 1950s ‘convertible compacts’, designed to hold either pressed or loose powder, are particularly sought-after.

Quirkily individual, this jolly wine-themed Stratton compact is in virtually mint condition, complete with original powder and puff applicator, which always adds to the desirability. Enamelled to display an array of drink-related illustrations and worldwide salutations, there’s a second selection secretly inside. It’s in the centre ready for that perfect night out, priced £22.

Compact, creative and classy, these pocket collectables always put on a good face.