Take a Powder

If you visit this blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I love kitchen stuff. I specifically love pottery and bowls. There is one other thing I like to collect that has absolutely nothing to do with these 2 loves. It’s women’s compacts. You know … the vintage kind. The kind of compact that conjures up Flappers in their beaded dresses powdering their noses at the table as they check out the people at the next table. Or the woman in the pencil skirt checking her makeup at her desk. I find them fascinating.

Lovely filigree steel and turquoise compact (photo courtesy of Vintage Eve’s)

There are so many designs and shapes. You can find them at estate sales, antique stores, junk stores, thrift stores, sometimes even garage sales (though I can’t say I’ve had much luck at garage sales for this particular item).

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Vintage Cloisonné Enameled Vanity Pouch/Compact by Evans (photo courtesy of Vintage ChicVa)

When did women start carrying around these compacts? For a long time in history any woman who wore makeup at all was considered to be of a “lower moral character.” Especially true during the Victorian era. Let’s take a little peek at the history of makeup.

Art Deco Rouge Compact (photo courtesy of Tuscon Vintage)

It’s well known that the Egyptians were one of the first societies to use makeup. Heavily lined eyes of both males and females can be seen in their culture. The classical Greeks used makeup sparingly. In the video “Best and Worst Makeup Moments in History” which is an interesting look at makeup through the ages, the Greek males felt that women were to remain virtuous and wearing makeup somehow did not convey that image.

DuBarry Compact by Richard Hudnut (photo courtesy of Buy Back The Farm)


Makeup began to be associated with deception through early Christian writings. Then in a complete about-face during the 1600s, really heavy makeup became the sign of the rich. Of course, many of their products were poisonous and damaged the skin. Hmmm, kind of counterproductive. The video mentioned above is a huge wealth of information on makeup through the ages.

Vintage Volupte Compact (photo courtesy of Vintage On Lime)

According to Collectors Weekly and Best and Worst Makeup Moments in History, in the 1920’s the new modern woman began wearing heavy eye makeup. The age of the silent film helped to boost the sale of cosmetics. Makeup became respectable as well as affordable for everyone. With its new status, it now also became respectable to primp in public. Enter the ladies’ compact as the latest accessory of its day.

Coty compact (photo courtesy of Butterfly Deco Design)

These compacts came in many shapes and sizes. Of course, like everything else in life, the status of the owner was reflected in these little mirrored cases. Some were ornate and set with jewels, others were fairly plain. As Collectors Weekly states, the more expensive compacts were made from gold or platinum.

Coty Compact with Lipstick (photo courtesy of Mountain Thyme 1)

The middle-class had compacts of sterling silver or steel with enameling. They could be quite expensive, also. A big name in the compact industry was Richard Hudnut (I have one of his creations and it’s my favorite). One of his compacts was sold in its day for $5 which doesn’t seem like a lot now but, back then, could buy a week’s worth of groceries. Times how they have a-changed!

Vintage Compact Set (photo courtesy of Magpie Apparel 78)

There are also different types. There are compacts made just for powder and in a day when disposable was not the way it was done, they were refillable. Then there were rouge compacts, some even had a compartment for lipstick.

Heart Shaped Compact by Elgin (photo courtesy of Puppy Luck Art)

Some had extra little hinged doors in them to cover the contents. I find these the most fun. I love trying to figure out how they open. I have pared down my collection to just a few and have some left for sale in my shop but, as with all collectors, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a new one to add. I think they are a beautiful piece of history we can hold in our hands.

Vintage Guilloche Compact Blue Enamel Powder Compact (courtesy of Whimzy Thyme)

Thanks for taking this journey through time with me. I love hearing from all of you that visit my blog so leave me a note if you have a chance. If you are looking for some great vintage compacts or other vintage treasures, be sure to visit the Vintage Eve’s shop on Etsy.

Have a great week!

Where do I party? At Adirondack Girl @ Heart of course!


7 thoughts on “Take a Powder

  1. Oh, these are just beautiful! I have a small collection of vintage compacts, but nothing as gorgeous as these! Mimi xxx


    1. Thanks, Mimi. I don’t actually own all of these (I wish!) I have friends on Etsy that sell them. They went well with the piece for showing how many different kinds of compacts are out there! I love them all!


  2. Rheta, I love every single one of your articles! I’m adding this to my list of resources (found on my sidebar), pinning, and posting on facebook. Thanks so much for linking your posts up at Vintage Charm 🙂


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