Rochdale Observer - - FAITH NEWS SCHOOL NEWS -

HERE are many, many things I know ab­so­lutely noth­ing about. One of them is the his­tory of the pow­der com­pact. Once ev­ery woman’s must-have fash­ion ac­ces­sory, but now a plas­tic shadow of its for­mer self.

What alerted me to the col­lect­ing po­ten­tial of the things was an auc­tion sale that in­cluded a York­shire cou­ple’s de­vo­tion to the sub­ject.

Over 25 years they amassed a col­lec­tion of hun­dreds, pur­chased from fairs and spe­cial­ist gath­er­ings across the coun­try. Dat­ing from the pow­der hey­days of the Thir­ties to the Six­ties, there were com­pacts by such lu­mi­nary com­pa­nies as Strat­ton, Volupte and Schuco, which are now clearly hugely de­sired by col­lec­tors of vin­tage clothes and mem­o­ra­bilia.

Bid­ders from Amer­ica, Ger­many and Lon­don re­sponded when they were of­fered at Wright Mar­shall’s rooms in Knutsford, Cheshire. One dealer trav­elled from Bath for the auc­tion but won only two lots, such was the de­mand.

The com­pacts sold for a to­tal of £18,500, the most ex­pen­sive, be­ing a fine qual­ity Aus­trian sil­ver Ed­war­dian ex­am­ple with a green guil­loche enamel hinged cover sur­rounded by a jew­elled bor­der and sold for £460. Im­port marks dated it to 1928.

I needed to know more and spoke to some­one who does: Danielle Boyd, who, with her busi­ness part­ner, Eleanor Ben­nett, runs the on­line Vin­tage Com­pact Shop.

Danielle ex­plained that com­pacts date from the early 1900s, but the dec­o­ra­tive lit­tle con­tain­ers for face pow­der can trace their roots back to the 16th cen­tury when the lady of the house wore a chate­laine around her waist, many of­ten made from sil­ver and even gold.

At­tached to the sta­tus sym­bol chains were things like the keys to the great house, scis­sors and sewing im­ple­ments and later, lit­tle “van­i­ties” – tiny mir­rors or pow­der tins.

“In the Ed­war­dian era, pow­der cases, bowls and jars would be more likely to be seen on dress­ing ta­bles and the portable pow­der con­tainer was yet to be a com­mon sight”, Danielle says. “Wear­ing make-up or ‘paint’ was not con­doned and no woman would ever be seen ap­ply­ing it in pub­lic.”

How­ever, in the 1900s, the Mass­a­chu­setts hand­bag man­u­fac­turer Whit­ing & Davis, re­sponded to the need to carry face pow­der, rouge and even tiny combs by in­cor­po­rat­ing com­part­ments in the lid of the hinged, silk-lined me­tal mesh bags that were pop­u­lar at the time. One of the ear­li­est was called the Dyle­sia.

“The van­ity box was small and portable but not prac­ti­cal as it had a lift-off lid,” Danielle says. “Hinged lids were nec­es­sary if th­ese portable van­i­ties were to be­come use­ful items that could be opened and used with ease.

“Ladies needed small dis­crete por­tal pow­der con­tain­ers so that they could pow­der their faces whilst away from home. This be­came more of a ne­ces­sity as women joined the work­force, most no­tably dur­ing the First World War.”

The com­pact mir­ror, as they are of­ten known in Amer­ica, or pow­der com­pact, as British man­u­fac­tur­ers named them, were much in ev­i­dence by the 1920s and the Art Deco pe­riod pro­vided the most ex­quis­ite and eye-catch­ing de­signs imag­in­able.

“Lux­ury jewellers like Asprey, Map­pin & Webb, Boucheron, Marin and Cartier would of­ten com­mis­sion mas­ter sil­ver­smiths to make unique pieces for wealthy clients,” Danielle says.

Art Deco pieces with clean an­gu­lar lines, geo­met­ric shapes and sym­me­try are highly de­sir­able col­lec­tor’s pieces, one ex­am­ple from Danielle’s col­lec­tion be­ing im­ported from France by Asprey. Adding a touch of lux­ury, its thumb catch is adorned with di­a­monds and emer­alds, which, when pressed, re­leases a spring-loaded catch to al­low the lid to glide open.

Dat­ing British van­i­ties made from pre­cious me­tal is easy be­cause hall­marks ap­plied by an as­say of­fice will in­clude a year let­ter, while im­ports will bear the im­port mark, spon­sor’s mark and the date let­ter of the im­port. “Size and style can also aid dat­ing,” Danielle ex­plains.

Two of the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers were Kigu Ltd, founded in Bu­dapest by gold­smith Josef KI-as­chek and his son GU-stav, who claim to have made the first ever pow­der com­pact and Jar­rett, Rains­ford & Laughton Ltd, later known as Laughton & Sons Ltd, own­ers of the Strat­ton brand, based in Birm­ing­ham, who went on to ac­quire Kigu.

“Spe­cial­ist deal­ers and col­lec­tors are able to ac­cess fac­tory ar­chives that show the known years of avail­abil­ity of many of the mod­els and orig­i­nal cat­a­logues and old ad­ver­tise­ments are also a good way to date pow­der com­pacts,” Danielle said.

“Usu­ally con­di­tion mat­ters, but some­times items are so rare that the de­sire to own, hold and adore the item is an over­whelm­ing ob­ses­sion.

“Eleanor and I know col­lec­tors who name their pow­der com­pacts and yes, the names are al­ways fem­i­nine.”

Nov­elty pow­der com­pacts en­joyed their hey­day in the 1940s. Man­u­fac­tur­ers vied with each other to pro­duce in­trigu­ing lit­tle van­i­ties such as com­pact mir­rors that re­sem­bled globes with all the coun­tries of the world en­graved on and cases that re­sem­ble hand­bags, balls, bas­kets of flow­ers and hats among oth­ers.

Mu­si­cal com­pacts date from the 1950s and are val­ued highly.

“The most de­sir­able are the bal­let-themed Strat­ton ‘Mu­sica’, which are fit­ted with mir­rors and pow­der com­part­ments. The hand­painted lids are a joy to be­hold,” Danielle says.

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