The popularity of loose powder compacts increased from the 1920's, when it became acceptable to apply make-up in public. The many beautiful and diverse compacts produced throughout the first half of the 1900's are sought after by collectors and fans of vintage fashion today.
During the early years, face powder was imported from France, the centre of the fashion industry. As the century wore on, America began to lead to market in compact production. Most examples were made of silver or coloured metal, although other fashionable materials were also used such as Tortoiseshell, and from the 1930's, Bakelite and lucite. Designs were typically floral or abstract and were enhanced with Enamel, faux jewels or even butterfly wings.
Compacts came in many shapes and sizes and to suit every budget. Some had mechanisms that played music and others were shaped as lockets or miniature bottles. Look out for Stratton compacts with the self-opening lids the company developed in order to prevent broken fingernails. Especially appealing is the dove-shaped Salvador Dali 'Bird-in-Hand' compact, made from gold and silver copper and designed for US maker Elgin.
Extremely popular with today’s collectors are examples that reflect the style of an era – the geometrical lines and bold colours of Art Deco are hugely popular.
When buying, look out for examples in excellent condition. Many compacts were stored in handbags and pockets and so were subject to wear. Check that mirrors are intact and that exteriors have not been damaged through use.