The beauty and cosmetics industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. The statistics say that this industry was worth $511b in 2021, and by 2025, it is estimated that it will exceed $716b.
But if we went back to the past for a bit and observed carefully, we could see the beginning of modern cosmetic history. And that beginning wouldn’t be the same without one product: a powder compact.
Powder compact, also known as a compact, powder box, powder case, and flapjack, was a cosmetic product widely used in the first half of the 20th century. It was basically a casing that contained pressed or loose powder, a mirror, a gauze sifter, and a powder puff
Today, we live in a time when things are made to be used and thrown away, and with so many cheap cosmetic products, no one bothers to use powder compacts. Still, vintage compacts are quite valuable, which makes them sought out among antique collectors and those who dress in vintage style.
The History of Powder Compact
The first powder compact was invented by French perfumers in the 17th century. It spread across the channel to England, but it only became popular in the early 20th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, wearing makeup wasn’t always socially acceptable, especially among the wide population, so the first powder cases were concealed in other accessories, such as walking canes, combs, jewelry, or hatpins.
However, this all changed in the 1920s, when everyone started wearing makeup, and powder compacts were no longer concealed. Instead, they were proudly displayed. This decade was also a part of the Art Deco era, which influenced the design of powder compacts.
The manufacturers competed who will make the most unique and interesting powder compacts. The designs followed current fashion trends or technological advancements.
World War II caused powder compacts to lose their popularity, but after the war ended, they became popular once again during the 1950s. The popularity was short-lived, though, because the 1970s brought liquid foundation and cheap powders, and made powder compacts redundant.
How to Identify Antique Powder Compact?
Most antique powder compacts had a circular shape, but some came in unusual shapes, such as clams, pyramids, fans, etc. Every powder compact had a hinge, and when opened, it contains a mirror on one or both interior sides.
Since these cases contained pressed or loose powder, you can still find powder traces in the creases. Most compacts contain engraved names of the companies that made them.
Some of the most famous companies that made powder compacts were:
- Helena Rubenstein
- Max Factor
- Estee Lauder
- Elgin American
- Cleopatra Vanity
How Much Are Antique Compacts Worth?
Most antique powder compacts sell for $20-$300. However, the price may be much higher due to some factors. One of those factors is the manufacturing company.
Hermes, Tiffany, and Cartier made powder compacts that were expensive even for that time. Their Art Deco powder compacts were made of silver, enamel, gold, and jewels. Such compacts can reach a price of up to $20.000.
Mother-of-pearl was another expensive material used to make powder compacts, and such compacts are with thousands today. Antique powder compacts made of brass, chrome, bakelite, and acrylic can be bought for lower prices since they were made of cheaper materials.
Limited edition and rare powder compacts are always more worth than those that are widely available. Compacts that are in pristine condition and still contain a mirror, gauze sifter, and their original powder puff will cost more than the damaged or incomplete compacts.
Some compacts came with attached cigarette holders, lipstick holders, and atomizers. Some contained pencils or other small tools. Probably the most interesting ones were musical powder compacts, as they came with a delicate mechanism that enabled them to play music when opened.
Those powder compacts that came with interesting additions are more valuable than the plain ones. However, if you just started collecting vintage powder compacts, the plain ones are probably the best way to start building your collection, because you will be able to get them easily.
Experienced collectors usually try to collect all powder compact cases from one manufacturer, or from a particular genre, with a specific shape, or made from a certain material. Such collections can be word hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
With all of this in mind, you need to look at several things when estimating the value of a powder compact. The most obvious thing is the item’s condition and whether it is complete. Always check the manufacturer and which material was used to make the compact.
When you find a powder compact you want to buy, try to do a little bit of research and find out if that powder compact is rare or if you can find the same one somewhere else. In case you found more compacts that are the same or similar to yours, compare their prices to get a reliable price estimate.
Valuable Antique Powder Compact
We list some valuable antique powder compacts below:
If you want luxury, you got it here. Made of 18k gold and embellished with rubies, this vintage powder compact costs $11,525.91.
Another gold powder case, this one is made of 14k gold, and its lid is embellished with nine diamonds. This powder compact is a bit cheaper than the previous one, and it costs $8,800.00.
The third powder compact on our list is also made of 18k gold by Cartier. It has a simple, yet beautiful design, and it comes in its original packaging. The price is $6,895.00.
If you love crocodile skin, this powder compact is perfect for you. Made of real crocodile skin, it will go great with similar purses and shoes. Its price is $1,940.00.
This sterling silver compact has monogrammed “MEM”, although it remains unknown what it means. It is in great condition, and it could look even better when professionally polished. The price is $595.00.
This vintage powder compact still has its original powder puff, and its lid is made of enamel, depicting violet flowers. Apart from the minor damage on the edge of the lid, it is in great condition. Its price is $495.00.
If fashion is your passion, check out this gorgeous Gucci powder compact. It is made of sterling silver and decorated with yellow and blue stripes made of enamel. Its price is $429.00.
Powder compacts with built-in music boxes might sound bizarre, but this lovely gold-plated compact proves quite the contrary. It could be a nice addition to your music box collection too. The price is $325.00.
When you are looking for a really unique powder compact, look no further than this one! It has an interesting rendition of the Tic Tac Toe game on its lid. The price of this fun powder compact is $249.00.
This powder compact is made to look like a seashell on the outside, but once opened, you can see a beautiful sterling silver interior and a well-preserved powder puff. The price is $265.00.
How Do You Clean A Vintage Compact?
Some compact collectors prefer not to clean their powder compacts because they believe that vintage things should have a layer of patina that makes them look even more vintage. However, if you decide to clean your vintage powder compact collection, make sure to use a soft and clean cloth.
Powder compacts made of brass can be cleaned with specialized brass cleaners, but not too often. Lacquered powder compacts are already protected from dust and dirt, and they don’t need to be cleaned.
After the cleaning, always try to properly store your powder compacts. Keep them away from sunlight, in a cool, dry, and dark place. Avoid placing them in plastic bags because it can create condensation, which can damage the mirrors.
With all of the modern makeup palettes, concealers, primers, and liquid foundations, it is easy to forget about powder compact cases. This cosmetic product made a revolution and set the foundation for the modern cosmetic industry.
First hidden from the sight, powder compacts became a favorite accessory and even a status symbol. They reflected the creativity and style of their owners as well as the current fashion trends.
As time went by and new cosmetic products were manufactured, powder compacts stopped being popular, only to re-emerge as a valuable collectible antique item.
What do you think about these vintage cosmetic products? Would you use powder compact? Write in the comments!