Compact Mirrors & Powder Compacts

Jane Vanroe on collecting vintage powder compacts and compact mirrors. You can find Jane's designs at www.vanroe.com and on Amazon in the EU & USA

Collecting vintage powder compacts – My interview with Weranda magazine

Weranda magazine Poland powder compacts

I’ve just caught breath after two busy weeks working on my new compacts for Stratton. In the middle of all the preparations, a lovely email arrived from a journalist for Polish glossy, Weranda. In next month’s issue they’ll be a feature on powder compact collecting, so would I mind a quick interview?

As the magazine’s in Polish, here’s a quick English edit of my anwers and a few of my favourite compacts…

What got you interested in collecting compacts?

It all started when I was about fourteen, growing up in a small town in the North of England. My favourite place was an amazing vintage clothing shop. It had fur coats and cigarette holders, and a glass cabinet displaying one, beautiful powder compact. I always regretted not buying that compact, and thought about it every time I bought a present for one of my close friends – it would have been perfect.

So, when my friends all started having babies I began to find and restore vintage compacts, and give them as presents. The ones I really couldn’t bear to part with I kept for my own collection. My friends were so delighted by their compacts that several started compact collections of their own. And my own collection grew from there.

1950s japanese crane powder compact Stratton

One of my first powder compacts, a 1950s Stratton

Is powder compact collecting a popular hobby?

It’s growing in popularity, particularly as TV dramas like AMC’s “Mad Men” remind us of the glamour of the fifties and sixties – the heydays of powder compacts. Compacts are a little piece of vintage glamour that you can carry with you. And the stories behind them – their manufacturers and their owners – make them fantastically addictive to collect. I know of ladies with over one thousand compacts in their collections… and of men who are not to far behind!

Mad men early 1960s glamour

Mad Men’s 1960’s glamour. Image from http://www.housebeautiful.com

Is there one compact or style of compact that you particularly love?

Every powder compact collector has their own passion. Mine is classic British-made powder compacts from the dominant two British powder compact manufacturers – Stratton and KIGU.

Both companies were internationally famous during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, KIGU employed over 300 workers, across their three UK factories. They manufactured over 600 designs of compacts, powder bowls and trinket boxes. Stratton was established in 1860, initially as a knitting needle manufacturer. By 1960 Stratton exported compacts into nearly every overseas market, and stocked all major department stores in the UK, USA and Australia.

vintage 1960s powder compact KIGU atomiser and lipmirror set

A 1960s powder compact, atomiser and lipview set by KIGU

Tell me a bit more about your collection… how many compacts do you own?

I’ve restored over three hundred Stratton and KIGU compacts, as well as those by smaller vintage British brands like Vogue Vanities, Melissa, Regent of London and Iris. I currently have around fifty pieces in my own collection – all Stratton and KIGU.

All the compacts in my own collection date from the late 1940s to early 1970s. My favourites are early 1950s pieces, as the craftsmanship of this period is just amazing. KIGU was founded by a Hungarian Master Goldsmith, and their 1950s compacts are like a pieces of intricately engraved jewellery.

One of my favourites is KIGU’s “Bon Voyage Vanity Case”, a 1952 compact designed as a travel suitcase. Although this isn’t a rare piece I love the wit and quality in the design.

KIGU 1952 bon voyage suitcase powder compact

Page from the 1952 KIGU catalogue on my Bon Voyage suitcase compact (see http://www.vintage-compacts.co.uk for the KIGU archive)

Are there brands of compacts that are particularly interesting for collectors? Any ‘holy grails’ out there?

All collectors have their own areas of interest, but there are some true Holy Grails. In 1951, the American company, Elgin, released their “Bird-In-Hand” compact, signed by the artist… Dali! Although there is little evidence that Dali actually designed the compact, the piece is sought after by every collector.

dali elgin bird in hand compact

Elgin’s Dali “Bird in Hand” compact. Image from http://www.liveauctioneers.com as I haven’t found this piece for my own collection!

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3 comments on “Collecting vintage powder compacts – My interview with Weranda magazine

  1. flandrumhill
    May 21, 2012

    Hi,
    A KIGU ‘Bon Voyage’ compact that my father-in-law gave his mother long ago was recently passed down to my husband. I’d like to restore it by polishing it up and replacing the powder section if that’s at all possible. Do you have any suggestions?

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