A nose for a bargain

Cayte Williams hunts for post-war compacts

In America they're big business, in Britain collectors fight for them at antique fairs and auctions, and if you find one shaped like a teddy bear you could be holding a pot of gold.

Powder compacts from the Forties and Fifties are the latest collector items. Madonna uses one in Evita, the film which started the current interest in post-war fashion. Fifties-inspired clothes dominate couture catwalks, and later this month London will be in the grip of Forties fever. Forties Fashion and The New Look, an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, will show the impact that Christian Dior's fashions had on the post-war era. And any woman who bought the New Look, also bought a new powder compact.

Compacts are practical to collect, being relatively inexpensive, easily stored and durable, and there are still plenty of them around.

Tessa Innes, a collector, says: "People collect them because not only are they beautiful objects, but the workmanship is superb."

The size and function of the compact allowed the imaginations of manufacturers to run wild. UFOs, pianos, revolvers and roulette wheels have all sprung open to reveal a powder puff. America was the natural home for the "novelty" compact, and when a New Yorker, Roselyn Gerson, set up the International Club for Compact Collectors seven years ago, she had no idea how huge the response would be. "People travel from all over the world to our annual conventions," she says. "By the end of it, you can OD on compacts." Roselyn, a collector for 20 years, has just published her fourth book, Purse Accessories.

On this side of the Atlantic, Juliette Edwards set up the British Compact Collectors' Society in 1995. "When I began distributing the newsletter," she recalls, "members were surprised that there were so many collectors around. Everybody thought they were the only one." Now more than 100 people subscribe to Face Facts, the quarterly newsletter in which collectors and dealers swap information and strike bargains.

"There are more and more specialist dealers," agrees Sarah Chestnut, a collector and club member. "Prices have just soared in the three years I've been collecting. Now you can expect to pay pounds 20-pounds 25 for a Stratton compact that would have cost you only pounds 10-pounds 15 a year ago."

Stratton, the big name in British powder compacts, probably made the one on your mother's or grandmother's dressing table. Flat and round, they often had ultra-feminine images of birds, flowers and ballerinas on the lids. The most famous Stratton range is the Fifties Waterbirds Series, which currently fetch about pounds 30 apiece. Other British names to look out for are Le Rage and Kigu, the quirkiest British label, which made UFO and Mickey Mouse compacts.

There are exceptions, but compacts are relatively easy to date. Post- war Forties compacts are square and functional. There was a fascination with suitcases and travel emblems, but if you're lucky you may find a piano-shaped compact by Pygmalion, worth more than pounds 200. In the Fifties, manufacturing advances and the new prosperity meant that telephone dials, see-through dice-shakers and roulette wheels all became objects of vanity. Some even reflected the Beat generation, with Jackson Pollock splashes of colour on silk. Many of these came from America, the home of the Shuco Teddy Bear, which has a compact hidden in the creature's tummy. It's worth between $600 and $800.

"If you've got a compact, you can date it by looking at the style, finding the manufacturer's name and tracing the patent number," Juliette Edwards explains. "Look out for compressed creme powder and inner lids, which were introduced in the early Fifties. And never buy a compact that has the price label stuck on the mirror. It ruins it. Start by going to a local antique market," she advises, "and remember to check for missing puffs and sifters - the gauze above the powder compartment." Compacts such as Forties Kigus and Fifties Strattons cost between pounds 15 and pounds 200 depending on the rarity and condition.

If this all seems rather daunting, Juliette and Tessa are working on a coffee-table compact book that should be available next year.

For the well-heeled, Sotheby's has monthly jewellery sales, and compacts by Cartier and Boucheron frequently crop up, selling for between pounds 500 and pounds 3,000. "The most expensive compact that we've auctioned belonged to the Duchess of Windsor, and sold for more than pounds 72,000," says Alexandra Rhodes, senior director head of the London jewellery collection. "It had a map of Europe and Africa and an array of jewels marking the places that meant a lot to her and the Duke."

Compacts are not only beautiful and functional, they are also extremely personal effects. Perhaps that is their allure: they take the collector a step closer to the Forties and Fifties, the most glamorous decades of the 20th century.

British Compact Collectors Society, PO Box 131, Woking, Surrey GU24 9YR. Membership costs pounds 12 a year.

International Club for Compact Collectors, PO Box 100, Malvern, NY 11565. Membership costs $35 a year.

'Purse Accessories', by Roselyn Gerson (Collector Books, pounds 24.95) can be ordered from Barmby's (01732 771590).

'Forties Fashion and The New Look' will be shown at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1, from 12 February to 31 August.

Hunt for compacts at:

Linda Bee, Grays Antique Market, 1-7 Davies Mews, London W1 (0171 629 5921);

Steinberg & Tolkien, 193 King's Road, London SW3 (0171-376 3660); Saratoga Trunk, 57 West Regent Street, Glasgow (0141 331 2707);

Sotheby's, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-493 8080).

Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

    Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

    £65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

    Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

    Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition