Passionate Geek – Powder Compacts!

This months Passionate Geek is Robin. Robin Rivera trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator. She writes young adult thrillers and her blog is Or you can find her on Twitter at @RobinRWrites.

Background Artwork by Rose B. Fischer
Background Artwork by Rose B. Fischer.

I’ve been collecting powder compacts for years. My first one was a gift from my mom when I was about sixteen and I’ve been hooked every since. There are so many advantages to collecting compacts.

1. They are small. A huge number of them fit in a small box. They are not super fragile. And as long as you keep the dry and in acid free paper they’re easy to store.
2. You can find them in every price range. You can find inexpensive modern ones for a few dollars at yard sales. Or gold ones set with diamonds for tens of thousand of dollars at auction houses.
3. They are so many styles and colors to choose from. Even souvenir compacts from historic sites and monumental events, like Worlds Fairs or the Olympics from throughout the 19th century.

Stratton is one of my favorite names in compacts, I own five of them all made pre 1960. The oldest one is from about 1930.

Stratton started making compacts in 1923 in Birmingham England. World War II destroyed four of the company’s factories forcing them to halting compact production until 1946.

Although post war production was slow at first, Stratton became a well-respected brand and sold compact worldwide until the 1980’s when demand for compacts slowed down. The company was shut down for a few years in 1997, sold and reopened on a much smaller scale. The Stratton heritage for quality and style still remains.

My favorite Stratton compact is from the luxury ocean liner era and dates from the 1950s. It was common for Stratton to make compacts for liners to give as gifts for all first class female passengers. Mine features the P and O Line flag, however others versions feature images of ships in profile and those are highly sought after.

My next favorite compact company is Elgin American. As Art Deco exploded the Elgin American company embraced it, they hired designers from France and quickly brought to the American market a huge selection of personal products including compacts, lighters, desksets and carryalls that embodied this new aesthetic. Carryalls are a step beyond a compact. They have tiny compartments for not only powder but lipsticks, cigarettes and even money.

I happen to own a gorgeous 1940’s carryall called the Gazelle made by Elgin American. It’s a gold tone metal clutch shape decorated inside and out with motifs of leaping gazelles. My carryall contains a powder compartment, a cigarette compartment, a money clip, a rouge compartment and a space for a lipstick.

Unlike many other compact collectors, I am fickle. I will buy any compact I take a liking too regardless of manufacture.However, these two are my favorites.

If you want to start your own collection five tips to remember!

1. Age: Do your homework before you buy. A new compact can look exactly like its older more valuable cousin. Because compacts are mass-produced and machine made it is often small distinctions in size, shape, quality and compositions that define new from old.

2. Condition: Just because something is beat up (or as collectors call it: purse worn) is not a reason to reject a compact outright. However, scuffs and scratch should be reflected in the pricing. Also some types of wear are easier to deal with than others, like a sticking catch.

3. Completeness: A compact is its parts. Puffs, sifters, and mirrors all count as part of the item. They should be included. Don’t underestimate the value of the original puff to a hard core collector. Also the bag and box the compact sold in are highly sought after.

4. Manufacturer and features: Some company is known for their own innovations so always look for a makers mark. For example, Stratton compacts are known for the way their inner powder compartment door releases as you open the compact. A feature intended to save your nail polish from chipping.

5. Style or uniqueness: Compacts are commercial items, lots of them were made. Understanding how popular each compact is helps create a better understanding of the values. Some brands are only coveted for a few styles or a style they are best known for. Elgin American, for example, is highly prized for Deco examples. So compacts favoring long lines and geometric shapes as decoration.

Compact Books


If you want to try your hand at compact collecting I highly recommend joining a group so you can learn from some experts. However, there are also many blogs, YouTube videos, museums classes and books out there to help new collectors learn more about compacts.

6 thoughts on “Passionate Geek – Powder Compacts!

  1. Neat! I have a few that either my daughter or I have picked up at antique stores. I love them. One in particular I want to clean out (it still has the powder in it) and use. It has a nice round clear mirror!


  2. What a fabulous thing to collect. I’ve not seen a carryall before but I’m smitten. I love little compartments, I can imagine putting all sorts of tiny treasures in there.


    1. Thanks, Deborah. If you like carryalls, try to look for ones from Evans. That company makes some really lovely ones. I have my eye on one for my collection right now. : )


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