Ignition: how the collection started

At what point does someone become a collector?  

While I can’t describe anyone else’s inspiration, I can give you some background on how I started collecting compacts. I wasn’t looking for compacts. I was looking for dragonflies.

My childhood revolved around my grandmother and my cousins. We kids traipsed through the woods behind her house to rescue plants we thought needed saving. We watched dragonflies skitter across the pond and flit around her peonies. We buried plastic bags full of pennies in her back yard and gave her elaborate treasure maps. We collected gypsy moth caterpillars in empty margarine tubs at her urging: “Bring all those nice furry caterpillars home to your mom. Tell her you got her a pet.”

My grandmother ruled. On Saturdays she gave us steamed cheeseburgers, card games and Hoodsie ice cream cups, the half-chocolate, half-vanilla mix. But despite all the grandmotherly indulgence, she expected us to play by her rules and offered up a variety of terrible fates we’d suffer if we failed to obey.   

The dragonflies. “Don’t you talk fresh–that sewing needle will fly right over here and sew your lips together.” I knew she was joking. Mostly.

I associate dragonflies with my grandmother. They make me smile. When she died and I longed to surround myself with reminders of her quirks, her devilish eye-sparkle and our shared jokes, I considered getting a dragonfly tattoo.  I started looking for images online. A compact popped up on ebay: a dragonfly and cattails, like the pond behind our house. Never mind that it was pink, which I hate. I liked the dragonfly, so I bought it.  When it arrived, I could see that someone had painted the compact with nail polish. Even though I wondered what was underneath, I decided the nail polish probably had a purpose. I left it intact, but displayed the compact on my dresser. It sufficed as a reminder of my grandmother and I didn’t get that tattoo.

The Stratton Dragonfly

The Stratton Dragonfly compact, sans nail polish, with some Avon pieces in the background.

Over time, I came to appreciate the compact as more than a talisman. I started surrounding myself with more and more pieces of the past that reminded me of my grandparents and developed a vintage aesthetic. Other people started bringing me their old Pyrex dishes, vintage coats and handbags, saying, “I thought this looked like you.”

Then my mother hit the Avon motherlode. While cleaning out the attic in her house, she discovered a stash of Avon powders, lipsticks, and rouge compacts from the early 1940s. “I’ve got something for you,” she said. I started researching the compacts to find out when they were made. I loved the combination of beauty and functionality.  I displayed them on my dresser, next to the dragonfly compact. And started wondering what other beauties were out there.  

 It didn’t take me too long to start looking.

One comment

  1. It was great to read how you got into collecting the compacts too, I don’t know of any other compact collectors so it was good to see how someone else caught the addiction!

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