Rex Fifth Avenue

Compact makers: Rex Fifth Avenue

Rex Fifth Avenue happens to be one of my favorite compact manufacturers. Rex used bold colors–while the company made some plain goldtone pieces, one of their most recognizable collections featured giant flapjack compacts in deep blue and vivid red.

Rex Fifth Avenue

A wonderful blue Rex Fifth Ave compact.

Some of their compacts exceeded four inches in diameter: that’s giant. And opulent, as one might expect from anything associated with the Fifth Avenue moniker. While the quality didn’t always live up to expectations, according to Laura Mueller’s Collector’s Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls and Face Powder Boxes, Rex was the most popular of the Fifth Avenue compact lines, which also included Dorset, Columbia, Dale, and Zell. During WWII, Rex maintained popularity and worked around the metal shortages by producing lucite cases. These plastic compacts also use color, though often in more muted tones. Look at the pansies in the compact below as an example. Sadly, the pins fastening the lucite plate to the compact top make the corners of these pieces vulnerable to cracking and chipping. If you find one of these compacts with corners intact, consider yourself lucky.

Rex_fifth_pansies_top

Rex Fifth Avenue spring flowers supercompact.

Rex (and most of the other Fifth Avenue lines) did not always print hallmarks on compacts themselves–instead, Rex signed the ribbon across the puff. Zell typically signed the puffs themselves. This can hamper identification as puffs often fade, deteriorate, or get separated from their compacts. To further complicate matters, the Fifth Avenue lines occasionally shared design elements. For example, a pink flower that graced the lid of a Dorset compact might also find its way onto a Rex piece.

I like to think of researching unmarked compacts as the educational component of collecting (as opposed to the frustrating part, though sometimes it’s exactly that).

Rex Fifth Avenue hallmark

A puff with the Rex Fifth Avenue label.

In the 1940s, Rex compacts sold for between $2 and $25. Ads played up both femininity and functionality. A 1944 ad for the “Reverie” compact (the round version of the pansy-printed piece pictured): “Memory of romance captured on a huge round of frosty white…so dresden-like, so feminine. The soft, gentle colors of Spring flowers, the coolness of clear porcelain. So much of beauty, yet so much of utility. Once you see ‘Reverie’ you’ll say, ‘This I must have.'”

In 1951, Rex merged with Dorset Fifth Avenue to become Dorset-Rex. Lucite and metal handbags from Dorset-Rex produced in the 1950s are highly collectible and seem to target a higher-end buyer than the typical Rex compact customer. Rex made compacts for the everyday woman who wanted something pretty, feminine, and functional.  

Rex ad: 1946

1946 Rex ad from Mademoiselle

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5 comments

  1. I like the round Rex Fifth Avenue compacts(in the add) would love to have som
    in very good shape or unused.they look so museumy

  2. Thank you for the information. Would anyone happen to know where to go about replacing a mirror in a Rex Fifth Avenue compact? I have inherited my grandmother’s that was given to her in the 1940s and just recently discovered the mirror to be broken (arrrgghh).

  3. hi!

    google search for “columbia fifth avenue compacts” brought me to this post. over the years, i’ve found pretty compacts in junk shops or flea markets. i’ve always admired but never purchased them. i already carry a compact or palette (usually both!) with me most of the time, so don’t usually need a separate mirror.

    i’ve recently brainstormed a project which requires sourcing an empty compact, and scoured the ebay and the etsy looking at what seems like every compact in a certain price range currently on sale. i bought one, finally. columbia fifth avenue, which brought me here.

    and apparently i bid on another compact at the same time and won that auction this morning. i can’t be collecting compacts! my obsessive personality casts a very wide net in very shallow waters, and i can’t collect for every obsession that comes my way (i have a new obsession every week or so). my life is already full of cool and pretty things, for which i have all of the intention to repurpose into practical items, but usually end up unfinished projects that sit around me.

    i don’t really have a question. i just like looking at your compacts because it satisfies my need to keep looking at them and learning more about them without spending any more money or acquiring more things to feel guilty about later.

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