Le Debut vanity case

Compact makers: Richard Hudnut

Richard Hudnut definitely stands out as one of my favorite compact manufacturers. Glamourous, sophisticated, high-end compacts with gorgeous details? You got me.

Richard Hudnut vanity case

Art Nouveau Richard Hudnut vanity case with cake powder, rouge, and a lipstick pencil.

Hudnut cosmetics and perfumes first appeared in New York City in 1880. Having toured Europe after graduating from Princeton, young Richard was inspired to launch his own line of cosmetics and perfumes–which he conveniently sold through his father’s drug store. He’s widely considered the first American to have a major impact in the cosmetics field, entering the market six years before the California Perfume Company, now Avon. Before these two major players appeared on the scene, American women exclusively used fragrances imported from Europe.

DuBarry set

A 1960s DuBarry set with powder compact, lipstick, and fabric case.

A number of sophisticated marketing techniques helped ensure the cache’ of the Hudnut brand. After transforming his father’s shop into an upscale boutique, Hudnut reputedly shifted his focus to wholesale, demanding that department stores that carried his wares sign contracts that prohibited them from reducing the cost of his goods or bundling them with other special offers–much like the coupons you recieve today with clearly outlined exclusions.

Three Flowers vanity case

A Three Flowers vanity case with powder and rouge.

The DuBarry line launched in 1903. It still operates today–visit their website for more info.

The Three Flowers line was introduced in 1915, just a year before Hudnut retired and sold the company.  It was acquired by William R. Warner & Company, which became Warner-Lambert in 1955.

The Deauville line launched in 1924: the same year Richard’s step-daughter Natasha married the delectable Rudolph Valentino, who had unfortunately failed to divorce his first wife prior to the new marriage. Richard Hudnut died in France in 1928 at age 73.

To live up to the expectations of Hudnut’s exclusive clientele, each of the cosmetics came in an elegant compact. Face powders, foundations, rouge, lipstick, and perfume boasted beautiful packaging. Hudnut designs embody the art nouveau and art deco aesthetics of their times.

Probably the most recognizable Hudnut compacts, the Le Debut series includes octagonal cases in gorgeous blues, greens, cream, and black. Dots representing stars sprinkled across the enamel somehow add energy and appeal. Some higher-end models offered a vanity case and lipstick tube suspended from a chain with a finger ring. These are some of the cases I love most. While I own the blue one pictured here, I long for one of the turquoise colored ones, preferably with the lipstick. Though the Hudnut company manufactured compacts well into the 1960s, I associate Richard Hudnut with the silent film era and that particular breed of glamour.

Le Debut vanity case

Le Debut vanity case from the 1920s.

Can’t you just picture Theda Bara or Louise Brooks with this compact in her hand? There. You see what I mean.

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11 comments

  1. My mother recently gave me a compact that is square with Oriental/Asian images on it (tiger attacking an impala, elephant, peacock, possibly love birds and several other images. It has a black case with black short bristles on the closed end. It still has the power puff and some powder still with it. There’s a very small word inside the case that looks like “Volute’ with USA beneath it. I’m trying to find out information and price.

    1. Your compact is by Volupte…it’s typically known as the Persian compact. The case is called the “Whisk-er” and was introduced in 1938, the compact appeared in ads a year earlier. Having that particular case is somewhat rare and increases the value. A number of factors impact value. A book I have that lists 1999 values prices it at $225-$250 for mint condition. Hope this helps–enjoy!

      1. Yes, it does. Would you please tell me the name and author of the book you used to value i? What would bethe best way to sell it?

      2. The book is Laura Mueller’s Collector’s Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls and Face Powder Boxes. As far as selling it, I’d suggest eBay or talking to your local antique shops to see if a dealer there may be willing to consign it for you. Hope this helps.

  2. I have one of the silver-tone Le Debut compacts with the finger ring and lipstick tube. Do you have any idea what kind of metal they’re made from? Mine is badly tarnished and I would love to (gently) clean it, but I’m not sure how to since I don’t know the material. Thanks!

  3. I have just found the exact same compact as the first one listed on this page. about how much does it cost??

  4. I have a Richard Hudnut Rouge store countertop display case and was wondering how to go about determining its value. I’ll be glad to post pictures if needed, but I can’t find any directions on how to do that. Thanks for any help you may be able to offer.

  5. i have a Richard Hudnut Vanity compact. it is still in the felt case.One half is powder. The powder is gone. The other half is rouge. The rouge is still in there. both powder applicators are still there.also on the side is a thin lipstick applicator. There is still lipstick in the tube. The compact is square with a scalloped carving on the bottom and a flower on each side of it. The edges are smooth and the top and bottom are etched lines. Would you be able to tell the worth of the compact and possibly a guess at its date. Thank You, Debbie

      1. Hi,

        I didn’t see how to post a picture on the website. Would I need to just send them to you? Thanks for your time on this,

        Jimmy

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