Compact manufacturers

Compact makers

Compact makers: The Elegance of Evans

As I mentioned before, the Evans Case Company made some of the compacts I love the most… as well as this wonderful handbag my mother-in-law scored for me:

Handbag, lipstick tube, change purse, and comb.

Handbag, lipstick tube, change purse, and comb.

I’m surprised that I haven’t blogged much about Evans before now. Based in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, Evans operated from 1922-1960, producing lighters, cigarette cases, compacts, vanity cases, handbags, and men’s accessories such as tie clips and cufflinks. With the tagline “Evans is elegance,” the company lured in women looking for something a bit more glamorous than the commonplace drug store powder compact.

From "The Evans Book" by Larry Clayton. Copyright 1998 Larry Clayton.

From “The Evans Book” by Larry Clayton. Copyright 1998 Larry Clayton.

Evans manufactured beautifully matched sets: each carryall came with a matching lipstick holder; handbags included a variety of accessories, such as a lipstick holder, mirror, comb, powder box, cigarette case and lighter.

I wish I owned more Evans pieces–for whatever reason, I’ve found more Elgin American and Volupte in my travels. The few Evans pieces I do have, however, offer a good representation of what the company produced…including some packaging.

The carryall I own is pictured in this ad from The Evans Book – I love the multi-colored metal waves. A small detail that really gives the piece more depth and complexity.

The waves have subtle color variations, alternating between a bright gold and a rosy tone.

The waves have subtle color variations, alternating between a bright gold and a rosy tone.

My carryall is missing the lipstick holder. Someday, I'll find one.

My carryall is missing the lipstick holder. Someday, I’ll find one.

I also have a lovely smoking set with compact…although, like the carryall, mine is flawed. When I purchased the set online, the mirror in the compact was intact. Unfortunately, the shipper didn’t pack it well and by the time it arrived, the mirror had broken. I was crushed. And since the mirror is framed into the case, I can’t replace it on my own. I keep looking for a matching compact so I can have the full set. I love the herringbone pattern.

Compact, cigarette case, and lighter.

Compact, cigarette case, and lighter.

I have a beautiful Evans compact – with the mirror intact. And the original packaging…it’s fun to see the advertising for other Evans products. The back of the little brochure says, “Makers of automatic lighters for more than 20 years.” Since Evans started making lighters in 1928, that probably puts the compact’s manufacture date at  1949 or 1950.

The compact and literature.

The compact and literature.

The inside has never been used.

The unused puff, with the Evans label.

The unused puff, with the Evans label.

My last Evans piece is another handbag. This one didn’t have any of the original accoutrements with it, but I can always just use my other Evans pieces to fill it, if I want to be a stickler. I found this bag at Treasures Antiques in Amherst. Their website is terrible–the shop is much better in person!

I think I paid just $12 for this.

I think I paid just $12 for this.

An ad for bags like mine...with a similar clasp, but different shapes. The set that came with the top bag looks like the one I shared pictures of.

An ad for bags like mine…with a similar clasp, but different shapes. The set that came with the top bag looks like the one I shared pictures of above.

According to The Evans Book, the company stopped making handbags in 1955, when the wife of owner Alfred Reilly attempted to take over the handbag division and the women who had been managing it quit. I always think it’s interesting to learn how personality conflicts and political activity have a far-reaching impact on manufacturing, finance, and the like. Anyway, the company went on making lighters and compacts for another five years, until 1960.

You can learn more about Evans on the blog Collecting Vintage Compacts in a series of remarkably well-researched posts full of great photos.


An incredible Evans find

My mother-in-law is starting to understand my taste.

That’s very cool for a variety of reasons. Mostly because it means I’m important to her and she wants to choose gifts I like. But it’s also awesome because she volunteers with her church, which holds rummage sales as fundraisers.

She gets to see the rummage before it goes on sale.

When she saw this bag, she thought of me.

Gorgeous vintage clutch

Gorgeous vintage clutch

Another angle...

Another angle…

She called and tried to describe it over the phone, but I’m extremely visual and had trouble picturing the bag she was talking about. What I did get: It was old and had an interesting closure. She offered the people running the sale $10. They gave it to her for $4. She did some research when she got home and felt guilty that they gave it her for so little. Then I started feeling better, because it meant I would feel less guilty if I didn’t like it.

The elegant Evans emblem, hidden inside the purse.

The elegant Evans emblem, hidden inside the purse.

Then she told me it was an Evans. The odds that I wouldn’t like it plummeted. Evans made some of the compacts I love most…their styling and craftsmanship captivate me. Even their logo is striking.

My mother-in-law cautioned me that the interior of the bag had some holes in the cloth lining, and there were two small dings in the leather on the front. To a certain extent, things like that make me feel like it’s OK to actually USE my vintage items – I’m not putting an intact collectible at risk of losing its value, I’m simply continuing to make use of an item that already has a bit of wear and tear.

Yes, the interior shows signs of age. But I'm the only one who will see that.

Yes, the interior shows signs of age. But I’m the only one who will see that.

Inside pockets for lipstick and a compact.

Inside pockets for lipstick and a compact.

While the compact that probably came with the bag originally didn’t make it to the rummage sale, there were still some goodies inside:

Even more treasures inside: lipstick tube, change purse, and comb.

Even more treasures inside: lipstick tube, change purse, and comb.


Bow and basket weave clasp

Bow and basket weave clasp

The lipstick holder has the same basket weave as the bag’s clasp. It’s obviously never been used. So cool. And I love the blue jewel at the tip. I’m not certain of this set’s age, but I’m looking forward to doing some research to see what I can find.

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.

Compact makers: Coty

Coty ad from September 28, 1942 Life

A Coty ad from the September 28, 1942 issue of Life magazine

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been fighting computer trouble. The new computer is now up and running, so I should be back in full force reasonably soon. To tide you over, a quick post about Coty. Coty has a rich history, established in Paris in 1904, initially launching a fragrance. The company introduced the classic Air-Spun face powder in 1914, bringing Coty into the word of cosmetics. By 1934, an estimated 36 million women bought Coty face powders worldwide.

You can read more about the company’s founder, Francois Coty, and some company history here. Coty’s confident signature became the company logo, gracing a range of  perfumes, powders, and cosmetics.

Many of the company’s compacts have become highly collectible–most notably, the holiday-themed Sleigh Bells package. Often referred to as Jingle Bells, the case included both powder and rouge, with a tube of lipstick in the accompanying presentation box. I want one of these, but every time I have encountered one, it’s been in terrible condition – missing bells, cracked mirror, dented, etc. Or in good condition but well outside my spending limit. Someday, I’ll find the one I’m supposed to own.

Coty Sleigh Bells ad

A 1942 ad for the coveted Sleigh Bells set.

The belt buckle pictured in the ad is another collectible piece, available in white or black. The envelope compact is also popular–they’re easy to find on auction websites. My favorite, however, is the Coty book. This simple goldtone rectangular compact was marketed as having enough room for a month’s supply of powder. I just like the design–it appeals to the bookworm in me.

Coty Corsica compact

Coty Corsica compact in aqua.

The deco-style “Corsica” compacts came in different colors and configurations–bright red and a lovely aqua. It’s also easy to find the round goldtone compacts with Air-Spun powder, with a blue or pinkish plastic button at the center of the lid. These are a good start for the beginning collector…well-made, affordable pieces, definitely worth a look.

Yardley bee compact

The Yardley bee

Yardley is one of the world’s oldest cosmetics brands, established in England in 1770. Though best known for their lavender soaps and perfumes, cosmetics were an important part of the business as well.  Yardley made many wonderful compacts in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

The bee and bubble compact is one of my favorites. I like bees: they symbolize fertility, diligence, and community. It’s easy to see their connection to the lavender flower, another one of my favorites. I look at this compact and think warm weather, sweet scented air, and lemonade out on the deck–maybe with a touch of mint.  The bee looks cheerful, and bubbles are always fun. The whole design makes me smile.

Do you think Yardley planned on that?

Yardley bee compact

A Yardley compact with bee and bubble design.

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 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

Cara Nome

Compact makers: Cara Nome

I have a collecting/reselling dilemma. While I collect compacts, I also resell them. When shopping for inventory, I usually have a pretty good idea of which pieces are for resale and which are for my own enjoyment. But sometimes, I change my mind. I’ll receive something in the mail and like it more than I expected. Other times, I’ll realize something complements a piece I already own, which increases the breadth and depth of my collection. Though I don’t place a huge emphasis on value, I realize that packaging and complementary information that place a piece in context can make items more collectible and valuable.

Cara Nome

Cara Nome compacts and vanity case

I purchased the Cara Nome case at the bottom of the photo intending to put it up for sale. Then I found a vanity case with the same motif. And then I stumbled across a matching powder compact. Even when I had just two pieces, I started waffling. Sell one and keep the other? Which should I keep? While I like compacts and vanity cases best, I also like other vintage cosmetic acessories and don’t have much in the way of eye makeup or lipstick holders. That would add breadth to my collection. But when I found the powder compact, I started questioning the wisdom of selling any of the three. They just look like they belong together.

Cara Nome began as a fragrance introduced by United Drug Company in 1918. There were several different United Drug Companies–one in New York and New Jersey and another in Boston, which aquired the New York/New Jersey company in 1916 (It’s amazing what you can find in old financial reports like Moody’s Analyses of Investments). United Drug manufactured drugs and cosmetics to sell in franchised stores operating under the Rexall banner. 

By Langlois

Hallmark "By Langlois" on the vanity case rouge compartment

While owned by Rexall, Cara Nome was also associated with Langlois of Boston, a name that appears on many Cara Nome compacts. Shari and Duska also belonged to Langlois, according to research by Nicole Soren for the show “The Art of Allure: Powder Compacts and Vanities of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries” at the University of Arizona Art Museum. Check out the compacts in the show here: On auction sites, many sellers erroneously list the name as “Langlors.”

Cara Nome vanity case with spiderweb decoration

After starting research for this post, I remembered two other Cara Nome compacts in my collection. An ad reminded me of the spiderweb vanity case pictured here. this is a larger case, and again, bears both the Cara Nome logo and label on the signed puff and the Langlois name engraved into the lid to the powder well. The other piece is a vivid red plastic vanity case including rouge and lipstick: one of the few non-metal items in my collection.

Cara Nome vanity case

Kwin-N-Devilish lipstick and rouge

Cara Nome made a number of perfumes and powders as well, available at Rexall. This was clearly a drugstore brand, most likely more accessible to the everyday woman than some of the compacts made by contemporaries such as Elgin, Evans and Volupte. Despite this difference in price point, many of the Cara Nome cases still show attention to detail and careful styling. In fact, after evaluating these compacts for this blog post, my mind is made up–they belong in my collection. But have no fear–as I encounter more of these pieces, I’ll share the wealth. You’ll definitely see Cara Nome compacts and vanity cases for sale on in the coming months.