When people think about collecting they often imagine that you need a lot of money to become a collector. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a beginner you might not want to start at the high end with, say, Georgian silver, but there are many beautiful objects at modest prices that would soon form a stunning collection and I would highly recommend collecting compacts.
Compacts appeal to our feminine side and remind us of a bygone age when life was somewhat more elegant than today. Because compacts were used by everyone they are not rare to find and can often be had for around £20 and you should definitely check out your local car boot sale or antiques fair.
Needless to say, the rarer examples are somewhat more expensive but still very affordable and prices depend on the condition of the piece. If you are starting out collecting compacts you should initially look out for two makers, Stratton and Kigu, which are the best known British compact makers. Stratton began making compacts in the 1920s and they were made in a number of shapes which were named Princess, Empress, Queen and so on. If a compact was called a convertable it meant that it could hold pressed as well as loose powder. The surface decorations were varied – there were gold tones, transfer prints and enamels as well as, tortoise shell, celluloid and embroidery. Stratton did not only pay attention to the look of the compact, they were also interested in improving the functionality and one of it’s innovations was the self opening lid which saved many a smart lady from a broken fingernail.
As fashion changed and women no longer used face powder Stratton went into decline and was finally acquired in 2000 by Firmin & Sons and they still make a limited range of beautiful compacts.
Kigu of London took its name from the founder Gustav Kiaschek and Kigu compacts were very popular from the 1950s to the 1970s and there were some fascinating designs, especially the Flying Saucer. This was first made in the mid to late 1950s when anything to do with space was very fashionable and the Flying Saucer compact was a piece of design genius. Examples are very rare and go for hundreds of pounds when they come up at auction. There are cheaper Kigu compacts and you should look out for one of their musical ones.
While Stratton and Kigu are among the best know of compact makers there are many others, including Mascot, Coty, Yardley, Vogue Vanities, as well Houbigant, a French make. You will also find many unmarked compacts which can be especially beautiful and interesting.
If you want to start collecting compacts your first port of call should be an antiques and collector’s fair where you will usually find a good selection. If you are within striking distance of Birmingham you should try to visit the Antiques for Everyone event, where you will find several sellers. Car boot sales and flea markets are often a good source for compacts and you could end up with a bargain.
Before buying a compact you should check that it opens and closes easily and that the interior is not damaged. When buying enamelled compacts check for damage, as enamel chips easily. Be prepared to pay a premium if the compact is in its original pouch or box as this will add value.