Jan Hynes

Hints & Tips
Collecting compacts is largely a matter of personal preference, what you like, what you can find and of course, how much you can afford to spend. I have found some lovely compacts in charity shops, at car-boot sales and flea markets, though I also buy from collector/dealers and from Antiques Fairs. My very first compact was bought, some years ago now, at a church bazaar for the princely sum of 20 pence! I am unlikely to be so lucky again and I find that they are becoming more and more difficult to find. However, some people are fortunate enough to live in areas where there are richer pickings, so if you're prepared to travel around, you will probably get some bargains.

I tend to buy locally, but I have some compacts which have been purchased from dealers on the Internet. If you have access to the web, then you can browse to your heart's content, but the sites I have found so far are all American. If you live in or around the London area, then you will find a much vaster choice. I have bought compacts in Portobello Road and at Alfie's Market in Church street off the Edgware Road, but I don't get to London that often.

As your interest and collection grows, you will find that you become more discerning about what you buy. It is worth paying a few more pounds for one compact in good condition than two cheaper ones which are scratched, dented, have poor hinges or are incomplete. Here are a few tips on what to look for and therefore what to avoid when buying compacts.


  • Make sure that the hinge is sound and that the compact shuts well and opens easily. Sometimes the hinge may be wonky and so the lid is out of alignment. If the compact has an inner lid, ensure that this also shuts easily. Sometimes, this mechanism can be damaged.
  • Some compacts have two flanges to open the case. Make sure that they are both intact.
  • Older compacts are quite thin, because they held only loose powder. A complete compact should have a sifter and a puff inside. Either one or both of these items can be missing, but don't be put off if the compact itself is in good condition. However, it is always preferable to buy as complete as possible.
  • On more modern compacts, designed to hold solid as well as loose powder, there should be an inner ring to hold the solid powder in place and a sifter if you choose to use loose powder. These compacts are usually thicker in depth.
  • You may be lucky enough to buy a compact complete with its pouch and box, though this is rare. Keep these items, as they add to the value.
  • You may see a few compacts on a dealer's stall amongst their main stock of porcelain, china, glass etc. I have found that sometimes, the dealer marks them at high prices simply because they are, for example, made by Stratton, and regardless of the condition, which is often very poor. I would avoid buying them.
  • Some compacts will still hold the original powder. It is advisable to clean your compact, sifter and puff. I use an old toothbrush for this purpose and a cotton-wool bud to get into the corners. Be careful of washing the sifter and puff, as they can disintegrate
  • Never use a strong abrasive cleaner on the case as this can remove the surface lacquer or design. A very good tip, from one of our members, is to use lighter fuel on a cotton cloth or cotton-wool to clean your compact.
  • If the mirror is broken or missing, it is possible to have it replaced. However, mirror-glass is very thin, usually 0.05", and is extremely difficult to get hold of. Unless the compact is stunning, I would avoid buying.
  • Sticky price labels are a hazard as the surface of the compact can sometimes come away when the label is removed. Carefully remove the label using a cotton bud soaked in either methylated spirit or nail-varnish remover.
  • Keep a record of your collection, either in a notebook, or perhaps on a word-processor file. You can also keep a photographic file. Record the make, description, date of purchase, where you bought it & how much you paid.
  • It is nice to have your compacts on display if possible. Some of our members have specially-designed lined drawers or cabinets, or displayed beneath a glass-topped coffee-table which is very attractive. I have most of my small collection in a china cabinet, displayed on tiny stands. If you have nowhere to display them, then wrap each one carefully in bubble-wrap or tissue to prevent scratching.
  • Most importantly, buy what you like and what will give you pleasure. Good luck and good hunting!