No records survive of the manufacturing concerns responsible for the Melissa & Regent of London brands of vanities. In these instances the accessories contained with the powder compacts and vanity sets enable us to build up a picture of the history of these delightful mid-century collectibles. Case construction and similarities of lid designs yield further clues. When we liaise with other collectors and specialists we can pool information. It is often possible to find when firms ceased to exist and this is helpful in dating brands such as Melissa & Regent of London. Vintage powder compacts can often be dated by their styles and sizes. For example many loose powder compacts fitted with full inner lids were made in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
By the 1950s compact manufacturers were focused on designing cases that could house both types of face powder - loose and pressed. These were & are still known as convertible powder compacts and they did not have full inner lids. By the 1950s compressed face powder was used all over the world. Max Factor Creme Puff was launched in 1953. It is still immensely popular today. Fortunately, Max Factor have not changed the size of powder pan (67 mm) and so it fits all vintage convertible powder compacts. Max Factor created Creme Puff to give film stars such as Judy Garland, Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford flawless complexions throughout the day when they would be spending many hours filming.
Vanities expert Juliette Edwards' research shows that Melissa was a British brand made by Searchlight Products (Melissa) Ltd. This firm was known to be located in Acton, London, in the early 1950s. Another expert, Jenny Duncan, found evidence that by 1962 this company also had premises at Arundel Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex. A service department (A.R.D. Melissa) tasked with repairing accessories was located at Fitzherbert Spur, Farlington, Hampshire.
Regent of London powder compacts also have scant history recorded. The detective work by collectors is on going. In 2011 specialists were able to date Regent of London designs to 1962. Many others are obviously 1950s powder compacts. Melissa & Regent of London often have identical features - like catches, engraved designs on the inner lid and base suggesting that they were made in the same manufacturing premises. There is a consensus of opinion in the world of compact collecting that the Melissa and Regent of London brand were mainly manufactured in the 1950s with some being made in the 1960s, just prior to the end of production for this firm.
If anyone has any other information we would be delighted to include it in this blog post.
1950s Melissa Lucite Loose Powder Compact
Melissa & Regent of London vanities were known for their many varied designs using quite a range of differing materials. These brands appeared on the market in the 1950s. Some of the Melissa vanities were only identifiable from the well known ‘teardrop’ Melissa catch that held the powder well door in place. Many Melissa & Regent of London compacts were signed on the mirror bezel. Others would carry the brand name on the pouch, puff or presentation box.
Lucite a brief history:
Lucite is a clear acrylic plastic & it is hugely popular with collectors, who often bid large amounts on jewellery & accessories. This is especially true for vintage vanities made from this material. Lucite was developed in the 1930s. By the 1950s costume jewellery & compacts were much in demand if they were made from Lucite. In its pure form it is translucent & resembles glass. However, it is suitable for dying with bold colours which makes for eye-catching accessories. An added bonus is that Lucite is less expensive to produce than Catalin, Bakelite & Galalith. It is more chemically stable than celluloid. Within time all these materials ceased to be used as Lucite was a far more preferable material.
The image of a lucite compact with a reverse carved bouquet demonstrates the appeal of this material.
In the 1930s DuPont & their rivals Rohm & Haas worked on polymethyl methacrylate compounds which are glass-like acrylic resins. In 1935 Rohm & Haas showcased its results - the unbreakable Plexiglass. Two years later DuPont was producing Lucite wares.
Both Plexiglass & Lucite were used by the military. The noses of bomber planes, windshields, cockpits & periscopes were all made from these materials. DuPont also saw the value of the jewellery trade & freely licensed Lucite to manufacturers of costume jewellery & accessories.
Jelly Bean Trifari Gold & Pavé Penguin
One really fascinating fact that will appeal to all those interested in recycling…….. the jewellery manufacturer Trifari were the first to use this new plastic in the late 1930s. They became known for using cabochons of Lucite that looked like rock crystals to form the bellies of the their animal themed brooches. These are known as Jelly Bellies. Alfred Phillipe, the head designer for Trifari, was responsible for producing the Jelly Belly menageries of Poodles, seals, bumble bees, elephants & chicks to name a few.
It is said that Alfred Phillipe was looking at a pile of Air Force ‘scrap’ which was deemed unusable. Much of this scrap was from fighter planes windshields. Phillipe had the idea to use these windshields & they were carved & dyed to make Jelly Belly cabochons!
Some of the most highly prized compacts are those that have been adorned with high quality mother of pearl / abalone. As you can see the monochrome design is very attractive. The compact comes with the original presentation box, brown felt pouch, pristine white sifter and leatherette puff which bears the Melissa crown trade mark & the signature too. The compact is in gorgeous unused condition. The first class workmanship is so evident, most especially the inlaid nacre lid. The mother of pearl and abalone so beautiful and iridescent! The whole item was lacquered during the manufacturing process and so it will never tarnish or need to be cleaned.
Both terms abalone and mother of pearl are so interchangeable that most people do not see much difference between them. Mother of pearl is a layer that lines the inside of the shells of molluscs and it is known as nacre. It protects the mullocks from infections and also reduces irritation caused by materials that enter the shell. Abalone belongs to a family of seashells. It has a shell that resembles an ear and an elevated apex towards the center. Abalone has dark rainbow shades when compared to mother of pearl.
While mother of pearl can be found in a variety of marine and freshwater shellfish, abalone is not found in abundance. The harvest of abalone is limited.
The Melissa 'Tear drop' Catch
Melissa branded musical powder boxes are noted for reliability & beauty.
If handled correctly mid-century musical powder boxes will play superbly & look beautiful.
Melissa Musical Compact With Original Instruction Leaflet