This compact is widely admired as the epitome of Art Nouveau. Made in 1925 the Djer Kiss "Kissing Fairies" powder compact is a silver plated compact duo. This case marked the end of the Rowland-Smith fairy theme vanities. The firm had made the decision to move to the more en vogue Art Deco theme. Almost as soon as this vanity was produced it was considered old fashioned, which is good news for collectors, as it had a relatively short production run. It is a highly collectible antique compact rouge. Superbly well made as you can feel by its weight - an exquisite antique compact! In fact the weight of the case, how much space it took up in the hand & the depth are factors that ensured this was not a popular case at the time, hence a short production run. Sleeker, slim line & light weight cases were the order of the day. The famous sight of the lid hardly needs any introduction - two fairies kissing surrounded by gorgeous Art Nouveau flowers.
The Elgin American story started when Max Eppenstein began working in the jewellery quarter of New York in the late 1870s. In 1880 Solomon Eppenstein joined his brother and together they ran the M C Eppenstein & Company, (aka Eppenstein Brothers Company). The premises were located at 67 Washington St, Chicago. Initially the firm was only involved in the wholesale jewellery trade.
1895 Illinois Watch Case Company Advertisement
In 1888, the Eppenstein Brothers established a company manufacturing watchcases with the expertise of Thomas Duncan, an established watchmaker. The venture was named The Illinois Watchcase Company. Thomas Duncan managed this concern.
In 1989 another subsidiary was set up and this was named the Elgin American Manufacturing Company, often abbreviated to EAM. This company would concentrate on the crafting of cases, buttons and lockets. The ‘handsomely enamelled’ lockets were made using the same techniques which produced the watch cases. The Illinois Watchcase Company was still producing watches even though the business practices of the brothers had made them enemies within the watch trade.
In the spring of 1890 The Illinois Watchcase Company relocated to Elgin, IL. The new location brought about the desire for a new name -The Elgin Watchcase Company. However, this name was very similar to an old established (c.1866) and highly regarded concern known as the Elgin National Watch Inc. Protests that this would cause confusion were taken up by lawyers and the new name was not granted.
The brothers’ solution was to create a line of watches prefixed with the name ‘Elgin’. For example the ‘Elgin Commander’. The Eppenstiens registered the names as their own. A court case ensued with the brothers being banned from using this prefix. The brothers were wealthy enough to engage a first rate legal team who pursued the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
In 1901, after much legal wrangling, the court ruled that as ‘Elgin’ was an actual location it could not be trademarked and therefore the Eppenstein brothers could use the word ‘Elgin’ on any of their products or in any of their company names. However, they decided to keep the name The Illinois Watchcase Company.
You can find out more on the history behind this iconic manufacturer in our bespoke fact packs that come with every order - shop Elgin and the major brands of compacts here.
In 1919 the Elgin American Vanity Case was being advertised for sale.
The Jewelers' Circular October 26 1921
By 1921 Elgin American vanities were widely advertised in the press. The above advertisement shows that in this year the main office and factory were still located in Elgin, Illinois. The New York branch was at Maiden Lane and the Chicago branch was at 29 E. Madison Street.
Elgin American vanities ranged widely in price. The top of the range were fashioned from solid gold. Sterling silver vanity cases were more popular, as gold was out of the reach of most ladies. Some of the solid silver cases were ‘inlaid with solid gold’. Gold filled cases were also offered for sale which had all the appeal of solid gold and the obvious advantage of being more affordable.
These materials were used to craft other novelties such as cigarette cases, ‘photo cases, tapered matchsafes, belt buckles, vanity powder cases, traveling watches, pocket knives’ and (hip) ‘flasks in 3 different sizes’. ‘Link cuff buttons’ were available in ‘white - green and yellow solid gold’. There isn't a record of the price of solid gold vanities but we know from advertisements that sterling silver cases were sold for just over $9 in the early 1920s. It is curious to note that the firm did not apply for any patents for their vanities until 1923. As you can see from the advertisement the vanity cases were fitted with a strap so that they could be worn on the wrist - a dance purse. The wrist straps were equipped with a slider, which would secure the vanity purse and enable the lady to dance with her fashionable accessory. The interior contained compartments that could house powder, a memorandum, pencil, make-up, money, coins placed in the coin holders, as well as a mirror and maybe even a tiny comb.
In 1921 Max Eppenstein died. Solomon became the company president. Max’s son, Louis, was appointed to the role of Vice-President. The 1920s saw the growth of the novelties / vanities side of the business. Sterling silver and silver plated vanities with wrist straps were manufactured and the demand for these was high.
The Illinois Watchcase Company was still producing cases until the 1940s. The company went from strength to strength and in the 1940s, which is widely considered to be heyday of American novelty compact manufacturing, they were at the forefront, producing many different styles with the most appealing and glamorous lid decorations.
Elgin American were famous for their novelty compacts too. They were considered to be novelty compacts as they often resembled other items.
Envelopes, purses, pocket watches, tear drops or heart shapes.
The heart shaped compacts were produced especially with St Valentine’s Day in mind.
Elgin American Order Form
The image above shows the shapes of Elgin American compact mirrors and the corresponding refill product codes that were available from the manufacturer back in the day.
The different shades of powder that were available are listed at the bottom of the form:
NATURAL (BLONDE) GOLDEN BRUNETTE (LIGHT BRUNETTE)
LIGHT SUN TAN (DARK BRUNETTE)
LIGHT RACHEL (BROWNETT) MED. BRUNETTE (BRUNETTE)
DARK SUN TAN
When Richard was eighteen years old he began working for his father & for seven years he learned every aspect of this business, starting at the bottom. Either he or his father realised the huge potential for growth the perfume & vanity business offered. It was noticed that many French perfume houses (Rigaud & LT Piver) were selling well in America & naturally the Hudnuts wanted a slice of the action too. Both father & son visited Europe to study how the Europeans, most particularly the French conducted their business affairs. The South of France is so important for the essential oils it produces.
By the age of 59 Alexander had decided to retire due to ailments. He sold Hudnut’s Pharmacy & another NY based store for a reported quarter of a million dollars. The stores kept the name as this ensured future custom & indeed the name as well as the trade ensured this huge price tag. Although this was confusing as his son, Richard was also trading too.
A third pharmacy on 925 Broadway was operated by Richard Hudnut. Obviously his business was booming too as he moved into the prestigious The Dakota. From 1895 & for the next four years Richard Hudnut promoted his new fragrances in that year Extreme Violet, Superba & Indianotis. The year later Violet Sec. In 18982 Yanky, Lily of The Valley & the following year Violet Superba Face Powder.
To say that the trading situation was confusing is correct, despite the fact that Hudnut's Pharmacy and Richard Hudnut made efforts to distinguish each-other's products. Often the two Hudnut brands can only be identified by the addresses on the advertisements and labels. In 1893 Richard Hudnut launched the ‘Hudnutine’ brand. This brand included tooth powder, face powder, rouge and cold cream. Some say that the Hudnutine brand was the first cosmetic line.
The Evans Case Company of North Attleboro, MA was a huge concern making accessories in America. Manufacturing between 1920 and 1960. If you study Evans cases over those forty years you will see the evolution of vanities.
Colonel Obed Robinson who was a skilled blacksmith & clock maker began a jewellery / jewelry business in Attleboro in 1807. The 1812 war meant that soldiers needed buttons & so production was changed to suit this purpose.
The Colonel & his son, Otis, are credited with starting America’s first button making concern. As you can imagine button making was a very necessary business & their firm became a huge thriving business & the area was at one time named Robinsonville.
In 1848 Daniel Evans purchased the business then known as R & W Robinson.
It was still a button making company & Mr Evans renamed the company D Evans & Co. His son Edwin followed him into business, however many other companies were also producing buttons & demand for the firm’s wares declined.
The company needed to produce other items to remain viable & this it did. A ‘Novelty Department’ creating picture frames & neck chains for American soldiers dog tags was set up & Alfred Reilly was hired by the company to run this new department.
You can find out more on the history behind this revered vintage brand in our bespoke fact packs that are supplied with every order from The Vintage Compact Shop - browse our various Evans compact mirrors.
The brand name Zenette was owned by the Collins family - C.H.Collins & Sons Ltd of Hockley Hill, Birmingham, England. The company was in operating from the first decade of the 20th Century.
At the British industries Fair of 1929 they were listed as manufacturers of “Collar studs, sleeve links, ...powder boxes & compacts.” From the mid 1920s to 1940 Zenette branded compacts were often highly stylized Art Deco designs.
Some of the most beautiful Art Deco powder compacts made from non-precious metal were Zenette.
Records show that the Company was still operating in the 1960s but by then the style of powder compact has changed to a ‘modern’ shape. No longer loose powder compacts.
If you were to ask us to name the manufacturer of the most stylish Art Deco English compacts that were made from non-precious metals our answer would be ‘Zenette’.
You can find out more on the history behind this highly revered vintage brand in our bespoke fact pacts that are supplied with every order from The Vintage Compact Shop - shop Zenette compacts and accessories here.
Without doubt Dorothy Gray compacts are some of the most collectible & eye-catching.
During WWI the Company first appeared & its founder was one of those remarkable women who was a pioneer in the cosmetic business. Although today nobody except compact collectors have heard of this lady in her day she was as well known as Helen Rubinstein or Elizabeth Arden.
She was a farmer’s daughter born on 18th December 1886 in Maine, USA. She was named Dorothy Cloudman. Later on she changed aged 24 years old she changed her name to Dorothy Cloudman Gray.
Her first notable employment in the cosmetics business was working in Elizabeth Arden’s Fifth Avenue Salon. By 1915 she had been sacked as Elizabeth Arden had found out that she was living with a man to whom she was not married.
Fortunately there was a huge demand in America for beauty treatments and so her business flourished.
In 1922 her Company started to manufacture its own preparations. The laboratory was situated on East Fifty Ninth Street manufacturing face creams. Later on rouge & face powder were added to the list of goods produced & eventually in 1924 her first compact was produced.
You can find out more on the history behind this revered vintage brand in our bespoke fact pacts that are supplied with every order from The Vintage Compact Shop - browse Dorothy Gray compacts and accessories here.
In 1904 Francois Coty founded his company in Paris. His dream was to revolutionize perfume making.
In 1908, Coty relocated his manufacturing headquarters to Suresnes. He acquired property and began to turn the area a center of excellence dedicated to the manufacture of perfume, to realize his dreams. “ La cite des parfums “ would, at its height employ in the region of 9000 staff. It had the capacity to manufacture 100,000 bottles of perfume a day.
Coty knew that he needed to appeal to a wider clientele & he had to make his cosmetics more affordable. Hugely influential artists, designers & artisans were used to create the luxurious nature of this brand. Rene Lalique & the Glassworks of Baccarat were engaged to produce the most gorgeous creations in which Coty sold his perfumes.
Products as luxurious as Rene Lalique glass had never been made available to the mass market & these eye-catching works of art enhanced Coty’s standing in the trade.
You can find out more on the history behind this revered perfumer in our bespoke fact packs that come with every order - shop the collection.