Yardley Compact Mirrors History & Heritage

Yardley Compact Mirrors History & Heritage

Yardley is one of the oldest cosmetic companies in the world. It is said to date to a time earlier than the Great Fire of London (1666). Although this statement can not be proved, there is no doubt that the company was established a little before 1770 by Samuel Cleaver. On the death of Samuel Cleaver in 1805 his wife and four sons inherited the business. They traded under the name of Cleaver Brothers. Notices declaring bankruptcy were issued against the four brothers in 1813.  William Cleaver managed to obtain the wherewithal to keep the business afloat as William Cleaver & Company until 1823, when he was again declared bankrupt. William Yardley who was related by marriage to the Cleaver family, purchased the business in 1823. 

When William Yardley died a year later, his son Charles inherited the business. Charles engaged his cousin, Frederick Cleaver to manage the firm. This arrangement continued until Frederick resigned in 1841 to start his company, F.S. Cleaver & Sons, selling the same type of wares as Yardley 

In 1841 William’s son, Charles was joined by William Statham, who became a partner. The new company name reflected this association and the concern was still known as Yardley & Statham a decade later. In that same year the name of the company was registered as Yardley & Co. As well as perfumes, Yardley sold toiletries such as soap and hair styling preparations. At this time the London offices were located at 7 Vine Street, Bloomsbury.

William Statham died in 1863. Charles Yardley junior inherited the firm and on his death in 1872 the management of Yardley was in the hands of Thomas Gardner. He proved to be very capable and his tenure was rewarded with a partnership. Then, as Yardley’s first chairman he was instrumental in converting the firm into a joint stock company in 1890. Gardner’s two sons, Richard & Thornton joined the firm and they provided the direction needed after their father’s death in 1891.

The two pivotal decisions made by the Gardner brothers were to concentrate mainly on the retail side of the business, rather than wholesale and also to focus on the production of perfumes and toiletries instead of soap production, for which they had huge competition and was therefore less profitable.

English lavender was and is grown in the south of England. The dry gently sloping fields containing chalky and alkaline soils are ideal for lavender cultivation. English Lavender was Yardley’s signature brand. It was launched in 1873. This scent first became popular in Victorian England & by the 1880s it was being exported to America with great success. In 1904 Yardley purchased a 100 year lease so that they could build a large factory, complete with its own generators at Carpenters Road in Stratford. Yardley products were so much in demand that the profits from the sales of toiletries & cosmetics enabled the company to open premises in the highly prestigious site of  8 New Bond Street, London in 1910. Later on the Yardley shop was relocated to 33 Old Bond Street.



© English Heritage




In 1913 Yardley adopted this Francis Wheatley’s painting from his “Cries of London” (1795) series as their company logo. The original painting depicts a basket containing primroses. Yardley, of course, replaced these with sheaths of lavender.

In 1920 Yardley become a Public Limited Liability Company. Subsidiaries / branches were established in New York (1921), San Francisco, Chicago (1928), Toronto (1935), Texas (1937), Sydney (1939).

In 1921 Yardley gained its first Royal Warrant for the provision of perfumes & soap to Edward, the Prince of Wales.




As you can see from the logos, most of Yardley House was leased to Corot of Bond Street. This arrangement continued until 1946, when Yardley relocated their perfume laboratory, art, design and advertising departments into the building, as well as many of its administrative staff. 

The 1930s proved to be a boom time for this perfume house. In 1932 the British government scrapped the spirit duty on lavender and this no doubt increased Yardley’s fortunes and in the same year Queen Mary issued a Royal Warrant for the provision of Yardley perfumes. However, difficult times loomed ahead for the whole of the world.




                1937 Vanity Set Commemorating The Coronation Of George VI

The vanity set shown above was a boxed set made for Christmas 1937 to commemorate the coronation of George VI. It was retailed from the Bond Street flagship store. The set has not been used. The compact mirror is decorated with champlevé gold and white enamel scrolls. The red lid clamp and the blue edge of the box are no accident of design. This set was red, white & blue to represent the colours of the flag of Great Britain. 

At this time English lavender was considered superior to that grown in other countries. However, Yardley did also use French lavender as the traditional lavender growing areas in Surrey were suffering from the expansion of London. By the 1930s areas in rural Norfolk were being cultivated for the growth of lavender. Perhaps this was a necessity as around this time Yardley had developed its own cultivar of Lavandula angustifolia.

At the outbreak of World War II on September 1 1939 all British manufacturing concerns were expected to help with the war effort and priorities changed at least until 1945. Yardley took out advertisements to explain to the industry how to inform ladies why their favourite toiletries and perfumes were out of stock.








You may wonder how, in the absence of a Yardley vanities archive or advertisements showing this make of compact mirror we can date it. Vanities offer many clues. However, we will focus just on this example. The fact that the compact was only made for loose face powder was really helpful to us. Although some antique compact mirrors were suitable for compressed powder ‘godets’,  many 1930s / 1940s powder compacts were only able to accommodate loose face powder. It was not until the early 1950s that formulations of compressed face powder were considered less harsh on the skin and more ‘natural’ looking. Max Factor Creme Puff was launched in 1953 and it was so popular that British compact manufacturers started to make convertible powder compacts which could hold loose, as well as compressed face powder. 

The compact has a rim of material fitted around the interior of the powder well lid. This forms a seal when the powder well lid is closed. This type of arrangement means that this compact was not manufactured with a sifter (gauze) and it was only made for loose face powder.




The thumb catch of this compact is stamped with the patent number 446485. This is such a good aid to dating. This patent was registered in 1936 by the makers of the Stratton brand. Yardley paid to use their design. The inventor was a member of the Laughton family - George Abe Laughton. 

So we can say for certain that the design of the compact and the patent point to this item being made in the late 1930s to early 1940s. This Yardley brand compact is small enough to fit in a purse. The lid is adorned with embossed floral motifs, a bird, a cat and the Yardley signature.

The thumb catch is painted with metallic blue enamel. The powder well surround is signed 'Yardley'. The mirror gives a very good and accurate reflection with a few age spots which in no way detract. The original pouch and puff are present. The puff does not have any traces of powder on it. The base has an engine turned design of horizontal lines. Measures 6 cm x 5.4 cm and weighs 70.6 grams.

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