How To Care For Your Vintage Compact Mirror
Many people use compacts as handbag mirrors on a day to day basis. Collectors will often keep compacts as part of a collection, especially if they are rare or beautiful. The first three comments below are aimed at collectors. Display cases should be in areas that will not be in direct sunlight as strong light can fade colours /colors. Also sunlight and mirrors are a real fire hazard.
- Don’t store them in plastic bags as this creates condensation which is bad for the mirrors.
- Collectors often store them without powder as this can also create condensation as well as damage the metal or the coat of protective lacquer. The perfume in the powder can damage the lacquer as well.
- The ideal way to store vanities is to wrap them with acid free tissue paper & place them in a small cardboard box or a soft felt / velvet pouch. Cleaning of powder compacts:
- Never use water or spray polish to clean the mirror as this may damage the silver on the back of the mirror.
- A clean soft cloth will clean the mirror.
- Most brass powder compacts & cases have a layer of lacquer which prevents the brass from tarnishing. If you apply brass polish to lacquered compacts & cigarette cases it will damage the lacquer.
- To clean lacquered collectibles it is best to use a silicone spray. We use Autoglym Vinyl & Rubber Care. Be careful not to spray the mirror or allow any to seep behind the mirror as it will damage the silver on the back of the mirror. For a high sheen leave the spray on the coat of lacquer for a couple of minutes & then buff with a soft cloth. Enamel can be cleaned with this spray too. Very dirty enamel may need several cleaning sessions.
- Many antique collectors would never clean their collections & there is a lot to be said for the charm of ancient pieces with patina.
- Some very old compacts do not have a coat of lacquer to protect the brass & then brass cleaner could be used to clean them if they look very dirty. We tend to think that antiques look far better left uncleaned. The rich gold patina that develops after seventy years is very beautiful.
- Old toothbrushes or eyebrow brushes are excellent for removing old powder.
- Collectors should always keep the original stickers, labels & accessories with their compacts but sometimes people will come across accessories with price tags which are not original. If these are sticky labels the heat from a hair dryer will melt the glue & the labels can be removed without damaging the compact. Just a little gentle heat, not full power.
Information about using powder compacts:
If you have a powder compact with a sifter (gauze) you will be able to use it with loose face powder. Just place a small amount of powder under the sifter. In theory a tight fitting sifter will prevent spills, especially if the compact is also fitted with an inner lid. To use a compact with loose powder place a small amount under the sifter & then place the puff on top.
Compact with sifter installed on top of loose face powder
Many compacts made from the mid 1950s onwards are convertible compacts & this means that they can be used with both loose* & pressed face powder (*if they still have their sifters). Most “convertible“ vintage compacts will hold powder pans measuring 67 mm in diameter. Max Factor have kept their ‘Creme Puff’ range the same size since 1953. To use with solid face powder remove the sifter first. Most solid powder comes in a metal powder pan which is surrounded by a plastic container. Max Factor ‘Creme Puff’ face powder is relatively easy to remove from the plastic container. Just squeeze it out of the container & put the metal powder pan in your convertible compact. Some Stratton compacts & also sterling silver Kigu compacts come with spacer rings which are easy to install. Once these are fitted powder pans of 57 mm can be used in these compacts. Max Factor ‘Creme Puff’ is available from most chemists / department stores.
Compact with Max Factor 'Creme Puff' installed
Care of your newly delivered powder compact / vanity
We always wrap powder compacts very well to protect the mirror, enamel and the body of the piece. Occasionally newly delivered vintage compacts will have a little bit of condensation on the mirror. Wipe the mirror with a soft dry tissue. Leave the compact open to “breath” for 15 minutes on day one of receipt - only if it has condensation on the mirror. If your gift box has an acetate cover please discard this as it may cause condensation. Check the compact on day two & let it “breathe” again for ten minutes. It is wise not to leave them open all the time as it is beneficial for the mechanism to be closed most of the time. Many vintage Stratton powder compacts are fitted with a self-opening inner lid. This is an ingenious design whereby when the mirror lid is tilted back enough the inner lid will pop open automatically. This was invented by the makers of Stratton to prevent damage to ladies nails when they needed to access the powder well. Tilt the mirror lid slightly forward before closing the inner lid.