How To Care For Your Vintage Compact Mirror An Illustrated Guide How To Install A New Pan Of Pressed Foundation

How To Care For Your Vintage Compact Mirror An Illustrated Guide How To Install A New Pan Of Pressed Foundation

Storage & Cleaning:

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 points below are aimed at collectors.

Display cases should be in areas that will not be in direct sunlight, as strong light can fade colours.

Sunlight and mirrors are a real fire hazard.

  1. Don’t store compact mirrors in plastic bags, as this creates condensation which is bad for the mirrors.
  2. Collectors often store compacts 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.
  3. 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. Protect velvet and felt from becoming moth eaten by storing them where moths can not get access to them.      
  4. Never use water or spray polish to clean the mirror, as this may damage the silver on the back of the mirror.  
  5. A clean soft cloth will clean the mirror sufficiently.
  6. Most vintage 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. The compact above is a wonderful example of how gorgeous vintage compacts can look. The brass is lacquered and this 1950s powder compact has never needed to be cleaned.  
  7. 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 fluid to seep behind the mirror, as this will damage the silver lining. 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.                                                                                                        
  8. Many collectors of antiques would never clean their collections & there is a lot to be said for the charm of vintage and antique pieces with patina. The image of the Melissa compact shown above captures the charm of vintage brass. No cleaning of this vanity will ever be necessary because the brass was lacquered by the maker.
  9. 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. However, we tend to think that antiques look far better left uncleaned. The rich gold patina that develops after seventy years is very beautiful. 
  10. Old toothbrushes or eyebrow brushes are excellent for removing old powder.
  11. 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 hairdryer will melt the glue & the labels can be removed without damaging the compact. Just a little gentle heat, not full power. As you can see from the image above the original labels and stickers give you information, such as the tune this musical powder box plays, how to wind the music box and also how to activate the self-opening inner lid.



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. 

Many compacts made from the mid-1950s onwards are convertible compacts. 

In terms of vanities convertible 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 and so this range can be used with vintage compacts.

The Rimmel lines Stay Matte, Kind & Free and Natural Bronzer will also fit, as will Constance Carroll and Miss Beauty brands.

The above mentioned cosmetics are available from most chemists and department  stores. 


How to install a new pan of pressed foundation:

To use a convertible powder compact with pressed face powder remove the sifter (gauze) first.

Most solid / pressed foundation powder comes in a metal powder pan which is surrounded by a plastic container.

Step One:

The plastic container should be removed and then the metal pan of powder can be installed in your vintage compact. 


The easy way to remove the plastic outer case is to point a hairdryer at the middle of the exterior base of the plastic case for a short period of time.

This usually takes less than one minute.

The heat from the hairdryer will melt the glue holding the metal pan in place.  


Step Two:

Please be careful!

Insert a craft knife or metal nail file to prise out the metal powder pan. 

The craft knife is placed in between the plastic outer case and the metal pan containing the foundation.

Insert the craft knife in four different areas around the edge to gently prise out the pressed foundation.

You may lack confidence and wonder if the powder will get damaged as you try to prise the metal pan of powder out of the plastic outer case. If you feel this way you can break the plastic outer case by gripping the lower part of it with a pair of pliers.


Gradually break off pieces until you can see the metal powder pan. Then slide a metal ruler or similar under the pan to lift it up from the plastic case. 


Step Three:

After prising the metal powder pan in four different areas you will feel it separate from the plastic base.

Gently lift the metal powder pan out of the plastic outer.


Step Four:

The metal pan containing pressed foundation is now ready to put in the compact mirror of your choice.




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 diameter can be used in these compacts. 

Other Stratton brand vintage compacts have inner annular rings which also allow powder pans smaller than the regular 67 mm diameter. 

Stratton Convertible, Slim Convertible and Queen Convertible models will hold metal powder pans measuring 59 - 67 mm in diameter. 

If you need any help choosing the right compact please feel free to contact Danielle on 0789 6616374.

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.

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 far enough the inner lid will pop open automatically.

This invention was patented by the owners of the Stratton brand and prevents ladies from damaging their nails.

On these models the mirror lid should be tilted slightly forward before closing the inner lid.  

If you are unsure about whether your compact is suitable for loose or pressed foundation click the link below.  

Which foundation is suitable for my compact?


View our beautiful hallmarked silver compact mirrors.

View all of our vintage and antique powder compacts.