1940s

A day with "jeweler to the stars" Paul Flato

Tiffany?  Harry Winston?  Fred Leighton?  Forget about 'em.  While they might be supplying the sparkling baubles for today's red carpet, back in the late '30s and '40s there was a jeweler bigger than those 3 put together:  Paul Flato.  I'll get to why I'm talking about a jeweler in a sec, but first a brief bio is in order.  Paul Flato (1900-1999), moved from his home state of Texas to New York City at the age of 20.  He opened his own jewelry store shortly afterwards and employed several designers.  By 1937 he had another store on the West Coast to further solidify his status as the go-to jeweler for the biggest Hollywood stars (think Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn) as well as a jewelry designer for major films.

Now here's where his story goes off the rails.  In 1943 he was arrested for pawning over $100,000 worth of jewels that clients and fellow jewelers had entrusted to him on consignment and served 16 months in Sing Sing.  Upon his release from prison he started a lucrative business designing compacts, which was fortunate as his Hollywood career was basically over.  After the compacts, Flato continued to design jewelry in the store he opened in Mexico City from 1970-1990, then returned to Texas for the last decade of his life.  To my knowledge he never got back into Hollywood's good graces - I couldn't find anything about him supplying jewelry for movies/actresses after 1943 - but it didn't matter since he had already become a legend.

I had seen the Flato brand floating around previously during my various vintage compact hunts and figured one would be a good addition to the Museum's collection, but none of the designs really appealed to me.  Since they can be on the pricey side I decided to hold off to see if any really caught my fancy.  And as luck would have it this adorable compact and lipstick case, still in the original box, eventually surfaced.  Against my better judgement I got involved in a nasty Ebay bidding war, but ultimately won (and probably overpaid a smidge). 

Paul Flato compact box

Looking back it was totally worth it given how awesome the design is.  You may or may not know I have a thing for mint green/jade/bakelite so when I gazed into this kitty's glowing mint green eyes I knew she had to be mine.

Paul Flato compact

Paul Flato compact

Paul Flato compact

Love the matching design on the lipstick case!

Paul Flato lipstick case

I thought it would be good to discuss Flato's style a little so we can see how it translated to the compacts.  I find his pieces to be whimsical and tongue-in-cheek, while still piling on the sparkle.  Some examples, according to his obit in the New York Times:  "Among them were a diamond 'corset' bracelet, with garters in rubies and diamonds, based on Mae West's undergarment...a compact for Gloria Vanderbilt was studded with gold and enamel angels, including an angel on a chamber pot. A pair of little brooches of gold feet with ruby toenails was originally made for Irene Castle, a play both on her maiden name, Foote, and her dancing career."  Flato also drew on everyday experiences and items - his observation of fallen leaves one crisp autumn day turned into this brooch, while a basic belt buckle became a dazzling aquamarine necklace.

Paul Flato leaves brooch

Paul Flato aquamarine and ruby belt buckle necklace
(images from langantiques.com)

Another prominent motif in Flato's work was hands, according to this site:  "Hand imagery had always been of interest to Flato, who notably used antique hand sculptures to display jewelry in ads that appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during the 1930s."  Here are some quite literal examples.

Paul Flato hand brooches

Not only that, but Flato's own battle with hearing loss at a young age inspired a series of sign language pins.

Paul Flato sign language pins

Paul Flato sign language pins
(images from jewelsdujour.com)

This same playfulness mixed with a healthy dose of sparkle carried over to Flato's compacts.  I liked that he created designs that were different from his jewelry line but still maintained his signature style.  It looks like Flato filed the patent for the compacts in February 1948 and they were available for sale later that year. Interestingly, this wasn't the first time Flato had the idea to design compacts, as evidenced by this 1940 patent for a compact, cigarette case and lipstick combo.

Paul Flato compact patent(image from google.com)

I meant to order this ad from hprints in time for this post and completely spaced on it.  Sigh.

Paul Flato compact ad, 1948
(image from hprints.com)

The ones shown in the ad above are fairly common.  I wouldn't mind adding the seashell one to my collection.  ;)  There's also a patent for it too, which is pretty cool.

Paul Flato shell compact
(image from pinterest.com)

The popular dogwood design:

Paul Flato dogwood compact
(image from etsy.com)

And this circular patterned one.

Paul Flato compact
(image from ebth.com)

Apparently the compacts were a pretty big hit right away, according to this news snippet from 1949.

News-herald-franklin-pa-dec.2-1949

Some more, just for fun.

Paul Flato compact ad, November 1949

Paul Flato stars compact
(image from pinterest.com)

Paul Flato luck compacts

Paul Flato "crown jewels" compacts
(image from perfumebottles.org)

It's not just a key design; it's a key holder!  Yes, you could have the key on this compact custom filed to fit your door.  Personally I'd be petrified of losing it - my keys need to stay on a ring - but you have to admit there's some innovation there.

Paul Flato key compact ad, December 1950

Paul Flato key compact
(image from pinterest.com)

Another key ad, plus the wonderfully blinged-out teardrop design. 

Paul Flato compact ad, May 1951

Paul Flato teardrop compact
(image from liveauctioneers.com)

This one definitely shows Flato's sillier side.  Would you like one of his "scatabout" pins while you're at it?  You know, to anchor your lapel flower?  Fashion sure has changed!

June 1950

Paul Flato circus compact
(image from etsy.com)

This one is also a lot of fun.  I couldn't find any ads for it but I wonder if it was a special release for Easter.

Paul Flato bunny compact

Paul Flato bunny compact
(images from liveauctioneers.com)

The kitty one I have seems to be relatively rare. In my searches I did see one other in a beautiful tiger-eye colorway instead of the green, but I can't seem to find the photo of it now.  In any case, I'm pretty pleased with this acquisition as I do think it's one of Flato's better compact designs.

What do you think, both of Flato's jewelry and compacts?  Most of them aren't my style but I appreciate them nonetheless.  If his jewelry is really striking your fancy you can always buy this lovely catalog of his work.


Back to the zodiac with Ziegfeld Girls

You might remember around this time last year I explored some great Elgin zodiac-themed compacts, along with Estée Lauder's lovely Erté zodiac compact series.  The zodiac seems quite popular as a decorative motif for compacts, since I came across yet more vintage zodiac compacts since then.  Tangentially related (obviously) to the popular Ziegfeld Follies, Ziegfeld Girl compacts made their debut in the early 1940s.  Collecting Vintage Compacts has an incredibly thorough history of the Ziegfeld Girls line so I implore you to go check it out when you have a chance.  Since my research skills are nowhere near on par with that blog's author I will just provide a brief summary of his amazing findings about these compacts.  The creator of Ziegfeld Follies, Florenz Ziegfeld, passed away in 1932; however, his enterprising widow licensed the rights to his name for use to other companies.  In the early '40s, a man named Walter Crane joined a plastics company owned by Dwight Hirsh.  These two businessmen got the idea to manufacture plastic compacts (a natural choice for material given the company's business and also because it was wartime) and somehow managed to secure the rights to the Ziegfeld name.  Crane filed a patent application for compacts in late 1943.  Several different types of Ziegfeld Girl compacts were produced prior to the zodiac series' introduction in 1946.  These were, sadly, a flash in the pan - they didn't sell well and were gone by 1947.

Now let's get to the compacts, shall we?  I found the designs to be so utterly charming - a different sort of playfulness than the Elgin ones, to be sure, but adorable nevertheless.  Like the Elgin compacts, however, these tend to be snapped up rather quickly once they pop up for sale.

I was unable to find an image of the actual compact for Aquarius, but you can see it in this ad.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact ad, February 1946

While encased in not-so-luxurious lucite, each one matches the sign's color. 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Capricorn
(image from worthpoint.com) 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Pisces
(image from ebay.com) 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Aries
(image from etsy.com)

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Taurus
(image from etsy.com) 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Gemini
(image from ebay.co.uk)

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Cancer
(image from etsy.com)

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Leo
(image from etsy.com) 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Virgo
(image from etsy.com)

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Libra
(image from ebay.com)

The one I'm most excited about, naturally, is the Scorpio one.  Not only did one of these compacts come up for sale after me keeping an eye out for many months, but it's also my sign. I couldn't believe my good luck!  You better believe I pounced as soon as I got that Ebay alert.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Scorpio

I have to say that the accompanying scorpions in depictions of the Scorpio sign creep me out a little.  I'm definitely a Scorpio personality-wise, but strictly from a design perspective I wish I were a Capricorn or Sagittarius.  Both are traditionally represented as mythical creatures - Capricorn is sort of a mermaid but with a goat head and Sagittarius is like a centaur.  Scorpions (and crustaceans for that matter - lobsters, crabs, shrimp, etc.), just look like big gross bugs to me.  :P  Oh well, I can't change my sign, right?

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Scorpio

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Scorpio

Anyway, these compacts are positively ginormous.  Here's a comparison photo with a Guerlain Météorites container so you can get a sense of the scale.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact - Scorpio

Sadly, I was also unable to find a photo of the Sagittarius compact, so I found an ad for that one as well.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact ad, May 1946

Speaking of ads, they were really cool to look at.  Just for fun here are some more.

I wish the compact I bought came with the little horoscope insert mentioned in this ad.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact ad, March 1946

Perfect for that glamorous cousin Gloria!  LOL.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact ad, November 1946

I liked this one not only since it features my sign but also because it shows all the different designs as well as an illustration of the horoscope insert.  This must have been from the official launch of the compacts, since it's from early 1946 and mentions special window displays. 

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girl compact ad, January 1946

And a sad sale ad a little over a year later.

Ziegfeld Zodiac Girls ad, April 1947
(images from newspapers.com)

Finally, a funny zodiac-related story: indicating just how obsessed I am with zodiac symbols and decor, a month or so ago I dreamed that Stila released their own zodiac palettes.  They were the same size and shape as the Look of the Month calendar palettes from 2004, and made of cardboard, but each had a Stila girl representing a zodiac sign instead of the month.  The zodiac glyphs were a continuous border around the edge of the palette.  For example, the Scorpio sign looks like a little M with a tail, so that was the border for my sign.  The Stila girls themselves were ridiculously cute...if I had any Photoshop or illustration skills I'd totally do a mockup!  I can see each design clear as crystal in my head but have no means of sharing them, sadly.  I remember being so happy at seeing Stila going back to their roots.

Anyway, did you like the Ziegfeld Zodiac Girls?  What's your sign and did you like the design for yours?


Vintage makeup highlights from DuBarry

This post is a result of my very kind mother-in-law gifting me some vintage DuBarry items, which she found while cleaning out her deceased mother's belongings.  She knew I would appreciate them and give them a good home, and I'm really pleased to have vintage makeup that came from a family member.  I'm okay with buying vintage items without knowing anything about who they belonged to, but obviously I feel more of a connection to the object when they come from someone I actually know.   Anyway, these items inspired me to learn a little more about the DuBarry line and, of course, purchase some other items so they didn't feel so alone. ;)

I'm not going to rehash the entire history of the line, as both Cosmetics and Skin and Collecting Vintage Compacts have excellent, thorough histories of both DuBarry and Richard Hudnut, the founder of the line (along with many other brands.)  The story in a nutshell:  DuBarry originally started as a fragrance developed by Hudnut in 1902.  In 1929 a makeup and skincare line was spun off the fragrance as an additional revenue source.  The line wasn't doing so well by the late 1930s; however, ever the businessman, Hudnut expanded his lucrative "Success School" (a charm school to prepare young debutantes for their coming out events) to include a new DuBarry "Success Course" that borrowed many of the same principles but without the debutante focus.  Part fat camp, part beauty and fashion tips, the Success Course earned the company over $4 million in a little over 3 years.  Not only was it a major money-maker, the course also helped the DuBarry makeup line gain significant brand recognition.  Since the 1960s the company passed through many owners but is still being sold today.

Without further ado, let's take a peek at some notable DuBarry items from their golden age (roughly 1940s-60s).  I found this beautiful fan-shaped color guide over at the Baltimore Shoeseum, an online museum that  specializes in swing era artifacts.  Let's hear it for another Baltimore-based online museum!  I'm sort of tempted to call and ask if they'd be willing to deaccession it to me, as I think the Makeup Museum would be a better fit.  ;)  I think this is from the early '30s.

DuBarry color guide(image from baltimoreshoeseum.com) 

But what DuBarry was particularly known for was the use of an image of Madame du Barry, a.k.a. the last mistress of Louis XV who, along with rival Marie Antoinette, lost her head in 1793. Collecting Vintage Compacts' entry notes that Hudnut named the line after Madame du Barry, but I'm curious to know what the source is on that and why Hudnut chose her.  In any case, there is no fabled tale of how Hudnut arrived at using Madame du Barry as inspiration the way there was with Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Madame Recamier skincare.  And it shows:  the company came up with vague likenesses of Madame du Barry for the product packaging rather than borrowing a real portrait.

The powder box below looks quite early and also resembles this etching.

Early DuBarry powder box(image from etsy.com)

This box also appears to be very early and is somewhat similar to this portrait.  These two boxes are the only ones I've seen with these particular designs, so I wonder if they were samples or prototypes not actually put into mass production.

Early DuBarry powder box(image from etsy.com)

The only exception to DuBarry's lack of faithful reproductions of the Comtesse was a sketch of a sculpture by Augustin Pajou. 

Madame du Barry by Augustin Pajou, 1773
(image from louvre.fr)

Roughly from the start of the line in 1929, DuBarry utilized a drawing of the sculpture for ads and powder boxes and continued to use it up until the early to mid '40s.

1930 DuBarry ad
(image from cosmeticsandskin.com)

1941 DuBarry ad(image from library.duke.edu) 

Naturally I had to get one to add to the Museum's collection.

Dubarry powder box

Okay, maybe I got 2!  But the design was a little different and I figured variety couldn't hurt.

DuBarry large powder box

I also liked the pattern on the sides.

DuBarry large powder box

Just to give you a sense of the size, that 2nd box is body powder and way bigger than the face powder pox.

Dubarry powder boxes

But starting around 1935 (at least according to the ad below), DuBarry displayed a different, completely imaginary representation of Madame du Barry, and it appears that in 1942 they began adding her to their packaging and phasing out the other, accurate Madame du Barry depiction.  I've looked everywhere online and there is no portrait of Madame du Barry that even remotely resembles this one. 

1935 DuBarry ad(image from library.duke.edu) 

It appears to be an amalgam of the Pajou sculpture (the asymmetrical, drapey neckline), this 1770 portrait by François-Hubert Drouais (hair is up with one lone curl around the neck), and this 1771 portrait, also by Drouais (hairstyle is similar, although DuBarry seems to have swapped out the blue ribbon for a blue jewel on the packaging).  You can see, however, that the woman on the box is not a direct copy of any portrait, as was the case with the Pajou sculpture.

1942 DuBarry ad(image from periodpaper.com)

1946 DuBarry ad

I bought this one too, along with the ad above. :)

DuBarry powder box

Then in 1949 DuBarry changed the likeness on the packaging yet again.  This time Madame du Barry appears with the ridiculously high powdered wig hairstyle that we associate with the French Revolution era.  Again, as far as I could tell, there is no portrait of Madame  du Barry that resembles this - here's the closest one I found - but even the face on this DuBarry packaging looks nothing like her!

1950 DuBarry ad(image from etsy.com) 

This image was used through the mid 1950s.

1954 DuBarry ad(image from flickr.com)

To round out the Madame du Barry representations I had to get this one too.  This is probably the most common DuBarry box I came across.

Dubarry powder box

The next item I thought would be a nice addition to the Museum's DuBarry holdings were these lipstick blotting sheets.  Clearly men are the only ones who are affected by lipstick transfer and it's their comfort we have to worry about most, not the simple fact that women would just like a lipstick that stays put so we're not constantly touching up. *eyeroll*  Still, I thought it was amusing that they put a cartoon man on the case and I don't have any vintage lipstick blotters in the Museum's collection.  (And like the DuBarry powder boxes it was super cheap, which is always a plus.)

DuBarry lipstick blotting sheets

DuBarry lipstick blotting sheets

DuBarry lipstick blotting sheets

Based on the graphics I really thought this was from the early '60s, but I was way off.  Turns out DuBarry's "Treasure Stick" lipstick was introduced in 1947 and was sold at least through 1951, according to the ads below, so these blotting sheets are from around then as well.

1947 DuBarry ad
(image from pinterest.com)

1951 DuBarry ad(image from etsy.com)

Finally, here are the items that once belonged to the husband's grandmother which my mother-in-law kindly passed along to me.  Thanks, M.!

Dubarry lipstick refills

Dubarry lipstick

Naturally I was eager to find out approximately when they were from.  Just at first glance they appeared to be early '60s to me, but I couldn't say so with any certainty, so off I went to search for clues.  Based on the ads below it didn't look like the lipsticks I have are from the '40s.

1941 Dubarry ad(image from library.duke.edu)

1945 DuBarry ad(image from library.duke.edu) 

It wasn't from the mid-'50s either.

1956 DuBarry ad(image from pinterest.com)

Low and behold, in 1958 we see a new lipstick tube and bullet that are very similar to those bestowed upon the Museum.  With the debut of the "Royal" lipstick (you've seen this ad before), there also came a new case.  However, it's gold-toned and not silver like the ones I have.  Hmmm...

1958 DuBarry ad

1958 DuBarry ad

1959 DuBarry ad(image from mudwerks.tumblr.com)

It's hard to tell, but judging from this 1961 ad below, it looks like DuBarry made the switch to the silver casing by then.

1961 DuBarry ad(image from pinterest.com)

1962 DuBarry ad(image from adweek.com) 

So while I'm still not 100% sure, I can say with confidence that the lipsticks I was given date from the late '50s or early '60s, especially given that the prices are the same on the refill boxes and in the ads. 

Just for fun, how cute is this "Morning Noon and Night" set?  Now that would be quite a find!

1964 DuBarry ad(image from pinterest.com)

DuBarry went on to launch a pretty interesting campaign for their Glissando range starting in 1964 - at least, from an advertising point of view.  Since there were so many ads I simply couldn't narrow it down, but they were a good representation of mid to late '60s style.  As noted earlier, the brand changed hands several times over the years but is still around today.  I kind of wish they would look to their golden age and re-introduce packaging with an updated (and accurate) depiction of Madame du Barry.  As Collecting Vintage Compacts points out, the Comtesse's consumer appeal cannot be denied:  "[The DuBarry] fragrance could not have failed to be recognized by the buying public as representing the essence of feminine beauty, intrigue and even a hint of scandal."  Indeed, I can see many people buying makeup with the King's favorite adorning the packaging.  :)

So those are some highlights from DuBarry when they were in their prime.   Which ones did you like best?

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An alternative to the luck of the Irish

For St. Patrick's Day I originally thought I'd do a quick round-up of vintage compacts adorned with clovers and such.  I was searching for a particular vintage Stratton compact, one that has more traditional lucky symbols, and came across this one instead.  It was so delightfully strange I simply had to shove aside the other compact I was looking for to investigate this one further.

Stratton billiken compact(image from etsy.com)

Here's another from a later date (ca. 1950s).

Stratton billiken compact(image from etsy.com)

If you're all, "WTF am I looking at?", don't worry, I was too.  Apparently the little fella on the front of these compacts is known as a billiken, a symbol of good luck.  Both of the websites that list these compacts for sale point out that the Stratton compacts with a billiken on the front are very rare, and are on page 103 of Mueller's Overview of American Compacts and Vanity Cases.  So off I went to consult my copy.

Laura Mueller book

Laura Mueller book

Laura Mueller book

Okay, so the billiken was created by an art teacher in 1908 and is a lucky figure.  That's a start, but not enough information for me.  So I went searching and found myself down quite a bizarre rabbit hole.  The billiken was created by Florence Pretz in 1908 after it appeared to her in a dream, while she found the name in an 1896 poem called "Mr. Moon: A Song Of The Little People" by Canadian poet Bliss Carman.  The billiken represents "things as they ought to be." Buying a billiken for oneself brought luck, but receiving one as a gift brought even more good fortune.  Pretz explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I concluded if there is a chance that we shape our own lives, and my clay was mine to fashion as I would, I might as well make an image, which embodied hope and happiness to sort of live up to." 

I found her original design patent at the Virtual Corkscrew Museum (the fact that a corkscrew museum exists is proof that a makeup museum is a completely normal and valid idea, yes?)  Such a weird-looking little creature, what with the pointy head, prominent ears and compact body - not quite human but not animal-like either. 

Billiken patent by Florence Pretz
(image from bullworks.net) 

And here's a sketch.

Billiken sketch
(image from slu.edu)

The billiken's popularity skyrocketed less than a year after the patent was filed and took off as a novelty across the U.S., its likeness appearing on all kinds of ephemera from basic figurines to salt shakers and belt buckles.  St. Louis University even adopted the billiken as their mascot, which they still use today.

Billiken - St. Louis University mascot
(image from stltoday.com)

The craze also spread to Alaska, where billikens were carved from whale bone/teeth or walrus ivory and sold as souvenirs.  They're still made today, of course from different materials.

Billiken carving
(image from liveauctioneers.com)

Billiken carving(image from 1stdibs.com)

Finally, the Royal Order of Jesters, a group belonging to the larger entity of Freemasons, adopted the billiken as their symbol in 1911.  The billikens associated with the Jesters differ from other figures as they're usually wearing crowns.

1924 ROJ paperweight(image from phoenixmasonry.com)

This lapel pin especially makes me think that the billiken on the Stratton compact was related to the Royal Order of Jesters, as the design is nearly identical. 

Billiken-royal-order-jesters-
(image from fratline.net)

And Stratton did make other Freemason-themed compacts.

Stratton Eastern Star compact(image from etsy.com)

Stratton Freemasons compact
(image from ebay.co.uk)

I guess what I'm still trying to figure out is how the billiken ended up on the Stratton compacts.  Were these part of a custom order for the Royal Order of Jesters?  What kind of relationship, if any, did Stratton have with the Freemasons and their associated bodies?  Or did Stratton simply decide to put a billiken on their compacts at several points throughout the early 20th century since the billiken was so wildly popular and appearing on nearly every object one could think of?  I really can't answer any of these with any certainty.  Plus, if the billiken on the Stratton compact is somehow related to the Royal Order of Jesters, it doesn't make a lot of sense to put it on an item primarily used by women.  Near as I can figure, the Royal Order of Jesters is your typical boys' club (with some rather sordid, remarkably misogynist moments throughout their history to boot, though I don't know if can trust the sources I linked to.)  However, according to the British Compact Collectors Society, Freemason compacts were in fact "presented as gifts on Masonic Ladies’ Nights, when wives of Masons were invited for a special dinner."  So maybe the ROJ had similar ladies' nights in the U.S. and these were gifts?

I also found this compact, which just leads to more questions. 

Billiken ROJ compact

Billiken ROJ compact
(images from etsy.com)

Unlike the Stratton billiken compacts, this one is unmistakably related to the Royal Order of Jesters given the initials on the billiken's crown.  No maker is listed but the shape, embossing and the handle are all identical to these enameled compacts.  So I'm wondering if this was just a generic compact and you could have it customized.  In this case, I'm guessing someone belonging to the Royal Order of Jesters had it made and inscribed with the year they were inducted, given the "78" on the billiken's feet.  But again, why a compact?  I can only assume it was a gift, since I don't think women can be members of the ROJ.

Anyway, I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of how a billiken that looks similar to the one used by the Royal Order of Jesters ended up on a vintage compact, but I'm glad I at least found a very interesting, if not totally weird, piece of history.  And I always welcome learning about benevolent beings such as the billiken, as we could use a little more good luck and positivity in this world.

Had you ever heard of a billiken?  And have you ever dreamed up a totally mythical creature?  I have - a few months ago I dreamed of flying rabbits that were called angel bunnies.  Their wings were not like feathered bird wings but covered in soft white fur, like the rest of their bodies.  They were so cute and fluffy and they only came out at night...I wish they existed, or that I at least had some artistic skill so I could sketch them!  Who knows, maybe if I file a patent for them the way Ms. Pretz did with billikens, they could be the next craze sweeping the U.S. :)

 


Quick post: vintage Valentine's Day compacts

As I've said before, I think Valentine's Day is kinda dumb so the husband and I don't celebrate it, but I do love any sort of holiday-themed makeup. Vintage compacts are especially fun to browse for V-day, as there's no shortage of lovey-dovey designs.

If I had to guess, I think Elgin's heart-shaped compacts were originally created for Valentine's Day (and eventually marketed for Mother's Day and Christmas), since the earliest ad I've seen for them was from February 1947.  I'm greatly amused by the fact that this one appeared in Esquire magazine.  Clueless men, here's what to get your girl for Valentine's Day!

1947 Elgin ad(image from elgintime.blogspot.com)

I always love it when I can find the item that I spotted in a vintage ad.  

Vintage Elgin "Hearts Afire" compact(image from etsy.com)

Here's another ad from February 1948.  While it seems to be targeting women, it does mention the compacts as Valentine's Day gifts.

1948 Elgin ad(image from pinterest.com)

Vintage Elgin "Gay Nineties" compact

Vintage Elgin "Gay Nineties" compact(images from ebay.com)

Some other Elgin compacts that would have been appropriate for Valentine's Day:

Vintage Elgin arrow compact(image from rubylane.com)

Vintage Elgin heart-shaped compact
(image from worthpoint.com)

Vintage Elgin heart-shaped compact(image from etsy.com)

It looks like some of them had space for engraving so you could customize them.

Vintage Elgin engraved compact

This one is my favorite. Like I said, I'm not really into Valentine's Day crap, but this is precious.  It really hits all the love notes - Cupid, flying hearts, and "I love you" in several languages. At least, I think that's Cupid...he doesn't have wings, which is a little odd.

Vintage Elgin love compact

Vintage Elgin love compact
(images from etsy.com)

If I had been more organized I would have gotten one for the Museum in time for V-day.  Fortunately there are lots of this particularly design floating around so I can still get it.

What do you think of these?  And do you celebrate Valentine's Day? (I won't judge if you do!)


Zodiac compacts by Elgin American: Stan's the man

I've always been fascinated with the zodiac, so I'm drawn to any products that feature the 12 signs.  And obviously since I love makeup I have a special affinity for compacts with zodiac imagery.  There's also something deeper going on - perhaps because of my ever-present need to create order out of the cluttered chaos that is my brain, I like anything calendar-related, whether it's the 12 months of the year or the 12 zodiac signs.  Twelve is such a nice neat number, and each month or zodiac sign signifies a particular time of year, making it easy to recognize its passage.  And January seems like a good a time to talk about the 12 months/zodiac signs as they all start in January.  But enough of my ramblings and onto a very cool find.  I stumbled across this while looking for vintage compacts for my own personal use (more on that next week). 

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Aquarius

I liked the strange cartoon character representing the Aquarius sign and thought the little rhyme on the back of the compact was genius.  I also appreciated both the traditional zodiac symbol above the rhyme and the corresponding element (water, earth, wind, fire) beneath - such great details.  But what really caught my eye was the artist's signature on the lower right.  I definitely wanted to see more work by this S. MacNiel, and I also wanted to find out how he ended up doing these illustrations for Elgin.

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Aquarius(images from etsy.com)

I set about finding as many images of these compacts as I could. Here's Aries:

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Aries
(image from onegiantyardsale.com

Taurus:

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Taurus

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Taurus
(images from worthpoint.com)

Gemini:

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Gemini(image from onegiantyardsale.com)

Cancer:

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Cancer

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Cancer
(image from worthpoint.com)

Leo:

Elgin American zodiac compact - Leo

Elgin American zodiac compact - Leo(images from ebay.com)

Virgo:

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Virgo

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Virgo
(images from worthpoint.com)

Libra - no pictures of the back, but the seller included the rhyme:  "Libra people love nice things/Lollypops and diamonds rings/ They're happiest when they have bought/A lot of stuff they hadn't ought."

Elgin American Zodiac compacts - Libra(image from ebay.co.uk)

I couldn't find a photo of the actual compact, but here's an ad from a Pittsburgh newspaper from May 7, 1948 for Scorpio - based on the ad copy, they were playing these up as a Mother's Day gift.  What I was confused about is why these were advertised in 1948 and the date near MacNiel's signature on the compact is 1940.

Elgin American Zodiac compact ad - Scorpio
(image from news.google.com)

I was determined to reconcile the dates, so I went digging in search of information on man of mystery S. MacNiel.  I found out the S. stands for Stanley, and MacNiel was a Scotsman who traveled the world but ended up in New York City.  In 1940 he published a book of cocktail recipes based on zodiac signs.  This wood-bound book fetches hundreds of dollars at various auction sites.  The cover image is bizarre, but I have to admit quite creative.  Grapes for hair, orange slices for ears, lemons for eyes, cherry nostrils, and I particularly love the way the cocktail glass becomes her mouth.

Stanley MacNiel, Zodiac Cocktails

I can't believe he mentions Mussolini as a Leo of note.  Uhh...

Stanley MacNiel, Zodiac Cocktails
(images from read-em-again.com)

The book might not have been strange at all if our buddy Stan was a known author and artist, but he didn't seem to have a defined career.  He was described as a "lecturer and leader of the Ambassadors of Good Cheer," whatever that is. (I googled and didn't find much - may have been something alcohol-related.)  The book's introduction doesn't give much of an idea of what he actually did for a living either.  MacNiel says, "For twenty years I was a Vagabond Cocktail Collector. During those years of travel I found great interest in the native foods and beverages of the countries I visited.  If a native beverage, of whatever concoction, was palatable to me, I acquired the recipe.  Thus, after several trips around the world, 'wining', and 'dining', I began to feel sufficiently well-acquainted with cocktails and other drinks from the four corners of the globe to tell others about them."  So he's very well-traveled, but what did he actually do?  How did he get into illustration and design?  I do like the title of "vagabond cocktail collector" though.  That must have been a pretty sweet gig.

Anyway, equally peculiar was MacNiel's creation of a very ornate jeweled brooch in the shape of the head of the "fruit lady" that appears on his cocktail book's cover.  I don't know why the patent spells his name incorrectly. I also have no idea why he made this piece of jewelry. 

Stanley MacNiel - cocktail lady brooch

Stanley MacNiel jeweled brooch

Stanley MacNiel - brooch patent(images from trifari.com)

The brooch (a.k.a. a "fur clip" - fancy!) was apparently sold at Saks in New York and, like MacNiel's book, sells for hundreds of dollars.

So that's interesting, but what does all this have to do with the compacts?  And what about the fact that the book was released in 1940 and the compacts seemingly weren't released until 1948?  Well, here's the connection: the same rhymes that appear on the back of the compacts are in the book under each sign.  The illustrations are different but the rhymes are the same.  Compare the rhyme at the bottom of this page with the Virgo compact above.

Stanley MacNiel, Zodiac Cocktails
(image from winkbooks.net)

So my best guess is that he patented everything in 1940 (see his copyright for "Zodiac Humor" that year) and in 1948 allowed use of his illustrations and rhymes for the compacts, so they weren't created specifically for Elgin.  Also, he lent his work not only to Elgin, but to several other endeavors as well: tiles (that could be used as trivets or wall decorations), cocktail glasses and napkins.  This article in a Brooklyn newspaper from April 15, 1948 sheds a little light on the various zodiac collections, but still doesn't explain what Mr. MacNiel did for a living other than he was a "man of varied careers".  It does mention that he once hiked across the entire U.S. in 90 days and took credit for introducing mens' shorts as casual wear in the States.  Near as I can figure, given these facts and his seemingly endless globe-trotting, he was simply a nomadic (possibly often drunk) jack of all trades who wasn't content doing one thing or being in one place very long.  (Why is his name is spelled wrong again?) 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle article on Stanley MacNiel, 1948
(image from newspapers.com)

Additionally, it looks like in 1953 MacNiel licensed his images to be used for a set of mugs produced by a ceramics company called Rossini Japan. 

Stanley MacNiel - zodiac mug(image from ebay.com)

I also searched for some tiles in hopes of unearthing more images that would have appeared on the compacts, and I found some I couldn't find in compact form:  Sagittarius, Scorpio and Pisces. 

Tile by Stanley MacNiel - Sagittarius and Scorpio(image from liveauctioneers.com)

Tile by Stanley MacNiel - Pisces(image from pinterest.com)

For the life of me though, sadly I couldn't find any images of Capricorn.  I guess 11 out of 12 isn't bad, but that's going to drive me crazy.  Hopefully one will surface eventually.

While I've figured out the release date of the compacts and a little more about the person behind the illustrations, I'm still not sure how the collaboration came about, i.e. whether MacNiel approached Elgin or the other way around.  I also wonder whether he was an Aquarius, since the character for that sign seems to be Scottish (given the kilt and bagpipes) and is labeled as the "Connoisseur" while examining a drink in his hand.  We know MacNiel was Scottish and considered himself a cocktail expert, since he mentions mixing "thousands" of drinks as research for his book, so perhaps the Aquarius fellow is meant to be a self-caricature.  Unfortunately I can't find a date of birth anywhere for him.  But overall, I was pleased with my detective work and I love these compacts, silly and cartoonish though they are.  And MacNiel sounds like a hoot - I would have loved to have a drink with him. 

What do you think of these?  My collector's itch is definitely acting up and wants me to start hunting down all of them...if I ever come across a Scorpio one I'm going to pounce for sure!