MM Mailbag

MM Mailbag: Egyptian treasure

As you know, from time to time I receive email inquiries from people with cosmetics objects they've stumbled across and would like to know more about.  I'm always flattered that people think that I know what I'm talking about and can help them, especially since most of the time I have no idea about the item in question, but sometimes I get irritated when the inquirer's sole objective is to determine how much money they can make off an object they found.  At first it seemed this way when the original owner of this very rare compact approached me, asking for more information and how much it might be worth.  As we'll see, he turned out to actually have an interest in the compact's history and wasn't after profit. 

This was an epic find indeed, easily one of the rarest and most valuable in the Museum's collection.  I now present the Ramses powder compact, which debuted in 1923.  The design shows an Egyptian woman in profile, holding a perfume bottle in one hand and a flower in the other, which she brings to her nose to enjoy its scent.  The pyramids of Giza are just barely visible in the background, while lotus flowers on each side towards the lower third of the compact bloom into an arc of leaves. 

Ramses compact, c. 1923

I'm not sure if the woman is supposed to be anyone in particular - perhaps Cleopatra - but given that the design is most likely not historically accurate, I'm not going to dwell on it too much.

Ramses compact, c. 1923

While there are other ads for the powder that show the compact, which we'll see in a second, I wasn't able to locate any originals.  I did, however, find this ad in a French publication from February 1920.

Ramses powder ad, February 1920

Ramses powder ad, February 1920

I was hoping to find some good information about the compact for the person who contacted me, and of course, the ever-thorough Collecting Vintage Compacts blog had an excellent post on the history of the Ramses perfume company so I directed the inquirer over there.  I don't wish to regurgitate all of the author's hard work on Ramses' backstory - I highly encourage you to check out the post for yourself - but I will provide the abridged version.  The Ramses brand was founded in 1919 in Paris and selected Le Blume Import Company to distribute the line in the U.S. in 1921.  By 1923 ads for the powder boxes and compacts were appearing in Vogue magazine.   As Collecting Vintage Compacts points out, the ad copy is pure nonsense:  neither the perfumes nor the powders were produced in Egypt and their formulas certainly did not date back to 1683.  How the company even arrived at that arbitrary date is beyond me.  However, with the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in November 1922, the Ramses moniker turned out to be quite fortuitous given the ensuing craze for anything Egyptian - clearly the ads wanted to milk the fad for all it was worth.  The world was now swept up in the latest wave of Egyptian Revival, a style that incorporated various elements of Egyptian art and culture and encompassed design, fashion and beauty (see this compact depicting Theda Bara as Cleopatra and this ad as examples). 

Ramses ad, Vogue, June 1923

Ramses powder box

Egypt's influence on Western beauty from the Renaissance to today is a subject I'm looking to cover more thoroughly this year, either in a blog series or an exhibition (or both!) so stay tuned.  As viewed through 21st century eyes, it was clearly unabashed cultural appropriation, a white person's fantasy of "exotic", far-off lands and artifacts.  However, Egyptian inspired-beauty is such a rich topic that I can't bear not to fully explore it...especially now that I have this gorgeous piece in my hot little hands.  Anyway, Collecting Vintage Compacts notes that the Ramses powder case was made by the Bristol, CT-based Zinn Corporation, a company that produced some of the earliest and most memorable compacts in the U.S.  I find it interesting that while the powder was scented with the "Secret du Sphinx" fragrance, the compact itself shows a woman rather than the mythical creature.  Collecting Vintage Compacts speculates, as I did, that the woman could be Cleopatra, but offered the additional option of Ramses' wife Nefertari.  I agree with his conclusion that it really doesn't matter who she is - just a vague Egyptian theme was more than enough to get the point across.

Ramses ad, Vogue, August 1923

Another version of the compact sported silver edging, a beautiful contrast to the warmth of the brass.

Silver edged Ramses compact
(images from Collecting Vintage Compacts and Ruby Lane)

I also spotted some ads in newspapers.  They're not as visually striking as the Vogue ads so I'm not including them here, but they did come in handy for indicating the original retail price of the compact, which was $1.00.  The latest ads I could find were from 1925 and both the perfumes and powder were heavily discounted, which indicates Ramses was a flash in the pan. 

But why?  You would think given the era's craze for Egyptian-inspired design, combined with the slight French flavor (another huge selling point - this was a time when companies actively tried to give their lines and products authentic French or at least French-sounding names) the Ramses company would be able to get more a little more mileage out of their products.  Collecting Vintage Compacts unraveled the mystery.  As it turns out, the perfumer behind the Ramses brand, one Léon de Bertalot, had begun quite a shady scheme to sell another one of his fragrances.  In 1914, 5 years before he launched Ramses,  de Bertalot named one of his fragrances Origan.  As we know, Coty's L'Origan (launched in 1909) was wildly popular, pulling in roughly $3 million in sales in 1921 alone.  De Bertalot decided to capitalize on the company's success and began using the Coty name to sell his own Origan, essentially passing it off as a real Coty product.  Coty, rightfully so, cracked down on this very quickly.  On May 15th, 1923 a French court found de Bertalot guilty of "unfair competition", and a few days later the U.S. Treasury mandated that any inauthentic products bearing the Coty name were unable to be imported unless they specifically spelled out that they were not affiliated with Coty in any way.  Since the Ramses brand had nothing to do with Coty I don't know if the Treasury's mandate applied to Ramses as well, but I'm sure the 6-month jail sentence and fine of 100,000 Francs handed to de Bertolot essentially meant the Ramses brand was out of business.  Hence the price markdown of their products by 1925 - I'm guessing stores in the U.S. were trying to offload any leftover stock that was originally imported two years prior.  The Le Blume Import Company, in turn, was no longer allowed to distribute any perfumes from any company whatsoever.  However, it did import dusting powder tins and glass jars using the Ramses name in the late 1920s.

1929 newspaper ad for Ramses dusting powder

Ramses1

Ramses2

Green Ramses powder box
(images from Vanity Treasures and Etsy)

Getting back to the original inquiry that was the impetus for this post, here's the story of how the compact got into my hands from the person who emailed me originally (we'll call him C.)  He had found it for $10 in a thrift store (!) but given the unique design, figured it was worth more.  After looking through all my collector's guides and not turning up anything, I directed C. to Collecting Vintage Compacts and asked him to please let me know when/if he decided to put it on the market.  Obviously I also indicated my great interest in obtaining the compact, but lamented that it was most likely out of my price range.  Well, don't you know C. actually wrote back telling me that he was going to put it up for sale on Ebay, but said that while he'd like to get a good price for it (that's only fair, who wouldn't?), he believed that the Museum was the rightful place for the compact, given its rarity and my passion for lovingly researching and preserving these sorts of items.  Thus he kindly offered to sell it to me directly and negotiate on price.  In the end I think we both got a great deal - he got way more than what he had originally purchased it for and roughly the amount he would have gotten for it if he had put it up for public sale, and I got an amazing find at a fair price for which I was able to avoid an ugly bidding war. 

Ramses compact, c. 1923

After reading the Ramses history at Collecting Vintage Compacts and browsing the Museum's site, C. seemed genuinely interested in the compact and in the Museum's mission, so I was very happy to see he wasn't just in it for profit and was willing to work with me to ensure the compact went to a great home instead of merely to the highest bidder.  :)  I really appreciated it, as so many people who ask about value just want to know how much they can get for an item and have absolutely no consideration for the object's history or the Museum, which, as a reminder, is funded entirely out of my own pocket.  Not that anyone is obligated to donate rare and valuable items, of course, but they could follow C.'s example and be open to selling their item to me at a price that works for both of us.  I know if I came across an object I have no interest in but that other collectors might - say, a rare Barbie Doll - I'd seek out someone who would truly treasure it and give them first dibs.

Ramses compact, c. 1923

What do you think?  And yay or nay on a series/exhibition on Egyptian-inspired beauty?


MM Mailbag, Twitter edition

I much prefer email for inquiries but am always excited to receive them in any format, so when someone Tweeted at me last year to request any information on the vintage item below I eagerly began searching.  The person who sent the Tweet thought it might be Rimmel, but the name Po-Go was not a Rimmel product as far as I could tell.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Online searched proved fruitless - I couldn't find any reference to Po-Go rouge whatsoever...until a few months ago when I was researching lipstick tissues at newspapers.com and spotted an ad for Po-Go Rouge in the very bottom corner of an article.  I was so excited to have found something even though it was roughly a year since the poor person had originally Tweeted at me.  I found some basic information, but let me just say up front that definitively dating the various Po-Go Rouge pots I came across in ads and elsewhere proved rather difficult, if not impossible.  Still, I was able to get some clues and can narrow them down to the span of a few years.  Come with me on my research adventure!

I forget what I typed in to Google, but miraculously I came across another specimen at the Museu del Perfum.  Fortunately this item has the back label displayed.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge
(image from museudelperfum.net)

So from there I typed in all sorts of phrases, but the one that got the results I was looking for was "vintage Guy T. Gibson, inc. New York".  Via several perfume blogs I discovered that Guy T. Gibson was established in 1921 by a perfume importer, J.S. Wiedhopf.  The Vintage Perfume Vault explains:  "As a young man, Wiedhopf worked for the Alfred H. Smith Company, who were the only stateside importers of Djerkiss perfume. After he learned the business and perhaps sensing there were more lucrative opportunities, Wiedhopf struck out on his own. In 1921 he started his own business, Guy T Gibson Inc. There he began to import the exclusive Parisian brand Parfums Caron, which he sold to American customers in his New York retail shop. Soon Wiedhopf began offering perfumes under his own label, although the scents were actually being manufactured and bottled by Gamilla in France."  Wiedhopf's perfume brand was known as Ciro, and rarely came up when advertising Po-Go Rouge.  Why Wiedhopf chose a totally different name for the company and why he decided to sell imported rouge along with perfumes I don't know, but as of April 1922 he had set up shop at 565 Fifth Avenue, as shown on the Po-Go label above and this office space ad below.

Straus building ad, April 1922

The earliest mention of the product that I found was October 1923.

Oct. 1923-first-mention-pittsburgh

Here are some from 1924. 

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1924

This one is notable for being one of two ads I could find that actually mentions that Po-Go and Parfums Ciro are both imported by Guy T. Gibson, Inc.

Parfums Ciro ad, 1924

The shade name listed on the one from the perfume museum is Vif, the first mention of which I found was in 1927.  However, what leaves me scratching my head is that the packaging also seems to be different starting in 1927.  The full Paris address is listed on the perfume museum's item, which is consistent with the labels we saw in the 1924 ads, but there was no mention of the Vif shade until 1927...and you'll notice the label below has changed to simply "Paris, France".  So how did a container that is presumably dated 1924-25 hold a shade that wasn't introduced until 1927?

Po-Go Rouge, 1927

Anyway, the earliest mention of two more new shades (Saumon and Cardinal) was in February 1930.  I just had to include an ad from June 1930 as well even though the text is the same.  How cute is that girl with her little paint palette?!  I'm always looking for ads and packaging that take the "makeup as art" literally, since I think it would make a great exhibition and/or book. ;)

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1930

By March 1932 Po-Go had expanded to include lipstick. I don't know what a "Frenchy" case is but it sounds very fancy.

Po-Go Rouge ads, 1932

I suppose the reason Wiedhopf branched out into blush and lipstick in addition to perfumes was to capitalize on the already entrenched obsession with French beauty, judging from the ads.  (That would make a fantastic paper or even a whole book, no?  While I was browsing these old newspapers I stumbled across a great news article from February 1923 that talks all about how the fashionable Parisian women are wearing their blush and lipstick and how Americans are so uncouth by comparison...proof that our obsession with "French girl beauty" goes back way longer than we would assume!)

Po-Go Rouge ad, February 1933

Po-Go Rouge ad, May 1934
Now you know I was on the hunt for a Po-Go Rouge of my very own.  I've been having excellent beauty luck lately (knock wood it sticks around) and this was just another incredibly fortuitous find.  It's in pretty darn good shape too - a little wear on the outside but the product itself is totally intact and the puff is unused. 

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

Speaking of the puff...OMG.  So. Cute.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

You can see how tiny it is - our blush nowadays are supersized in comparison.

Vintage Po-Go Rouge

For this lovely addition to the Museum's collection, I was actually able to date it within a few years.  First, you'll notice that the shade name on the back is Saumon, which, as we saw previously, wasn't introduced until 1930.  Additionally, the early Po-Go packages (ca. 1923-25) had the shade listed on the side. 

Po-Go Rouge ad, 1925

Next, the label on the front has done away with the "Paris, France" and replaced it with "Parfums Ciro, Distributor, New York", while the one on the back also lists Parfums Ciro instead of Guy T. Gibson, which was what the Museu del Perfum rouge label listed.  The Vintage Perfume Vault notes that Wiedhopf officially changed his company's name from Guy T. Gibson to Parfums Ciro in 1936.  This would explain an ad from the same year which notes that Po-Go Rouge is from Ciro.

Po-Go Rouge ad, March 1936

Finally, while Parfums Ciro lasted until the mid-60s, the last mention of Po-Go Rouge I could find in newspapers was from September 1942.  So basically, the Po-Go Rouge I have must date between 1936 and 1942 or thereabouts.  I will say that the puff in the one I have looks markedly different than the one in the 1936 ad, but consistent with the one that was Tweeted and in other previous ads, so I'm not really sure what that means.  In any case, after all this I was dismayed that I couldn't give an exact date for the Po-Go Rouge that was brought to my attention via Twitter, since the biggest clues are the sides and back of the container and the top is too blurry to read.  The text does seem too long to be "Paris, France", so my best guess that it's either very early (with the original Paris address), or after 1936 with the Parfums Ciro label like the one I have, since the text for both of those extend further on each side.  Another clue is the indentation on the front, which is consistent with the one from Museu del Perfum - this may mean it's on the earlier side since the later one I have doesn't have a pronounced indentation.  The color is also a little strange, as both mine and the one from Museu del Perfum are reddish, while the one that was shared with me online is pink.  I'm not sure whether the color has faded significantly or if the container was damaged, but perhaps it was yet another hallmark of a very early version of Po-Go.  This 1929 ads highlights "the gay red box", so it wasn't pink at that point, and the ad copy also implies that there was one colored box for all shades, i.e. different shades weren't packaged in different colored boxes.  (Still love this Parisian artiste!)

Po-Go Rouge ad, 1929

So that's really the best I can do without seeing the back label or making out the print on the lid.  Alas.  While I didn't get exact answers for the request, at least I had a ton of fun poking around newspaper archives and comparing packaging, two of my favorite things!  I did reply excitedly to the the submitter on Twitter and it doesn't seem she's online very much now, but hopefully she'll see this post eventually if she goes back on social media. 

Do you agree with my assessment? 


MM Mailbag: fab four

For the majority of inquiries I receive -  say, around 75% - I'm ashamed to admit that I can't provide any information.  I do enjoy researching them but I loathe not being able to give a definitive answer on the item or brand people are asking about.  Recently I receive an inquiry from a woman who was, sadly, going through her deceased mother's belongings and came across 4 gorgeous compacts that she wanted to know a little more about.  While I was still not able to provide solid information for a couple of them, I was able to delve a bit more deeply into 2 of them.  I guess 50% is better than my usual rate for inquiries!

First up is this lovely gold-tone number with a sunburst pattern on the front and a basket weave pattern on the back. 

Vintage Melissa compact

Fortunately the puff was still in there so I could see the brand.  The Melissa company, according to the British Compact Collectors' Society, dates from around the 1950s-70s.  Says one researcher: "Melissa is thought to have been based in Acton, London W3 from the early 1950s, but I found that by 1962 the company had premises in Arundel Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex.  In 1970, the company was still listed at this address in a telephone directory, but by 1972 another company occupied the site.  A local trade directory of 1976 listed Searchlight Products, so possibly the firm was still trading at this later date, but I have been unable to find out at what date it ceased manufacturing compacts." 

Vintage Melissa compact

Next up is a "sweetheart" black enamel compact, so named for their popularity among WWII soldiers who gave them as gifts to their loved ones during wartime.  Without a maker's mark I couldn't identify the brand, but from what I could make out the insignia in the heart looks a bit like the "prop and wings" motif from the U.S. Air Corps.  I asked the submitter if anyone in her family was in the military and she confirmed that her father was in the Army Air Force during WWII.  What a sweet gift for her mom. 

I'd love to write a comprehensive history of sweetheart compacts, but it's such a huge project that it will have to wait for when I have time...like, maybe when I'm retired.  :(

Vintage sweetheart compact

Vintage sweetheart compact

For these last two a little more information was available.  Zell was a leading compact company from the '30s-'60s and was  one of the "5th Avenue" lines, along with Rex, Dorset, Columbia and Dale.  Zell had some quite novel compact designs early on, including the "First Nighter" - a compact with a flashlight that was released in the '30s (can you believe that?!)  But Zell was primarily known as a solid brand that offered understated, stylish designs as well.  The compact in question is an elegantly striped square piece with rounded edges.

Vintage Zell compact

Vintage Zell compact

I tried to find a little more information from my local library about the company, but came up mostly empty-handed.  I learned through a few meager news clippings that the company was founded by David H. Zell, who passed away in 1944.  While his widow Sophie was technically President, it was the Vice President, one of their sons Daniel D. Zell, who was really running the show, given this clipping (not to mention numerous patents in his name.)

1951 clip

After I scoured the historical newspapers, I decided to try old-fashioned googling to at least try to find when the Zell company was founded and when it went out of business.  I didn't find those dates, but I did unearth something quite interesting and bought it immediately.

Zell compact ad 1946

Well, look what I spy!  It's the very same compact!  The ad indicates that this particular style actually had a name:  it was called the "Countess".  Here it is up close in case you couldn't make it out.  (The one above is the "Aristocrat" and the one below is the "Princess".  Ooh la la.)

Zell ad close up

When I originally researched this inquiry I guessed that the compact in question was from the '50s, as that was the height of Zell's popularity and, in my opinion, gold-tone compacts.  But I was wrong.  The promotional ad is from 1946, so it must have been released if not that year then around then. While I'm still a little miffed at not being able to put together a full history of Zell, I'm glad I could at least identify this particular compact.  It was complete luck but I'll take it.  :)

I saved the most interesting one for last.  I couldn't for the life of me recognize the brand, as the photo of the mark on the back was too dark and small.

Lucien Lelong tambourine compact

Thankfully the submitter included a picture of the puff.  I recognized the concentric L-shapes as the logo belonging to Lucien Lelong, a famed French couturier turned perfumer and cosmetics manufacturer.

Lucien Lelong tambourine compact

The design of the compact is truly fascinating.  The intricate, regal birds are reminiscent of motifs found on royal crests, and I can't say I've ever seen a compact with little rings attached to it.  Off I went to find more information and found a few ads so I could give a date of when this compact was released.  Known as the "tambourine" compact, it looks like it first appeared in September 1948. The rings could be simply decorative and just there to be "pleasant sounding", or perhaps Mom could attach some charms to them - seems they were really pushing this as either a Valentine's Day or Mother's Day gift.  It may also have waned in popularity by 1950, given the price drop from the original $5 to $0.99.  As a side note, my mind is always blown by the retail prices of vintage pieces!  They seem so inexpensive, but according to this online calculator a $5 compact would cost approximately $52 nowadays.  Still, that's a reasonable price for a nice compact...and it would be only $10.13 on sale.  :)

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, September 1948

LOL at "gifty!"  These old ads crack me up sometimes.

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, February 1949

Lucien Lelong Tambourine compact ad, May 1950

I was really curious to know why Lelong decided to introduce this compact, as it didn't seem to have a connection to any of the company's fragrances or couture.  I did come across this "Ting a Ling" perfume bottle which also had rings attached and was released around the same time as the compact. 

Lucien Lelong Ting a Ling perfume
(image from collection.cooperhewitt.org)

But as you can see, it has bells, whereas I didn't see any Tambourine compacts with bells.  According to the New York Times ad above, the compact was a replica of a vintage French tambourine, which, when I first laid eyes on that description, sounded like utter marketing garbage.  However, thanks to extensive information provided on Lelong by the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, it's entirely possible that the design was indeed inspired by a vintage tambourine.  Lelong employed the services of noted artist Peter Fink to create novel, unique packaging for his perfumes and lipsticks, such as the Ting a Ling bottle and Full Dress lipstick mentioned in the ad above, so it's probable that Fink came up with the tambourine compact design as well.  As for the notion that the compact was specifically a French tambourine replica, that's also credible given Lelong's love for his home country.  So maybe the advertising isn't a complete pile of crap spun by unscrupulous marketing directors.*  ;)  Anyway, I was happy that I could find a name and date for this compact.  This is definitely one I'd love to add to my collection, but they are rare (read: expensive, especially when in good condition) and tend to get snatched up immediately.

In closing, I'd like to thank the person who took the time to share these items with me.  Since I was able to provide a couple tidbits, this was one of the few inquiries that didn't end with me getting very upset at finding zero information.  Plus, all of the compacts are great from a design standpoint.  Even if I didn't find a single thing about them, I would have just enjoyed looking at them.

What do you think?  Which of these is your favorite?

 

*Eh, it probably is. Another newspaper ad from December 1948, which I didn't clip since I refuse to upgrade to the "premium" subscription of newspapers.com (they're such jerks - this stuff should be free!), and my local library didn't carry the particular newspaper, notes that the tambourine is an "exact replica of a g---y's tambourine".  Oof.  That would be pretty unacceptable language now, not to mention that it makes me doubt how inspired the design was.  Or it could also be a matter of marketing to different geographic areas - perhaps the advertising people thought that "French" would be more appealing to what they perceived to be a high-fashion East Coast crowd so they used it in the ad that ran in the New York Times, and changed the description to the g-word for simple Midwestern folks, whom they assumed had less stylish taste than New Yorkers and may have been put off by anything described as French (the g-word ad was found in the Indianapolis Star.)

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MM Mailbag: they don't make nail buffer packaging like this anymore

I received a rather intriguing inquiry from someone trying to identify an object that once belonged to his deceased aunt.  I was up a creek initially but luckily the interwebz allowed me to unravel the mystery. 

First, the object in question.  It's obviously a nail buffing stone, but beyond that I had zero information...

Kopp & Joseph Youpla nail buffing stone

Kopp & Joseph Youpla nail buffing stone box

Kopp & Joseph Youpla nail buffing stone

Kopp & Joseph Youpla nail buffing stone

...until I found this print.  I totally can't remember what search terms I typed into Google to pull this up, but I'm glad I came across it.

Kopp & Joseph nail stone ad by Alfred Boeld, ca. 1911(image from fineartamerica.com)

According to the description, "Stein der Weisen" means "Philosopher's Stone".  The man on the right is turning the woman's nails into gold using this seemingly magical nail buffer.  I wasn't familiar with the lore of the Philosopher's Stone, but the stone apparently possessed alchemic properties, hence the transformation of this lady's nails into gold.  The artist for the ad was Alfred Böld; unfortunately I couldn't find any sort of official bio for him.  This site says that he worked primarily as an advertisement artist and was active till about 1926. 

Just for fun, here are the other two works of his I was able to find online. This one, also from 1911, is for something Google Translate calls "head washing powder", which I'm assuming is shampoo.  In any case it's lovely.

Alfred Böld ad, 1911
(image from artnet.de)

The other image was a poster from 1912 for...well, I have no idea.  Google Translate gave me the exact same words I typed in to translate.  Some kind of event or festival, I guess, since it has specific dates.

Poster by Alfred Bold, 1912
(image from plakatkontor.de)

It's a shame there's not more on Böld, as I'm liking the few works by him that I could access.  To my delight there was more information available on Kopp & Joseph, which I stumbled across in this book (which honestly seems like a depressing read.)  The nail buffing stone was a quite popular item, and the company not only made cosmetic items but was also a wholesaler for them (see p. 80).

Here's a picture of their storefront in Berlin around 1927.  It's so pretty, I wish drugstores still looked like this.

Kopp & Joseph storefront, Berlin, ca. 1927
(image from lempertz.com)

What I couldn't figure out is how a German item ended up being sold in the U.S. market and for approximately how long it was sold here.  The original ad dates from 1911, and the person inquiring informed me that his aunt was born in 1912, so the nail buffer had to have been sold in the U.S. at least through the 1930s (I highly doubt she was purchasing such an item as a child.)  At my request, the inquirer kindly unwrapped the insert that I had spotted inside the box so I could hunt for more clues.

Youpla nail buffing stone insert

This was the big break in the case, so to speak.  How an extensive history of a seemingly obscure company ended up online I don't know, but wow was I lucky it exists!  The George Borgfeldt company manufactured many things - they were particularly known for dolls and toys - but I noticed "druggist sundries" was listed among the many departments, so obviously this is the same company that produced the nail stone.  The history also says that the company was known as George Borgfeldt & Co. from 1883 through 1933, and was liquidated and changed to George Borgfeldt Corporation in 1933 and was in operation till 1961.  Given that it's listed as Geo. Borgfeldt & Co. on the inside wrapper and the date of the original German ad is 1911, I initially thought the product had to have been made between 1911 and 1933.  However, I found a 1915 U.S. patent for Geo. Borgfeldt nail items, including "enamel, polish, paste, bleach, pomade and tints for the finger-nails,"  so that means it's unlikely it was sold in the U.S. prior to 1915, as Borgfeldt would have had to secure patents and translate everything on the package into English before selling.  Additionally, the company moved to new headquarters in 1910 and stayed there until 1931. The address for this is the same as the one on the insert:  16th street and Irving Place.

Geo. Borgfeldt & Co. headquarters, ca. 1910 (image from 14to42.net)

Given what we know about the patent date and the address, that means the particular nail buffer in the inquirer's possession was sold in the U.S. between 1915 and 1931. So my initial hunch was correct - the item dates to the early '30s.  Also, since the Borgfeldt company was primarily an importer of items outside the U.S. and Kopp & Joseph operated partially as a wholesaler, my best guess as to how this nail buffer ended up being sold in the U.S. is that Borgfeldt scoped out popular items from different countries that they could get wholesale and distributed them here with their name.

The inquirer also asked about the monetary value of the nail buffer.  Unfortunately for him, most vintage cosmetic items, no matter how cool the packaging is, don't go for much.  Sure, there are some rare and in-demand items that fetch several hundred dollars, or even artifacts that go for thousands, but generally speaking these things simply don't carry a high price tag.  I found another example of a Youpla item on e-bay which sold for a whopping $7.99. 

Vintage Youpla nail polish

I'd be curious to see how the polish actually works, since the packaging is so different than the bottle and brush we usually associate with nail polish.  In these pictures it reminds me of a pack of Lifesavers.

Vintage Youpla nail polish(images from ebay.com)

Based on the price of this item, but also taking into consideration the excellent condition of the nail stone, the fact that it was a best-selling item and the packaging was based on actual artwork, I estimated it could be sold for about $20-$25 for the average person browsing vintage beauty items.  If there were someone out there who is either a rabid collector of Philosopher's Stone ephemera or one who focuses exclusively on vintage nail products, it could go for slightly more, maybe high as $50.  But I know I certainly wouldn't pay more than $35 and I'm someone who truly values the historical and artistic significance of objects like these.

To conclude, I'm so glad online searches came through, especially since when I first laid eyes on the piece I had absolutely no clue what I was looking at and was sure it would be impossible to find anything.  While I wish there was more on the artist behind the packaging, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across any information on both Kopp & Joseph and the George Borgfeldt companies.  Given the difficulty I've had with other inquiries in the past (and there are still more I couldn't answer, but those are for another edition of MM Mailbag), I was so very happy to provide some pretty good details about the item.

What do you think? 

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MM Mailbag: UMOs (unidentified makeup objects)

You all know how much I love getting inquiries, but boy do I hate it when I don't have an answer.  Today I thought I'd share 2 items that I couldn't identify.  First up is this vintage mirror that was found at a yard sale.  It's an interesting piece - I can't say I've seen a vintage mirror with an inset like that, or faux pearl and rhinestone grapes with gold leaves. 

Vintage makeup mirror

The little flower must be the brand emblem, but I couldn't seem to turn up anything that would point to the specific company that made it.

Vintage makeup mirror

I also can't even tell what decade this is from.  Given the rounded edges and ornate details similar to some vintage lipstick holders, I'd say it's from mid 1950's or early '60s, but I really have no idea.  Sigh.  I hate being so useless!

The second item is at least something that I could say with certainty is from the 1920s or '30s.  The person who wrote said it was her grandmother's, and it still was in the box bearing the name of the Illinois pharmacy where it was purchased. 

Vintage dance purse box

The colorful, abstract enamel piece on the front is quite striking.

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

I was able to find a couple of other compacts that looked identical (same clasp, chain, and wavy etchings) except for the design of the enamel piece on the front.  Alas, they were also unmarked.

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet(images from ebay.com)

Vintage dance purse/wristlet

Vintage dance purse/wristlet(images from etsy.com)

These sorts of compact/bag hybrids, sometimes called "dance purses" were quite popular throughout the '20s and early '30s.  Unfortunately, without a maker's mark on this particular compact, I have no idea what company made it.  I'm always working on building the Museum's library, which includes collector guides - I think this one would have been especially useful for this inquiry, but I still haven't purchased it yet.

Can anyone help identify these?


MM Mailbag: Peggy Sage manicure oil

Let's see what we have in the ol' Makeup Museum mailbag today, shall we?  Actually this inquiry came in about 2 years ago (I know, I can't believe I'm just getting to it now) and allowed me to learn more about Peggy Sage, a brand I wasn't all that familiar with. The person who wrote didn't provide any information about where or how she acquired this vintage manicure oil, but I could tell from her email signature that she is Dutch, so that's pretty cool that I had an inquiry all the way from the Netherlands!  She did give a picture though.

Vintage Peggy Sage manicure oil

So off I went in search of information about the company and to try to find an approximate date for the oil.  Fortunately Peggy Sage is still around and has a website, where I was able to get a little history.  Peggy Sage started in 1925 in the U.S. and was one of the first beauty companies to specialize in nail care.  It soon moved to Paris and was very popular there as well.  In the 1950s it reached peak popularity, holding its own with Cutex and other similar nail care and cosmetic brands.  In 2000 the brand was revived and now has several "concept stores" throughout France and Switzerland.  I wish I could find more about Peggy Sage herself (was she even a real person?) but there was scant information about the founder.

As for the bottle of manicure oil, I'm guessing it dates from anywhere between the early '50s through the early '60s.  I looked at a plethora of ads and it looks like that bottle shape did not appear until about 1951.  Prior to that year, the ads show a more square bottle.

Peggy Sage ad, 1940
(image from hprints.com)

Peggy Sage ad, 1943
(image from ebay.com)

Peggy Sage ad, 1945
(image from ebay.com

Peggy Sage ad, 1949
(image from hprints.com)

My theory is that a new bottle was introduced in the early '50s to distinguish the brand's new "Crystallin" finish polishes from their regular line of polishes, as the older square bottle shapes were still being used in ads.  Only ads for the Crystallin (or "Cristal", as they were known in France) polishes showed the more flared bottle.

Peggy Sage ad, 1951
(image from hprints.com)

Peggy Sage ad, 1952
(image from vintageadbrowser.com)

Peggy Sage ad, 1953
(image from ebay.co.uk)

Additionally, this ad from 1953 - most likely related to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in June of that year - boasts several shades housed in the "new plume bottle", which is the same bottle shape as the manicure oil.

Peggy Sage ad, 1954
(image from pinterest.com)

So maybe this shape was also used for the manicure oil to distinguish it from their nail polishes, or the oil was meant to be used specifically with the Crystallin polishes.  In any case, I'm not sure when the "plume" bottle shape was retired, but it was used at least until 1960, when this Australian commercial for "Fiery Pink" aired.  So dramatic!

 

So that is what I was able to come up with.  Do you agree with my theory?  And which bottle shape do you prefer?  I have to say I'm partial to the "plume" bottle - reminds me of a fancy flared skirt.  :)

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MM Mailbag: Another Stila surprise!

Vintage Stila memorabilia

You might remember how overjoyed I was in late 2013 when a mysterious person emailed me and asked to bestow a mighty lot of Stila memorabilia.  Well, back in the spring a different mystery Stila aficionado contacted me and asked if I wanted her vintage Stila ephemera.  As with the previous donor, she refused to accept payment, even for postage, and sent me an enormous package chock full of lovely Stila cards and other goodies.  See, Stila fans are the best!!

Now that I'm done gushing about the extremely generous people who graciously donated these items, let's take an in-depth look.

Stila postcards, ca. late 1990s

Stila postcards, ca. late 1990s

Stila postcards, late 1990s/early 00s

Stila postcards, late 1990s/early 00s

Stila postcards, fall 2001 and 2002

Stila pamphlets

Stila 2001 holiday look book

Stila 2001 holiday look book

Even the outer envelope for this has an adorable illustration:

Stila 2001 holiday lookbook envelope

How adorable is this mini 3-ring binder?!

Stila mini binder

Stila mini binder

I think is from around 2003, since the "Look of the Month" palettes had some of the same illustrations and were released at Nordstrom in January 2004.  For example, the little lady below was used in the April palette.

Stila mini binder

The donor also included some pretty cool Anna Sui postcards. 

Anna Sui postcards

Anna Sui postcard

So wasn't that nice?!  Whoever sent this my way, thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my Stila-loving heart!!  I'm still in awe from the generosity.

Which is your favorite from this glorious batch of rare Stila items?  I love it all, of course, but I think I'm partial to the white postcards, which look to be very early in Stila's history...but the postcard with the girl catching pairs of rouged lips in a butterfly net is pretty spectacular too.

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MM Mailbag: vintage compact identification

As you may know I occasionally receive emails from folks needing help identifying vintage makeup items.  Today's post highlights several lovely vintage compacts, pictures of which were sent to me by a woman whose grandmother had passed away and left the compacts to her.   As she would like to hold on to the compacts as keepsakes, she was curious to know more about them. 

Vintage-compacts-elmo-cara-mia-evans

Fortunately this inquirer also sent pictures of the compacts open and their reverse side, so for two of the three I was able to identify the company that made them based on the puff that was included.  On the left is a compact by Elmo (no, not the Sesame Street character), the middle one I wasn't sure about, and the compact on the right is by Evans.

Vintage-compacts-open

Vintage-compacts-back

At the time I received the inquiry, there was virtually no information available on Elmo Sales Corp., a Philadelphia-based company founded in the early 1900s, and I really had no idea what decade the compact might be from.  So you can imagine I was overjoyed to see that a comprehensive history of the company surfaced at the ever-thorough Collecting Vintage Compacts blog back in May of 2014.  The blog author included a picture of an identical compact in ivory enamel that was dated to 1941, so I'm guessing the black enameled compact is from around the same time. 

Vintage oval Elmo compact
(image from flickr.com)

The middle one was a bit trickier.  By sheer luck I stumbled across a similar-looking compact for sale at One King's Lane by a company called Cara Mia.  The site listed it as being from the '30s.

Cara Mia heart-shaped compact

Based on the interior of the compact, with its two compartments and diamond pattern, I have reason to believe the one in the pictures I was sent is also a Cara Mia.  However, I think it might be a little bit later, circa 1940s.

Vintage Cara Mia heart-shaped compact
(images from onekingslane.com)

As for the remaining compact, there's a wealth of information on Evans thanks again to Collecting Vintage Compacts.  However, I couldn't find any that looked identical to the one in the picture I was sent, so I had a difficult time dating it.  I found one that was sort of similar in that it had a combination of rosy copper and gold metal tones, and that one, according to the seller, is from the 1940s. 

Evans vintage compact
(image from etsy.com)

The person who emailed me with her inquiry, bless her, was quite grateful to get the meager information I had provided.  I wish I could have given exact dates for all and been able to say with 100% certainty that the heart-shaped compact was by Cara Mia, but even after over 6 years of running the Makeup Museum I'm still getting my feet wet in terms of vintage makeup.  :)

What do you think of these?  And do you agree with my assessments?

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MM Mailbag: Makeup ad from the late '90s/early 2000s

I love getting inquiries but I hate when I let the inquirer down by not having an answer!  This one was truly a head-scratcher.  A woman emailed me explaining that she used to collect beauty ads, and sadly her house burned down and she lost the entire collection (one of my biggest fears!) She wanted to know whether I remembered one of her favorites that was lost so that she could try to track it down.  The ad description is as follows:

- Was for a fall collection in 1998, 1999, 2000, or 2001;

- Was for a drugstore company (Cover Girl, Maybelline, etc.);

- Featured a "smoky and myterious" palette, comprised of "dark greens and purples and blues, very autumnal and mystical";

- Was at least 2 pages long, possibly 3;

- In addition to the model, there was also a cat in the ad.

Unfortunately, since I didn't get into collecting until about 2004, I had no memory of this ad.  I scoured the Interwebz for hours trying every imaginable phrase in Google image search and on Pinterest.  But I know not everything is online so I thought, we'll do this the old-fashioned way.  I bought the 1999 and 2001 September issues of Allure as well as the October 1998 and 2000 issues hoping to find it.  Wouldn't it be cool if I could find the actual ad in an old magazine and send it to her to help rebuild her collection?  Alas, nothing fitting her description was in the magazines, nor in any of the earlier ones I had purchased for my failed '90s exhibition - I had kept an eye out for something fitting the description as I went through those.  The closest thing I found was this:

Cover-Girl-ad-Tyra-Banks
(image from fuckyeahnostalgicbeauty.tumblr.com)

But that's definitely not it.  While the colors, brand and timeframe fit, there is no cat - a detail the inquirer was sure about.  She has also contacted Maybelline and Cover Girl and did not receive a response (um, nice customer service, jerks.)  I think I may have to buy issues from 2002-2004 just to check those as well. I get plenty of inquiries that most likely will turn out to be unsolvable, but I really thought that with all the information she provided and the fact that this is more recent and not from, say, the '30s, I'd have a pretty good shot at finding the ad.  That's why I'm so frustrated at not being able to unearth it.

So my last resort is to ask fellow makeup addicts:  Do any of you remember this ad and if so, can you please comment on this post or drop me an email?  I would be so happy to have this inquiry solved!

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MM Mailbag: Revlon Couturine lipstick

I love when I get an inquiry to which I can actually give a solid response.  A gentleman sent in this picture he had of an old lipstick and asked if I could identify it and provide any sense of its monetary value.

MM-inquiry-lipstick

I recognized it immediately as one of the Revlon Couturines doll lipsticks released between 1961 and 1963.  But which one?  The only one I recognize off the top of my head is Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, since it's pretty obvious. 

Revlon-Liz-Taylor-Cleopatra

Fortunately the Revlon Couturines appear in Lips of Luxury (which I highly recommend for any beauty aficionado - check out my review here and in-person pics here.)  According to the photos in the book it's not Marilyn Monroe.

Revlon-Marilyn-Monroe

Or Ava Gardner.

Revlon-Ava-Gardner

So it must be one of these ladies.

Revlon-couturines-lipsticks

Aha!  Looks like it's Jackie Kennedy (last one on the right.)

Revlon-couturine-lipsticks

What's fascinating to me about the submitter's photo is that his doll appears to be wearing a little fur stole around her neck, whereas in the photo from the book she doesn't have one.  As for the value, Revlon Couturines can fetch a pretty hefty price.  Even though the photo is blurry, the one submitted to me looks to be in excellent condition.  And given that she has a stole, which I'm assuming is original (the original Marilyn Monroe figurine has neckwear as well, which isn't shown in the picture in Lips of Luxury), that would probably increase the value.  I think a fair asking price would be $150-$250.  At the moment I don't even see any Jackie figurines for sale. 

What do you think of these?  This post reminds me that I really need to track down at least one for the Museum - I can't believe I don't own any.  Another one (or 8) to add to the old wishlist.

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