Pamela Y. Wiggins, expert guide to antiques for About.com, shared with us some background and advice for novice powder jar collectors:
• History — “Every fashionable lady had a pretty powder jar on her vanity from the Victorian era right on through the 1950s,” Wiggins says. “This is one of the most appealing aspects of starting a vintage powder jar collection, since the sheer number of styles available varies widely. From fancy cut-glass jars with sterling-silver covers dating to the late 1800s to jars in the traditional Depression glass colors of pink and green dating from the mid-1920s through the early 1940s, there’s something on the market for every taste and every budget when it comes to glass jars. Ceramic powder jars have a following as well.”
• Appeal — “Powder jars take us back to a different day and time when a lady’s vanity table was fancier and prettier,” Wiggins says. “We live in a more disposable society today, and people always enjoy collecting objects that are somewhat obsolete. Very few people take the time to refill a powder jar and use it on a daily basis. This makes them special to collectors today.”
• Value — “I think the most precious are those with a family connection,” Wiggins explains. “Sometimes a piece owned by a grandmother or great-grandmother can form a cornerstone for building a lovely collection. Rarities will always be avidly sought by collectors. This means powder jars with unusual motifs or in unusual colors—ones you don’t see come up for sale every day. Art Deco styles are always in demand, too, as are those with elaborate Art Nouveau themes from the turn of the last century.”
• Best Sellers — Plainer powder jars, those with a simple round base and flat cover made of glass or plastic, aren’t extremely popular with collectors so they don’t generally sell as well as the more elaborate styles, according to Wiggins. Pieces made by well-known glass companies such as Cambridge, Heisey, Fostoria, Imperial or New Martinsville also have a following with collectors favoring those glass companies as well as general powder jar collectors, so they usually sell quite readily, she explains.
• Where to Find Them — You can find vintage powder jars in most any type of selling venue, from flea markets to antique malls, Wiggins says, adding that probably the best place to snag a rarity is eBay or an online antique mall like RubyLane.com. However she cautions novice collectors not to expect to get a bargain, since lots of powder jar enthusiasts will likely be combing those sites as well, and the dealers are more likely to know what they’ve got these days. For bargains, estate sales will probably yield the best finds, followed by flea markets, Wiggins suggests.
• Prices — People are still paying a good sum—in most cases $500 or more—to own powder jars made by Lalique when they’re in excellent condition, Wiggins says. Most other jars can be found more reasonably, but it’s not uncommon to pay $150 or more for a nice jar these days, she explains, adding that prices actually start at $5 to $10 for plainer jars.
• Getting Started — “Some of my favorite powder jars are those made by Jeanette Glass Company made from the 1930s through the ’50s with a molded fawn, poodle, donkey, elephant or Scotty dog atop a round jar base,” Wiggins says. “These are most often seen in clear, pink and marigold (an iridescent orange color) glass, and they are still fairly plentiful and reasonably priced because they were so popular with our mothers and grandmothers.”
By Meryl Schoenbaum
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki