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How to Collect Depression Era Powder Boxes
A nice variety of boxes
The beginning of a collection
People say that if someone purchases or is given two of something (even when bought or given on two different occasions), that is the beginning of a collection. That did not happen to me. I responded to an ad which listed an item I was interested in. Once at the residence, my husband noticed a few vintage powder boxes. That was in the 1960s and the boxes were 'old' then. He thought they would be the beginning of a fun collection.
The boxes at the right are what are called satin glass, frosted glass, or frosted satin glass. The glass in any of these categories is opaque and well made. There might be a tiny bubble occasionally but, for the most part, they appear perfect unless damaged after manufacture.
The green box (with the mother and children) has a sheen in the picture but it has the typical . mat finish. The light patches are caused by the camera glare This box is unusual and seems to be rare, no doubt because many were broken. It is more elaborate than most but there are more protruding pieces to be knocked off. Gorgeous though and in excellent condition.
The second box is also more elaborate than most, with a nude woman bathing it would appear. Many boxes have animals, such as birds and elephants, on the lids so it is fortunate if you can find those with people.
Verifying the age
It can be very difficult to verify the age of powder boxes. Some have the company name on the bottom (not a sticker but in the glass) and this could help with an approximate date. Many companies sold their powder in a box such as those shown but I would imagine it has been many, many years since that took place and not all are marked.
Powder boxes can also be found in celluloid and I love these. Sometimes, you can find celluloid dresser sets which might include mirrors, combs, brushes, shoe accessories, manicure items, radios, picture frames, clocks, and powder boxes. The lidded round boxes with a hole in the center of the lid are hair receivers but there are powder boxes to be found in celluloid. .
When I was a teenager my mother gave me a blue metal powder box with a marble held by prongs on top. When the lid was removed, I believe it played Stardust. These boxes were found more commonly in blue, silver, and pink. These seem to be made in the '40s and 50's. There is a variety of sizes and styles. I've picked up another two or three over the years so I guess one can also start a collection.
Looking for flaws and damage
Like lidded candy dishes, powder boxes frequently have chips and possibly other damage under the lid. I can imagine a child raising the lid to see what was inside and then slamming it down when he or she heard a parent coming.
When frosted glass is scraped by something, plain glass will be seen. In other words, the frosting or satin covers the surface only. unless the scrape is large. I don't have a problem with this issue.
There can also be cracks and chipping. If you can tolerate the damage because it is not in plain sight or you just love the box, the item could be acceptable but take care what you pay. Keep in mind that, during a purchase the flaw is a flea bite, but it becomes an alligator bite if you want or need to sell it. Also, you need to make sure the box is still structurally sound; i.e., that a hairline crack will not lengthen. Needless to say, the more rare and elaborate the powder box, the more acceptable the flaw or damage.
Searching for what you want for your collection
Of course, we all think of garage sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other similar thrift shops. For the more rare items, consider the thrift shops managed by churches in high-end residential areas or even auctions. On-line auctions can be a good resource but patience is needed to look through the items. Even if you have a brand name of the item, it would be quicker to put in your search the color or any information the seller might use. So many glass pieces are not marked. Anchor Hocking and Hazel Atlas usually are as is Heisey too but you cannot rely on markings.
No matter what you choose to collect, it is fun, educational, and interesting. Happy hunting!