Retro Corner: Max Factor

19 09 2009

While looking over the Painted Ladies pages, the Retro Corner sparked a familiar feeling.  I have been collecting vintage compacts since 1997, with the oldest piece from 1918.  Excitedly, I asked Sheila if Painted Ladies needed any additional submissions to the Retro Corner. So here I am.  Enjoy!

After much deliberation, I decided to begin this topic with the history of compacts and beauty products, and then end with a piece from my collection to honor and bid farewell to a MAJOR cosmetic company that is now stopping all distribution in the U.S.

Dating back to the ancient civilizations of the world, cosmetics and its containers were used to adorn and decorate both men and women.  The oldest known surviving powder was originally made by pulverizing flowers and fragrant leaves. Of the many different origins and types of cosmetics used, kohl (then in a loose mineral powder form in a small pot, nowadays called eye kohl pencil) was used by the Egyptians in the eighteenth century to embellish the lashes and lids on the eye, and to protect from insects and shield from the desert’s sun.  

Egyptian kohl pots

Egyptian kohl pots

Cosmetics were used throughout the middle ages, and in Renaissance periods.  In the late eighteenth century, the use of cosmetics was so widespread that Parliament passed a law that made the use of cosmetics part of a seduction, which to them meant witchcraft.  From that law being passed, women that used cosmetics were basically called “ladies of the night”.

In the late nineteenth century, cosmetics went through a revival in parts of Europe.  The lipstick cases and compacts were adorned with gems, ornately painted landscapes and the like.  In America, during the Victorian era and before World War I, the artificial use of beauty aids was frowned upon still and considered immoral.  The opinion of society was, “to improve on nature, all women needed was proper diet, fresh air, and exercise”.  You should all remember the scene from “Little Women” when they pinch their cheeks to look healthy, fresh and get that natural rosy glow.  Now you know why!

In 1923, Dorothy Grey introduced The Face Patter, to stimulate circulation and make the cheeks naturally pink!  From then on, attitudes regarding cosmetics changed dramatically in the beginning of the twentieth century.  The use of makeup during the day was finally accepted and looked upon with respect.  We have the silver screen’s trend setting film stars to thank for that!

The Face Patter

The Face Patter

The word “make-up” was actually coined by Max Factor, beauty consultant to the stars.  Women began to see that they could achieve a “modern” image with cosmetics, and then recognized the importance of personal beauty.  As women became liberated and entered the business world, the cosmetic compacts and carryalls were a necessity.

Excerpts and information from Vintage Ladies’ Compacts Identification & Value Guide, 1996

The piece I am showing you was purchased in Fargo, North Dakota.  I was there for my best friend’s wedding and my flight was delayed as I was heading home to the west. Having some time to kill, I found the nearest antique shop and below you’ll see just one of the gems I found!  I was sad the package was a bit thrashed, when I found it, but you can make out the stamping on the dry rouge itself!  Gasp, they just don’t make rouge like that today! 

Max Factor was a true founding forefather in the world of cosmetics!  My inspiration continues with all the prized antiques in the beauty world. There will be more to come, and I hope it inspires you as well!

Max Factor Dry Rouge

Max Factor Dry Rouge

Underside of Dry Rouge

Underside of Dry Rouge

Max Factor Pressed Dry Rouge, in Rasberry from 1938.  I found a Max Factor Pressed Powder with the same packaging in 1996 ed. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls & Face Powder Boxes.




4 responses

19 09 2009
Cindy G.

It really is sad how Max Factor, who was so important in the history of make-up, is bolting from the US market. The dry rouge compact is an incredible find. You have inspired me to keep an eye out for antique cosmetics. I have a large collection of antiques at home, but not make-up. Thanks Jessi.

5 08 2010

I found an antique dry rouge compact accidentally in a deserted house. on top it says “SOCIETY MAKE-UP MaxFactor’s ROUGE NATURAL HOLLYWOOD”…it seems rather old but I could definitely need a second expert opinion. I can send photos if that would help. Thank you.

29 07 2012
Linda Simmons

Hi, Jessi. My name is Linda Simmons and I live in Los Angeles. I have started to collect antique cosmetics from old drugstores from the first decades of the 20th century. I think you would enjoy seeing some of the compacts and other beauty items I’ve acquired. I am brand new to collecting, and would like to discuss the process and my collection with you. Thanks.

8 11 2012

Hi I have just inherited some unused 1969 max factor ultra lucent ‘whisper tint complexion stick’ & ‘brush on complexion colouring’. I would like to find out if they are worth anything & if so where to sell them. Any ideas? please email

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