Today in another installment of the Secret Life of Antiques, we are exploring the beautiful world of dance compacts! Small, often richly enameled, sometimes hand painted or made of sterling silver or gold, these little “bags” or minaudiéres were meant to be carried on a lady’s wrist. I’m excited to share this post: The Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts.

Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts


History of compacts

The very first powder compact was created during Louis XIV’s reign in the 17th century. Long the darlings of only the very, very rich, beautiful decorative compacts, really tiny vanity cases for powder and rouge, became more accessible to more women in the 1800’s.

Women have had a centuries-old fascination with beauty, and have always used powders and paints, stored in glass, wood, or gold and silver containers to enhance what Mother Nature gifted them.



Often considered dangerous or extremely inappropriate and even vulgar, by the late 1800’s many women made their own rouge, rice powder and lip balm from “secret” formulas read in ladies magazines and even newspapers. As this became more and more accepted, jewelers began creating small compacts for rouge and powder to take on an evening out. I am including portable nécessaires with this group as well.


Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts


Portable Nécessaires were small fashion accessories carried like a small handbag. Meant to be carried over a lady’s wrist by the sterling chain, the compartments varied depending on the kind bought. Often besides a spot for a powder puff and powder, or rouge, there were spring loaded holders for coins, and slots for paper money or calling cards.


dance sterling compact


In the late 1800’s, the age of opulence, these little cases or compacts were a mark of status. Especially beloved were the guilloche-enameled silver pieces made in beautiful enameled colors in France.



The 1920’s is considered the pinnacle of compact and compact manufacturing, as flappers wore beautiful examples on their wrists and made quite a show of applying lipstick and rouge in public. {Shocking!} Often called dance compacts or tango compacts, each one is a work of art!


Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts

Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts


Over time compacts became mass produced, and a woman might own several less expensive compacts. While there are collectors out there who collect compacts from 1940 on, most collectors cherish the early sterling silver and guilloche compacts the most. Beautiful, with hand painted roses, or engraved with the owner’s initials, they are a lovely way to remember the stories of the past.


Art Deco Dance Compact


Because of their quality and beauty, antique compacts and nécessaires make elegant gifts, and many of our clients often purchase a special one as a gift to mark a special occasion like a wedding, birth of a child or an anniversary.


Value of Dance Compacts and Nécessaires


Antique compacts and nécessaires vary in price depending on their rarity, quality  and condition. Because most of them were well used, those retaining their original components such as powder, rouge, puffs, mirrors and sifters are especially desirable.


Expect to pay anywhere from $350.- to $650.- for luxurious sterling silver pieces in good condition.  The more engraving or the more unusual, the higher the price. For enameled pieces, especially those with hand painted scenes or flowered, you can expect to pay around 350-800 and up for truly exceptional dance compacts.



Care of Dance Compacts and Nécessaires


Please use care when cleaning and maintaining your compacts and nécessaires. Usually dusting with a soft cloth is all they require. If your pieces are silver, a soft polish will work wonders.  Do be extra careful with the interior, I use Q-tips for the inside edges, because I have seen too many of these stunning pieces practically ruined because they have ages old thick caked-on silver polish on the inside.



How to Display Your Dance Compacts and Nécessaires


These little wonders are not only useful, they are quite beautiful too. We have many clients who actually use the ones they’ve bought from us. But most lovingly display their collection. We have a client who has framed her collection in shadow boxes and displays her beauties in her dressing room. And we have a few clients who display their compacts and sterling nécessaires in a glass case along with their precious other sterling silver.

One of the most beautiful collections I’ve seen at a client’s home was displayed in a glass topped table cabinet. There are so many ways to display these and enjoy their beauty.

No matter what you do with your compacts and nécessaires, they are a delightful reminder of the more glamorous, luxurious days of the past and a joy to behold! I hope you have enjoyed this post of the Secret Life of Antiques | Dance Compacts.


collecting antique dance compacts


Shop our latest compacts and nécessaires HERE>


For More Lady Like Antiques & Collecting READ THESE:


A Lady’s Sanctuary 


Collecting Vanity Antiques

Gilty Pleasures


Do you love and or collect these feminine luxuries of the past? We’d all love to hear about your collection!



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