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Your Great Great Grandmother Could
Have Been An Avon Lady

This Mrs. Albee Figurine Award #14 was issued in 1991. The lady has a dark orange dress, and is carrying her sample bag. Bud Hastin’s Avon Collector’s Encyclopedia (2008 edition) values this figurine at $100.

Avon is one of America’s oldest companies, having started in the late 1800s as the California Perfume Company. Founder David McConnell and his wife, Lucy, created and manufactured the first products. Although they lived in Manhattan, they chose the name “California” for their company because they liked the image it projected.

The first saleslady, known then as a general traveling agent, was Mrs. P.F.E. Albee. She was the only sales representative for the first six months the company was in business, and during that time she recruited a number of additional workers and put into operation the system that became traditional for the Avon company. McConnell gave here the honorary title of Mother of the California Perfume Company.

The first products were perfumes in floral fragrances: Violet, White Rose, Heliotrope, Lily of the Valley, and Hyacinth. Additional fragrances were soon added, along with Shampoo Cream, Witch Hazel Cream, Almond Cream Balm and Tooth Paste.

The name Avon was adopted in 1929, based on the similarity of the landscape around the New York manufacturing plant to that of Avon, England.

Among the most popular Avon collectibles are the porcelain figurines, called either Albees or Mrs. Albees by collectors. A series was begun in 1978 that recognized the top salespeople in each district. The hand-painted figures are around eight to nine inches in height and most have a carrying case of some kind.

In most years, there was also a miniature figurine made that matched the larger one.

A variety of other lady doll figurines have also been made, beginning in the 1960s. Most have been made to be used as awards to sales representatives.

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Wood Carvers Adapted To Changing Times

Wood carving was initially a necessity in early America. It gradually developed into an art form, also.

Among the first of the art forms to be produced was the carved figurehead on a ship. Usually, figureheads were carved by trained sculptors who also used their skill on other parts of the vessel. by the end of the 18th century, there was so much carved wood on some ships - some even had carved wreaths around the cannon portholes of warships - that they became top-heavy and hard to maneuver. Gradually, all but the figureheads were eliminated, as practicality was recognized as being more important.

The same wood carvers who were decorating ships were also carving woodwork and furniture at the same time.

About the time that the practice of placing figureheads on ships was discontinued, the wood carvers found another place to use their skills., Every tobacco store wanted a carved Indian figure, or cigar-store Indian, as they came to be called.

Although some pieces were made by skilled carvers, many of these advertising pieces were made in mass quantities by semi-skilled workers in large shops. Salesmen were able to offer a prospective customer a variety of designs, with specials occasionally. some operations accepted trade-ins of old carvings on new designs.

As the demand for cigar-store Indians started to disappear, carvers found another opportunity for work in decorating the elegant circus wagons that were then being used. There seemed to be no worry about having too much of a good thing on a circus wagon. If some was good, more was better. When a Barnum and Bailey wagon rolled by in a parade, carved, gilded and painted, it symbolized the glitter and excitement of the circus.

And the wood carvers work went on. Even while the machine age made mass production a way of life, they continued to leave their hand-crafted work, from duck decoys to carousel animals, as part of our American heritage.

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Assortment Of Compacts Kept Ladies Ready

This combination vanity case/evening bag in goldtone was made by Whiting and Davis. From Vintage Compacts & Beauty Accessories (Schiffer Publishing.)

Vanity cases, or compacts, were first used by women at the end of the 19th century. Originally, the ladies who used them had to be a little careful where the vanity cases were used, because respectable women were not supposed to be wearing makeup at all.

Nevertheless, powder, rouge and lipstick became more and more acceptable for women in all walks of society, and soon the vanity cases were becoming not only commonplace, but the better ones were comparable to a nice piece of jewelry.

Most compacts were made of metal - embossed, impressed, polished, brushed, engraved - whatever type of decoration could be used on metal might show up on a compact. The finest were of sterling silver with repousse work or 18-carat gold with engine-turned designs. Some were attached to a metal or ribbon chain to wear on the wrist at parties.

Fabrics such as satin and velvet were used, as were other fabrics covered with embroidery, petit point or needlepoint.

Natural materials, from alligator skin and leather to mother-of-pearl and dyed pony hair formed the case for some compacts. New man-made materials, such as lucite, were used, also.

Add to these the cases which were decorated with cloisonne, lace, rhinestones, enamel, papier mache, and just plain glitter and one begins to see the wide variety available if one is interested in collecting vanity cases.

There was also an assortment of shapes and sizes. There might be one or more compartments. The powder, which was almost always loose, might be in either a sifter or a well with a door, and there would be a puff with which to apply it. There might or might not be a place for lipstick, mascara and eye shadow.

(An interesting sidelight, mentioned in Vintage Compacts and Beauty Accessories, by Lynell Schwartz,) says that by 1927, women were so busily powdering their noses that a cosmetic powder filling machine was invented. This automatic filling machine, made by a company called Stokes, could fill 20 compacts per minute. And due to continuing demand, by 1933 an advanced, redesigned version filled more than twice that amount.)

Rouge, forerunner to today’s blush, was in common use early in the 20th century, and there was a place for it in most vanity cases. It might have a little lid on its well or it might not.

Almost all compacts had mirrors on the inside of the cover. While the inside of the case did not show as many variations as the outside of the case did, there were still plenty.

There were many manufacturers of compacts and sometimes the only place they put their name was on the powder puff, which is usually long gone. This practice was used because so many of the pieces were made by a metal manufacturer and then sold to cosmetics firms, which would fill them and repackage them under their own names. If the manufacturer’s name does appear, it will be in some unobtrusive place, such as along the rim or on the door of one of the compartments.

Dating compacts is not too easy, except in the few that contain a manufacturer’s name along with a patent number. Design is probably the best clue. Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles are fairly readily recognizable. Others are less easy to pinpoint; old catalogs of jewelry stores or advertisements in some of the old women’s magazines may be helpful.

Some compacts also had additional compartments that held more than makeup. For example, some had holes where a nickel and dime could be held. Every girl needed to be able to make a phone call and in the 1920s and ’30s, a nickel or dime would be sufficient for that purpose.

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