Rex Fifth Avenue happens to be one of my favorite compact manufacturers. Rex used bold colors–while the company made some plain goldtone pieces, one of their most recognizable collections featured giant flapjack compacts in deep blue and vivid red.
Some of their compacts exceeded four inches in diameter: that’s giant. And opulent, as one might expect from anything associated with the Fifth Avenue moniker. While the quality didn’t always live up to expectations, according to Laura Mueller’s Collector’s Encyclopedia of Compacts, Carryalls and Face Powder Boxes, Rex was the most popular of the Fifth Avenue compact lines, which also included Dorset, Columbia, Dale, and Zell. During WWII, Rex maintained popularity and worked around the metal shortages by producing lucite cases. These plastic compacts also use color, though often in more muted tones. Look at the pansies in the compact below as an example. Sadly, the pins fastening the lucite plate to the compact top make the corners of these pieces vulnerable to cracking and chipping. If you find one of these compacts with corners intact, consider yourself lucky.
Rex (and most of the other Fifth Avenue lines) did not always print hallmarks on compacts themselves–instead, Rex signed the ribbon across the puff. Zell typically signed the puffs themselves. This can hamper identification as puffs often fade, deteriorate, or get separated from their compacts. To further complicate matters, the Fifth Avenue lines occasionally shared design elements. For example, a pink flower that graced the lid of a Dorset compact might also find its way onto a Rex piece.
I like to think of researching unmarked compacts as the educational component of collecting (as opposed to the frustrating part, though sometimes it’s exactly that).
In the 1940s, Rex compacts sold for between $2 and $25. Ads played up both femininity and functionality. A 1944 ad for the “Reverie” compact (the round version of the pansy-printed piece pictured): “Memory of romance captured on a huge round of frosty white…so dresden-like, so feminine. The soft, gentle colors of Spring flowers, the coolness of clear porcelain. So much of beauty, yet so much of utility. Once you see ‘Reverie’ you’ll say, ‘This I must have.’”
In 1951, Rex merged with Dorset Fifth Avenue to become Dorset-Rex. Lucite and metal handbags from Dorset-Rex produced in the 1950s are highly collectible and seem to target a higher-end buyer than the typical Rex compact customer. Rex made compacts for the everyday woman who wanted something pretty, feminine, and functional.