Beautiful and intricately detailed, antique dresser sets are popular collectibles. Once found in the boudoir of any well bred, Victorian lady, they are finding renewed popularity today. They are easily displayed, creating an elegant ambiance wherever they are placed.
The dresser sets were the original make-up organizers. Manufactured from Victorian times through the 1950s, the sets changed in form if not in function. They were displayed prominently on a woman's vanity table. Often the set would be made up of matching items which included all, or some, of the following:
- Hair receiver
- Hand mirror
- Manicure set
- Powder puff
- Pin box
- Button hook
Of course, the more items that are included in the set, the more rare and valuable it is to the collector. Most often, however, the sets will have a brush, a comb, and a hand mirror.
Materials Commonly Used in Antique Dresser Sets
Dresser sets, also known as vanity sets, have been created from numerous materials down through the years. The material that most of us think of when we consider an antique dresser set is the finely detailed silver of Victorian times.
Gorham Silver was one of the manufacturers of the beautiful sets. The items were often embossed with scrolling designs and had monograms centered on them. They are quite valuable to the collector. A quick glance at online antique auctions showed prices from one hundred dollars and up.
Other silver manufactures that distributed the vanity sets were:
- Birks of Canada
- William Kerr
- Tiffany & Co.
Another popular material for antique dresser sets was porcelain. The most collectible of these is probably the Limoges sets that were popular during the Art Nouveau period. These sets were painted by hand with delicate flowers such as roses and forget-me-nots. They were often done in soft, pastel shades. Some of the more expensive items have gilt details.
Finding a porcelain set, in good condition, and with all of its pieces is very rare. These sets can go for several thousands of dollars at auctions. Some of the companies that made the Limoges sets were:
- Royal Worcester
- Crown Devon
It is important to note that most of the hand painted Limoges sets produced in the United States were painted by local artisans and not by large companies. Limoges shipped thousands of blanks to America, which were then purchased by these talented artists and sold from their homes and small shops. This does not in any way decrease the beauty or value of the vanity set. Limoges is a term for porcelain that is produced around the town of Limoges. It is not a particular company.
Depression Glass vanity sets are available in a myriad of colors and styles. These sets were usually made up of trays, candlesticks, and powder jars. They were used as an accessory to the combs and brushes from the other types of sets. Some of the more interesting items seen in this category are:
- Dancing girl powder jar by Tiffin Glass Company
- Frosted green glass powder jar with lovebirds figure on the top
- Amber jar with a poodle figure on the top by Jeanette Glass
- Butterfly figure on top of pink glass
Of course, Vaseline glass sets of any sort are gorgeous!
Many glass companies made vanity sets but, the jars and accessories from the following manufacturers command the highest prices on the antiques and collectibles market:
- New Martinsville
Tortoise shell was another popular material until it became banned for use. It is a mottled, brown material with a spotted, or speckled pattern made from the outer shell of the Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles. There are a lot of plastic tortoise shell imitations but one way to tell the difference is to touch the surface with a hot pin. If the burning material smells like burning hair, it is the real thing.
Some other materials used for antique dresser sets were:
- Combinations such as enamel and pewter, or silver
- Cut glass
- Early American Pressed Glass (EAPG)
What to Look For
When you begin to collect these vintage vanity sets there are several things you should look for. Be especially careful with depression glass as there are many imitations on the market today. Run your finger carefully over the rim of the jars and check for chips or cracks that could affect the value. Familiarize yourself with the different manufacturers. It is best to purchase a collectible price guide so you can tell if you are really getting a good deal.
The differences between men's and women's brush and comb sets is often that the men's set will not have a handle on the brush. Women's sets were usually more detailed and intricate. For display purposes the women's set would most often be found on a vanity table. The men's set would look most at home on a highboy or tall dresser.
The value of antiques is determined by their rarity, how desirable they are to other collectors and condition. Be alert to these details when you make your purchase but only buy the things you really love. Your collections should bring you joy when you look at them. Collecting vintage dresser sets is one way to surround yourself with beautiful things.