One of the most appealing aspects about searching for vintage powder jars comes with the numerous shapes and styles available to collectors, especially the figurals. Animals were a popular motif during the Depression era so you can find everything from elephants to owls perched upon colorful lids made during this period.
In fact, you may remember your mom or grandmother owning a round powder jar with a molded fawn, poodle, donkey, elephant or Scotty dog perched on the top. Jeanette Glass Company made these popular jars from the 1930s through the '50s. These are most often seen in clear, pink and marigold (an iridescent orange color) glass. At one time, most every antique shop held one of these round animal-topped jars. Even these examples are a little harder to find nowadays, and generally cost between $20 and $40 dollars apiece.
Other figural jars featuring colonial ladies, full-bodied camels, and court jesters don't come on the market regularly now. Collectors tend to hold on to them once they're lucky enough to purchase one at a price they can afford. If you'd like to obtain your own, expect to pay $75-150 or more for a perfect example. Some harder to find jars can sell for several hundred dollars to a dedicated collector.
Jars with metal lids, like the one shown here, can vary in value. A clever Art Deco styled jar like this one might sell from $75-125. Others with less flair in the lid design, or more common themes, sell for more reasonable prices.
Powder Jars from the Big Names
If you have a favorite glassware company, such as Cambridge, Heisey, Fostoria, Imperial or New Martinsville, they all made jars collectors relish finding in superb condition. Most of them won't come cheap, however.
Heisey jars with various types of enameled and jeweled lids have been known to sell in the $75-100 range in online auctions. Fostoria also made a number of powder jars featuring perfume bottles with glass stoppers molded right onto the lid. These usually sell for $100 or more when you can find them.
New Martinsville made many powder jars with matching trays, and the clear versions of these sets can still be found reasonably priced. Most all the big names in glass during the 1930s and '40s produced matching vanity sets in bright hues, which are always priced higher than clear pieces in comparable styles.
Older Jars Are Collectible, Too
If you want a well-versed powder jar collection, seeking out older examples is a must. Those made of cut glass and other types of Victorian glass are all quite collectible. Antique powder jars are valued based on the material, styling, color, rarity, and desirability.
For instance, most all Wavecrest jars from the Victorian era sell for $150 or more. A heavy clear glass jar with a highly decorative sterling lid might bring $200-300, especially those marked Tiffany & Co. Most quality cut glass jars will sell for $100 or more.
Affordable Powder Jar Alternatives
If that's a little more than you're willing to shell out for a decorative item, look for the simpler styles still around here and there. Jars topped with celluloid lids remain affordably priced at less than $30 apiece. Some other Depression glass jars in green, pink, and even black, in common-yet-attractive styles can be located for very reasonable prices, too. All these jars mix right in with any bedroom or bathroom decor when the color and styling are just right.
Another affordable choice is milk glass. Most milk glass powder jars, even those dating back to the early 1900s, are reasonably priced in antique shops. Some have matching perfume bottles and other pieces as part of a larger dresser set as well. These can actually be quite charming when grouped together.
Carnival glass powder jars can also be found for $50 or less in the online auction market. The styles aren't generally as ornate as the many of the Victorian and Depression-era jars, but the colors can be appealing if carnival catches your eye.
Collecting Wisely: Watch Out for Damage and Reproductions
It's always wise to check glass for damage before you buy, whether you're paying top dollar at an antique show or scrounging a flea market field. With figural powder jars, be ultra cautious. All the detailed ears, noses, heads, and tails can get banged up fairly easily so be sure to run your finger along all edges to detect rough spots.
The jars that got some use on a vanity table, and many of them did, might be chipped on either the edge of the lid or the base rim as well. Even enameled metal lids can have chips. Be sure to check those areas carefully. Just like other collectible items, prices paid should reflect any damage present.
As for reproductions, don't get caught with your guard down. Most of the powder jars being reproduced mimic Depression-era styles that haven't been easy to come over the last 10-15 years. Learn the reproduction glass signals, which include glass with a greasy feel, sloppy pattern designs, and exaggerated mold lines.
Even though Depression glass was inexpensive when it was new and of lesser quality in comparison to other glass types, reproductions of these pieces can be recognized by the trained eye. Be sure you buy expensive jars from a dealer you trust if you're not adept at identifying reproduction glass yet and expect your expertise to develop with time and study.
Recommended Reference for Learning About Powder Jars
In Bedroom and Bathroom Glassware of the Depression Years by Kenn and Margaret Whitmyer, literally, hundreds of powder jar styles illustrate the first 30 or so pages. Unfortunately, this title is out of print but you can still locate it through used book retailers. If you're a serious collector of any type of bedroom and bathroom glassware, from powder jars to vanity perfumes and trays, hunting down a copy is recommended.