From the ever-smiling, dainty image of the 1950s housewife featured on a box of washing powder from those days, to a stylish 1960s Biba eye-shadow box, packaging offers us a unique and fascinating insight into recent social history – presented in a most attractive form. After colour printing was developed in the 1840s, manufacturers increasingly used these new techniques to present their products in the most eyecatching way – just like the amazingly popular American feedsacks from the first half of the 20th century.
Comparatively small numbers of 19th century examples survive, but there are plenty of samples of 20th century packaging available. Prices can be as low as a few dollars and rarely more than $200-300. Vintage packaging gives us a taste of changing styles and prices. A sachet of Bird’s custard powder, decorated in the colours still used by the company cost 1 1/2d (around 2-3 cents), while hair cream – very popular in the early part of the 20th century has now mainly disappeared from shelves, to be replaced by mousse, gel and an array of other styling products.
If you choose to collect 19th century packaging, then look for a variety of colours and intricacy of designs. These items are harder to come by though, whilst the huge variety of 20th century packaging makes it easy to focus on a specific type – maybe kitchenalia – such as food packaging – to give your kitchen a really retro look.
To avoid a disjointed, untidy look consider the style of artwork that appeals to you – from the angularity of 1930s Art Deco to the bright colours of the 1950s and 60s – there’s something for everyone. Or you may choose to concentrate on a particular brand name, such as Coca-Cola or Kelloggs cornflakes – to show how the rooster has changed over time perhaps. Whatever you choose do be sure to avoid damaged items as their value will be considerably reduced. A smaller collection of pieces in good condition is better than a larger collection of damaged or inferior items. Bright attractive designs and well-known brand names count for more than just the age of an item.
Then why not set off your vintage collection with some beautiful bunting based on real vintage fabrics from the feedsacks of the early 20th century – then your shabby chic look really will be complete!