Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Collecting Antique & Vintage Nail Buffers

Have you ever wanted to collect something unusual but feminine at the same time? Well, then collecting antique and vintage nail buffers might be just the ticket. These have been popular since the Victorian era and are still sold today. You might see a a buffer being used in an old Hollywood movie by a beautiful actress or remember your mother or grandmother using one to complete her manicure.


If you are interested in older buffers, you might wish to collect the various Victorian sterling silver, solid gold, gold plated, brass, ebony, silverplate, ivory, tortoiseshell or the later celluloid and Bakelite ones from the 1920s and 1930s, lucite and acrylic buffers were seen in the 1930s-1960s and other plastics came about later on. The bottoms of the buffers were fitted with chamois which would buff the nail to a high shine. Many buffers had a small matching tray that would fit over the chamois to help keep it clean.

I find that the Victorian era sterling silver buffers are some of the most prized. They range from simple shapes with very little decoration to highly ornate repousse designs of cherubs, Art Nouveau ladies with flowing hair and elaborate floral patterns, sometimes you can find a buffer with all three of these design elements!

The three images below are taken from a 1907 catalog and depict sterling silver nail buffers with various designs.







Ivory, horn, and tortoiseshell were also very popular during the Victorian era right up into the Edwardian era and the 1920s. Ivory implements were carved whilst the horn and tortoiseshell pieces were heated and then molded to form the desired shape. Designs and monograms could be etched into the material and  then picked out in silver or gold, this is known as pique (pee - kay) work.

Also found are the rich, black ebony wooden buffers, these were often made in France and had small sterling silver medallions attached to the handle.

The celluloid buffers from the Edwardian period and into the 1920s often imitated ivory and tortoiseshell. The earlier pieces were plain, but the 1920s saw more variety such as etching like that done on the genuine ivory pieces we covered before, as well as little glass rhinestones and enameled decorations.

Bakelite, Catalin and lucite buffers made their appearances in the 1930s. Sometimes they are indistinguishable except that much of the lucite was marked, though buffers were not always marked, so if your piece came from a larger dresser set, check the bigger pieces for a marking. Bakelite and lucite often imitated colors like jade, amber and orange. Solid colors and Bakelite's Prystal may have also been commonly used.

There are many styles and materials out there for you to make a wonderful collection. These can be found inexpensively on ebay and flea markets, but don't forget to see if an elderly family member might have one tucked away in a vanity drawer somewhere. Good luck and have fun hunting!

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