Artifact Spotlight: Mary Garden Powder Compact Lid

By Patricia Christmas

mary garden compact lid, obverse and reverse
Mary Garden Compact lid, obverse and reverse

The lid to a Mary Garden Powder Compact was recovered by CAS archaeologists in 2012, during construction monitoring near the River House on the Texas State University campus. The embossed design, now barely visible, features a profile bust of the Scottish-American opera soprano Mary Garden and the words “Mary Garden, Rigaud Paris, Parfumeur.” It was produced by the Scoville Manufacturing Company in 1916, and remained in use until 1926 (Hetherington 2012b). The compact was brass with a removable mirrored lid. The mirror on this artifact is broken and most of the silver has degraded, although some of the tin dichloride coating remains. Based upon the manufacturing dates, the compact lid was likely lost or discarded during a period when the site was a tourist park, a place where travelers visiting one of the two amusement parks in San Marcos – Aquarena Springs Amusement Park and Wonder World Park – would have been able to picnic during their stay.

Mary Garden (1874 – 1967) was born in Scotland, but immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up in Chicago. As a young woman, she traveled to France to begin a career in opera, and quickly rose to prominence. According to operatic legend, she made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1900 under director Albert Carré when the soprano singing the lead role in Louise broke down on stage. Garden stepped into the role and saved the production (Wagenknecht 1964, Garden & Biancolli 1952). Whether or not the story is true, it is certainly in keeping with her carefully groomed persona. Garden appears to have courted notoriety throughout her career. According to Wagenknecht, “the mere sight of a reporter seemed to stimulate her (1964: 161).” It should not be surprising, then, that when approached by the French cosmetics manufacturer Rigaud to be the face of their American product line, she accepted the offer. Mary Garden’s name and image were used in Rigaud advertising campaigns starting in 1910, one of the first to link the image of a celebrity to a cosmetics line (Hetherington 2012a).

One of Garden’s most famous roles was the title role from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Follow this link to a 1916 recording of Mary Garden singing the aria L’Amour est une vertu rare. For a more detailed description of the compact and the history surrounding Mary Garden and Rigaud, please visit Michael Hetherington’s delightful and informative blog, Collecting Vintage Compacts.

(Adapted from Chapter 5, Annual Report to Texas State University, Hays County, Texas, for Texas Antiquities Permit No. 6158, 2013.)



Armstrong, William.

1921   The Romantic World of Music. E. P. Dutton & Company: New York.

Garden, Mary, and Louis Biancolli.

1951   Mary Garden’s Story.  Simon and Schuster: New York.

Hetherington, Michael

2012a “Rigaud – Part 1 -Exotic Ingredients, The Opera Star and The Father of American

Compacts.” Accessed 5 July 2012.

2012b “Rigaud, Part 2 – Innovative Design but Conservative Decoration.”!/2012/04/rigaud-part-2-innovative-design-but.html. Accessed 5 July 2012.

Wagenknecht, Edward.

1964   Seven Daughters of the Theater. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman.


Patricia Christmas is the archivist, lab manager and volunteer coordinator for the Center for Archaeological Studies. She received her MA degree in Anthropology from Texas State University in 2011.