One of the things we really enjoy doing during our research is to look at the advertisements in the newspapers of the day to see what sort of items were for sale. Don’t you just wonder what it would have been like to go back in time and visit some of the shops? Perhaps a visit to the perfumier would be worth a visit, especially to get away from the pungent odours of eighteenth-century London.
From the late eighteenth-century onward, people would have carried a vinaigrette containing a sponge soaked in perfume or vinegar, to mask the unpleasant odours from the streets, such as this lovely one depicting Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron.
Perfumiers weren’t quite what we view them as today. Yes, they sold perfume, but they also catered for other essentials required by both men and women.
In this post, we take a look at some of the ‘essentials’ that every self-respecting man or woman would have owned. In the late 1770s, Mr Lewis Hendrie owned a shop in the Haymarket area of London and these are some of the items he sold and it’s always great to see some prices bearing in mind that one shilling would have been the equivalent of about £5 in today’s money.
These would have been priced at around one shilling each, usually white or brown almond and were used to whiten the skin and to prevent chapping. White almond was slightly more expensive than brown almond.
These came in a variety of fragrances, such as jasmine, orange, rose, violet or simply ‘common hair powder’. Also, tooth powder, powder bags, powder masks and puffs.
A powder for the face which answers all the intents of white paint, without having any of its pernicious effects. 8 shillings per pound (and sold in smaller quantities).
And combs for hair, for shaving, toothbrushes and tongue scrapers. Body brushes and oil silk bathing caps.
Soaps & Waters
These again came in several varieties such as Castille, Windsor, Naples. Improved soap for shaving with a brush. Double distilled lavender, Hungary, honey and other floral scents.
Almond, Rhodium, Jasmine, Rosemary and shaving oil.
We weren’t quite sure how shaving oil was used and found a reference to it some ten years prior to Mr Hendrie’s advertisement which described it as ‘the best thing ever invented for the purpose of having or washing fine lace and greatly useful where there is a scarcity of water. Price 6 pence or 1 shilling for a larger bottle’. Not a cheap product then!
Orange, lemon, bergamot and bouquet.
Miscellaneous items such as
Genuine Bear’s Grease:
the only certain remedy to make hair grow thick and to prevent it falling out – one shilling and six pence an ounce.
Tragically, yes it was made from the rendered down fat of young bears.
A composition to take off superfluous hair from the forehead and eyebrows. Takes off hair instantly, 6 pence a stick. For a while, in the eighteenth-century, it was fashionable to remove forehead hair, although we’re not quite sure as to why you would want to do that.
Best French rouge, two shillings and sixpence per pot, which is about the same amount as a skilled tradesperson would earn for one day’s work.
A pomatum that destroys nits in the hair, warranted without the least injury to the person. One shilling per pot.
A liquid, that without injury will dye grey or red hair to a glossy black or brown. This came with a money back guarantee, if it didn’t work!.
Pen knives, scissors, powder knives, tweezers, toothpicks, patches and patch boxes and snuff boxes.
Crimping, curling, nipping, pinching, toupee irons, hair rollers and hair ribbons, but no products such as heat protector or hairspray existed! In 1783, a Mr F Day advertised a new type of styling comb to replace the ‘frizzing comb and curling iron’ which he claimed produced a better result than either of the existing products. He was selling these newfangled combs at three shillings each.
There was no such thing as a nail bar in the Georgian era, but if you wanted your finger or toenails to look good, you could visit a chiropodist. As well as treating corns and warts, they also offered products described as ‘ivory-nail models’. They were described as being as ‘portable as a tooth-pick case, which forms the nails on the hand into an agreeable shape’. They were priced at ten shillings and sixpence and came with directions for use. Were these the first false nails? If these weren’t for you then you could buy fine steel nail-nippers at five shilling per pair.
They were nothing if not entrepreneurial, for example, in 1794 we have Mr Nosworthy of Queen Street, Norwich, a perfumier, who expanded his business to include everything you needed for sewing, toys for children, crockery and cutlery, stationery, fashion accessories such as purses, fans, parasols, umbrellas and perfumed gloves.
Perfumed gloves date back at least a century and there were very two distinct types:
The streets would have had a pretty unpleasant odour and a lady would always wear gloves, so scenting the glove with an almond based perfume, was a way of creating a product that would give the lady something pleasant to smell.
These glove were often known as known as ‘Frangipani gloves’. The first reference we came across for such gloves was in an encyclopedia of 1734. It is reputed that the scent was developed by a Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves, purses and bags back in the 16th century. However, it is more likely that this was actually a synthetic product based upon the plant discovered somewhat earlier by Charles Plumier, a French botanist.
The other type of perfumed gloves had an altogether more sinister use and were coated in arsenic and would have made had a more sinister use,but we’ll leave the rest of that to your imagination.
Adult only items!
Although we haven’t spotted any adverts for them, condoms would have been readily available for sale from the likes of Mrs Phillips and Perkins, on Half Moon Street in London or from Miss Jenny who sold second-hand, washed ones. The other retailers would have been apothecaries or barbers. They were made from lamb’s caecum and often tied with a ribbon.
The same went for sex toys, relatively recent discoveries have shown that there was a demand for dildos too, these were often purchased by upper-class women and made of wax, horn or leather, wood or ivory.
If only we could have gone back in time to visit their shops. They almost sound like modern-day department stores, where you could spend hours buying everything you didn’t realise that you needed. Oh, and of course perfume!
Part of the reason we started looking at shops, apart from our own curiosity, was that we were lucky enough to have discovered the inventory for Dido Elizabeth Belle’s husband, John Davinière and whilst it’s still in the process of being translated into English with the help of Etienne Daly, we can share with you some of the items listed within the jewellery section of it. Sadly, it is simply a list of items that he owned at the time of his death with very little by way of description, but the fact that they were silver implies that they would have been quite expensive.
There were 3 rings, two kept together and one on its own which we suspect was more than like Dido’s wedding ring. A carriage clock, a silver enamelled toothpick; a silver necessaire, scissors, a type of silver braid, perhaps John received an honour of some sort, but there are no further clues as yet to indicate what it related to.
Whilst it isn’t clear as to whether the silver necessaire was a man or woman’s it would have been a small container which held small items perhaps for sewing such as small scissors, a thimble, possibly a vial of perfume. For a man, it would perhaps contain scissors, a small knife and an earpick.
Public Ledger or The Daily Register of Commerce and Intelligence, October 13, 1761
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14 November 1793
Bury and Norwich Post, 06 August 1794
Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, November 15, 1783
Chambers, Ephraim. Cyclopædia: or, an universal dictionary of arts and sciences. … By E. Chambers, F.R.S. With the supplement, and modern improvements
1734. The dictionary historical and critical of Mr Peter Bayle