Winning the War with Eau de Cologne

By Jess Clark as part of the Perfumes Series

In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. As many historians compellingly argue, the Great War was a point of major military, political, and socio-cultural disruption. This extended to commercial relationships between Britain and Germany, as firms suddenly found themselves at odds with time-honored partners. In Britain, for example, German products—and nationals—were subject to boycotts or outright violence as British consumers conveyed their national loyalties via their shopping preferences.

Fig. 1: Bottle of Johann Maria Farina’s Eau de Cologne. Public domain image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
Fig. 1: Bottle of Johann Maria Farina’s Eau de Cologne. Public domain image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

The expression of patriotism through shopping extended to the purchase of eau de Cologne, one of Britain’s most popular commercial scents leading into the First World War. While its origins are contested, the scent is often attributed to Johann Maria Farina (1685-1766), a Cologne-based perfumer of Italian descent who (allegedly) first developed eau de Cologne in 1709.[i] The exact recipe remained a secret, but the perfume typically included a blend of bergamot, neroli, citrus, and other essential oils. For two hundred years, the Farina family firm dominated its production, with customers flocking from around Europe to purchase the authentic German good. This extended to Britain, where shoppers could purchase original Farina eau de Cologne from local firms like Floris [Fig. 2].

Fig. 2: Order from London perfumer Floris to Johann Maria Farina, Cologne, 1887. Image courtesy of Farina Archive and WikiMedia Commons.
Fig. 2: Order from London perfumer Floris to Johann Maria Farina, Cologne, 1887. Image courtesy of Farina Archive and WikiMedia Commons.

However, the scent came under scrutiny with the onset of war, given its associations with luxury, not to mention its “enemy” origins. Britain’s perfumery firms suddenly found themselves in the difficult position of offering a “luxury” to a market that was increasingly rejecting such items. The British industry endured, however, and for the most part did not suffer during the war, despite the halt in trade with Germany and its allies. In fact, reflecting on the trade’s performance in 1915, the Perfumery and Essential Oil Record estimated that, as long as the government’s “campaign against ‘luxuries’” did not go too far, the essential oil and perfumery business could continue to be “fair” in spite of global conflict.[ii] 

Fig. 3: Wartime advertisement for Gosnell’s Society Eau de Cologne. Courtesy of John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes.
Fig. 3: Wartime advertisement for Gosnell’s Society Eau de Cologne. Courtesy of John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes.

This success also depended on ongoing promotional efforts to maintain consumer interest in British-made perfumes, including eau de Cologne. Domestic perfumery firms manufactured “British” alternatives to the German scent, with national connections becoming a key selling point in wartime marketing. For example, London-based firm John Gosnell & Co. advertised their eau de Cologne and “Real Old English Lavender Water,” two “very delightful British perfumes,” as “refreshing and welcome gifts to the wounded and other invalids.”[iii] Boots Chemists proclaimed that British-made eau de Cologne “entirely supersed[ed] any German Eau-de-Cologne.” Meanwhile, famed firm Yardley proclaimed that their eau de Cologne was not, in fact, German but French, a seemingly acceptable alternative.[iv] In this way, perfumed purchases were yet another means to demonstrate alignment with a national wartime effort—by smelling of “pure” British smells that derived from “pure” British and allied sources.

Not only did British advertisements emphasize the domestic origins of their eau de Cologne, but they also suggested a broad range of uses that made the good a necessity rather than a luxury. Promotions for Luce’s “Original Jersey Eau-de-Cologne” suggested using it as “a mouth wash after using tooth powder,” a hair rinse, a carpet deodorizer, and a means of scenting the sick room.[v] Other firms extended eau de Cologne’s usefulness beyond the British home to the Front. Leicestershire-based Zenobia Ltd. argued that “[n]o other perfume” offered “an ever welcome ‘Comfort’ for wounded Soldiers & Sailors.” In the context of war, perfumes purportedly had value, serving all-purpose functions in “reviving, cooling, and refreshing.”[vi]

Throughout the trade disruptions and nationalist marketing campaigns, one thing seems to have remained constant: the recipe for individual firms’ eau de Cologne. While firms advertised their use of English or French ingredients, there was no mention of changing the formulation of the scent. This suggests that, despite the disruptions of war and attempts to signal British loyalties, consumers still smelled of the original recipes for eau de Cologne. In this way, longstanding olfactory trends prevailed, as British consumers sought out new ways to smell of time-honored scents.

 


[i] Catherine Maxwell, Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture (London: Oxford, 2017), 97.     

[ii] “Commercial and Legislative Features of 1915,” The Perfumery & Essential Oil Record Year Book and Diary 1916 (London: G. Street & Co., Ltd., 1916),v.

[iii] 20 December 1914, John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes, East Sussex. 

[iv] See “Gifts for the PeaceTide,” The Graphic 98, no. 2559 (14 December 1918): 38.

[v] “The Uses of Luce’s,” The Illustrated London News 149, no. 4051 (9 December 1916): 713.

[vi] Advertisement, The Illustrated London News 145, no. 3939 (17 October 1914): 560.               

Tales from the Archives: What Was Perfume in the Eighteenth Century?

In the UK, we are getting towards the end of the wonderful bluebell season. In some cooler parts of the country, forest floors are still covered with the delicately-scented flower. I love the earthy smell of bluebells as it blends with the other scents of the woods.

In celebration of the delicious smells that spring flowers bring, this month takes ‘perfume’ as its theme.

We start with a post from our archives. In this post originally published in 2014, Kirsten James reflects on the definition of perfume in the eighteenth century, highlighting the changes in the use of perfumes over that century.


By Kirsten James

Perfume as we know it is a sweet smelling liquid made from natural and synthetic aromatic ingredients. Yet, far from being a mere scent, perfume is also a fashion accessory, tool of self-definition, and convenient gift. Perfumes are now branded so successfully that names and bottles are often more recognizable than actual smells.

Simon Barbe, Le Parfumeur Royal, Paris, 1699. Image Credit: BIU Santé, http://www2.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/livanc/index.las?tout=barbe+simon&op=OU&tout2=&statut=charge

It is easy to imagine that perfume in the past was much the same. For instance, conventional histories of perfume remind us that in the eighteenth century, perfume was luxurious and worn by female courtiers, amongst others, to demonstrate their social status. This was undoubtedly the case. But a variety of evidence reveals that, during this period, perfume had multiple uses and meanings that are readily overlooked if we simply seek out the familiar present in the past.

One kind of evidence comes from perfumers’ business records. Stock inventories, account books, and sale receipts allow us to form a more nuanced impression of what perfumers sold, how much their products cost, and how they changed over time. In the late 1700s, the best-selling products available from perfumers in major European cities such as London and Paris included (as one might imagine) scented waters. However, they also included items that one would not associate with perfumers today: soap for the body, powders and pomades for the hair, alongside an assortment of tongue scrapers, tooth brushes, and toothpaste that reflected the new obsession with oral hygiene – the latter trend explored by Colin Jones in The Smile Revolution.

Advertisements, including trade-cards and broadsides, represent another set of evidence betraying the range of products sold by perfumers. In many cases, these advertisements contained a simple picture, the name and address of the shop, and a list of available products. One such broadside was displayed by Arthur Rothwell; it announced that he sold from “The Civet-Cat and Rose” on London’s New Bond Street not only perfumes and “quintessences” but also snuffs, wash-balls, hair combs and powders, skin products, and several medicines including “Daffy’s Elixir.”

Untitled2
Pierre Lalouette, A New Method of Curing Venereal Disease by Fumigation. London, 1777. Image Credit: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/newmethodofcurin00lalo

A third kind of evidence consists of medical treatises. These show that some circles considered perfumes effective medicines. As in previous centuries, perfume reputedly prevented and cured plague. But, in the 1700s, when outbreaks of bubonic plague ceased in Western Europe, perfume was set to work strengthening body and mind, preventing spasms, and curing lethargy. In the 1770s, for example, physician Pierre Lalouette invented a fumigation machine that used perfumes to treat venereal disease. Several ingredients burnt in his machine could be purchased from the perfumer’s boutique; these included frankincense, nutmeg, myrrh, and juniper. Others, such as mercury and sulphur, remained exclusive to druggists and apothecaries because they were considered dangerous.

A final kind of evidence is arguably even more useful for showing the different uses and meanings of perfume. Other contributions to this blog demonstrate how recipes can reveal much about the past. Printed and manuscript recipes for perfumes are no exception. Recipes in pharmacopoeias confirm that physicians believed in the medicinal properties of perfumes. Pharmacopoia Bateana (1706) claimed that the “Royal Essence” (consisting of musk, civet, balsam of Peru, clove oil, rhodium oil, tartar salt and cinnamon) could form an “odoriferous water” that prevented “fainting fits.”  Various manuscript collections (such as those in the Wellcome Collection) include recipes for masking stenches, purifying the air, preventing aging, and enhancing beauty.

Such books indicate how the use of perfume changed. In the early 1700s, the emphasis was still on scenting waters, gloves, linens, and homes. By the second half of the 1700s, however, the emphasis switched from perfuming things and places to perfuming the body. For instance, The Toilet of Flora (1784) recommended that “Hungary-Water” (made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy) be used “to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains” in order to cleanse and strengthen the body.

As these different sets of evidence suggest, perfume in the eighteenth century was multifarious, and the history of the word “perfume” is consistent with these multiple uses and meanings. The word derives from the Latin per fumum (“through smoke”), and throughout the seventeenth century perfume usually referred to substances that released odour when heated. However, by the mid-eighteenth century the “agreeable odour” of perfume was as likely to feature in dictionary definitions as its medical uses. By the early nineteenth century, some dictionaries referred to the purported medicinal uses of perfumes as an anachronism, while adding that perfumes were increasingly sought after for their refined and luxurious scents. It would not be until the nineteenth century, then, that the meaning and uses of perfume – though not its marketing – took on a character that looks decidedly familiar to us.

A Perfumed Recipe on the Early Modern Stage (Part 1)

By Colleen Kennedy

This is the first part of a two-part reading of the pomander recipe depicted in Thomas Tomkis’ allegorical Jacobean comedy, Lingua: or, the Combat of the Tongue and the Five Senses for Superiority (1607)[1]. Below, I consider how this perfume recipe has an immediate effect and affect on the audience. In my next installment, I consider the gendered implications of this same passage.

Theatre historian Sally Barnes argues that in our modern deodorized world and theatre, that there is a real dearth of attention paid to what she terms “‘olfactory effect’ in theatrical events—that is, the deliberate use of ‘aroma design’ to create meaning in performance” (68). Holly Dugan claims “a sixteenth-century stage devoid of smell is anachronistic.”[2] Within the playhouse, the intensity of and types of smells would vary from amphitheatre to hall playhouse. The larger structure and open roof of the Globe Theatre allowed for many smells to disperse and waft away, but within a smaller enclosed space odors would linger in the air.

Tiffany Stern reports on the smoky conditions of the Jacobean Blackfriars Theatre, a “delicate haze” but also a “confusion of smoke from candles and tobacco, and smells—again from tobacco, but seemingly also from the perfumes that Blackfriars plays so often demand” (45).[3] The new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, a reconstruction of the Blackfriars Theatre, with its “oak-framed construction” has already been denoted as sensuous space, “striking for its smell and warmth, its irregularities and warps, for its closeness to nature.”[4] Dominic Droomgale, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, relishes the “intimate and sensual” qualities in a recent interview on The Duchess of Malfi: “In our virtualised world of high technology, with no physicality or smell to it, it’s great to be in a tiny room with people that you can see and almost reach out and touch, telling you a rich and complex story.”[5]

With these concepts of the aromatic theatre, I turn now (to what I believe may be) the only recipe performed on the Renaissance stage and experienced by the audience members. In the course of the play Lingua, each of the personified five senses must appear in front of a jury (consisting of Common-Sense and some of the inner five wits) in his attempt to win the crown and robe of the supreme sense. When Olfactus, the Sense of Smell, presents his show he is accompanied by a group of seven boys all carrying sweetly scented items—two carry casting bottles, two more “with censors of incense,” and one boy each carrying flowers, herbs, and ointments.

Olfactus’ aptly named page Odor shares a recipe for creating a pomander:

 “Your only way to make a good pomander is this:

Take an ounce of the purest garden mold, cleansed and steeped seven days in change of motherless rose-water, then take the best labdanum, benioine, both storaxes, ambergrease, civet, and musk, incorporate them together, and work them into what form you please.”

Venetian woman with pomander

We can imagine that in the original performance space at Cambridge University, the room must have been redolent with sweet aromas and thick with the smoke of the censors. The sweet odors of incense and the recipe for the pomander in Tomkis’ play are especially fraught aromas of the Renaissance, with both religious and medicinal connotations.[6] Incense was considered a Catholic ritual of the old “smells and bells,” no longer practiced in the more austere Anglican Church.[7]  And the fragrant pomander, composed of spices and resins contained in a small rounded container, was one of the most ubiquitous of plague remedies. Held to the nose, the sweetly scented materials filtered out the miasma of the plague. That is, these aromas could save one’s body or soul.

Olfactus (like all the senses) must describe where he resides in the body and how he benefits the body (microcosm) and soul (psyche). The sense of smell, he argues, is the most important sense as it “refines wit and sharpens invention/ And strengthens memory.” The use of incense, he further exclaims, “makes man’s spirits more apt for things divine.”  Performed onstage, the incense and pomander recipe create exactly the sort of ambient environment that Olfactus promotes.

This innovative use of incense and a performed pomander recipe could immediately resonate with Tomkis’ audience. Tomkis innovates in other ways, composing in English rather than Latin for example,  allowing for a more immediate accessibility for non-University students to understand his works. And in another play Albumazar, a character uses a telescope to look across England, but he is truly commenting on the clothing trends of the audience, collapsing space and breaking the fourth wall.

The use of incense functions in a similar metatheatrical way when we know that the sense of smell was usually conceived as a mediating sense, unlike vision and hearing with the object perceived from afar or the senses of taste and touch that call for immediate proximity. Tomkis directs the incense to waft through the space uniting his allegorical characters and his audience as they smell the same sweet fragrances and are told that it will “refine wit,” an especially proper effect in a University setting.

Smelling incense on the stage can alter the audience’s engagement of the performance. Unsurprisingly, Olfactus is ultimately awarded the “chief priesthood of Microcosme, perpetually to offer incense in his Maiesties temple” (M3v).

Notes


[1] Thomas Tomkis, Lingua: or the Combat of the Tongue, and the Five Senses for Superiority. A Pleasant Comedy. (London: 1607. Old English Drama Students’ Facsimile Edition, 1913).

[2] Holly Dugan, “Scent of a Woman: Performing the Politics of Smell in Late Medieval and Early Modern England,” Journal of Early Modern Studies 38:2 (Spring 2008): 230.

[3] Tiffany Stern, “Taking Part: Actors and Audience on the Stage at Blackfriars.” Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, eds. Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2013), 35-53.

 

[4]Rowan Moore, “Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – review.” The Observer. 11 Jan. 2014.

[6] Holly Crawford Pickett, “The Idolatrous Nose: Incense on the Early Modern Stage” (in Jane Hwang Degenhardt and Elizabeth Williamson, eds. Religion and Drama in Early Modern England: The Performance of Religion on the Renaissance Stage. Surrey: Ashgate, 2011: 19-39). Holly Crawford Pickett studies the controversy over the use of the liturgical use of incense in the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and the use of staged incense in Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women as well as in Ben Jonson’s Sejanus.

[7] See Jonathan Gil Harris’s “The Smell of Macbeth” (Shakespeare Quarterly 58.4 (Winter 2007)), in which he makes the convincing argument that the stink of Macbeth’s squib’s (used to create thunder effects) reenacts a nostalgia for Catholic “Harrowing of Hell” style plays and the lack of “smells and bells” in the Anglican church. Harris claims that Shakespeare’s staged scents subvert the inodorous Anglican Church by recreating the scents associated with Catholicism and rebellion.

What Was Perfume in the Eighteenth Century?

By Kirsten James

Le Parfumeur Royal
Simon Barbe, Le Parfumeur Royal, Paris, 1699. Image Credit: BIU Santé, http://www2.biusante.
parisdescartes.fr/livanc/index.las?tout=barbe+simon&op=OU&tout2=&statut=charge

Perfume as we know it is a sweet smelling liquid made from natural and synthetic aromatic ingredients. Yet, far from being a mere scent, perfume is also a fashion accessory, tool of self-definition, and convenient gift. Perfumes are now branded so successfully that names and bottles are often more recognizable than actual smells.

It is easy to imagine that perfume in the past was much the same. For instance, conventional histories of perfume remind us that in the eighteenth century, perfume was luxurious and worn by female courtiers, amongst others, to demonstrate their social status. This was undoubtedly the case. But a variety of evidence reveals that, during this period, perfume had multiple uses and meanings that are readily overlooked if we simply seek out the familiar present in the past.

One kind of evidence comes from perfumers’ business records. Stock inventories, account books, and sale receipts allow us to form a more nuanced impression of what perfumers sold, how much their products cost, and how they changed over time. In the late 1700s, the best-selling products available from perfumers in major European cities such as London and Paris included (as one might imagine) scented waters. However, they also included items that one would not associate with perfumers today: soap for the body, powders and pomades for the hair, alongside an assortment of tongue scrapers, tooth brushes, and toothpaste that reflected the new obsession with oral hygiene – the latter trend explored by Colin Jones in The Smile Revolution.

Advertisements, including trade-cards and broadsides, represent another set of evidence betraying the range of products sold by perfumers. In many cases, these advertisements contained a simple picture, the name and address of the shop, and a list of available products. One such broadside was displayed by Arthur Rothwell; it announced that he sold from “The Civet-Cat and Rose” on London’s New Bond Street not only perfumes and “quintessences” but also snuffs, wash-balls, hair combs and powders, skin products, and several medicines including “Daffy’s Elixir.”

Untitled2
Pierre Lalouette, A New Method of Curing Venereal Disease by Fumigation. London, 1777. Image Credit: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/newmethodofcurin00lalo

A third kind of evidence consists of medical treatises. These show that some circles considered perfumes effective medicines. As in previous centuries, perfume reputedly prevented and cured plague. But, in the 1700s, when outbreaks of bubonic plague ceased in Western Europe, perfume was set to work strengthening body and mind, preventing spasms, and curing lethargy. In the 1770s, for example, physician Pierre Lalouette invented a fumigation machine that used perfumes to treat venereal disease. Several ingredients burnt in his machine could be purchased from the perfumer’s boutique; these included frankincense, nutmeg, myrrh, and juniper. Others, such as mercury and sulphur, remained exclusive to druggists and apothecaries because they were considered dangerous.

A final kind of evidence is arguably even more useful for showing the different uses and meanings of perfume. Other contributions to this blog demonstrate how recipes can reveal much about the past. Printed and manuscript recipes for perfumes are no exception. Recipes in pharmacopoeias confirm that physicians believed in the medicinal properties of perfumes. Pharmacopoia Bateana (1706) claimed that the “Royal Essence” (consisting of musk, civet, balsam of Peru, clove oil, rhodium oil, tartar salt and cinnamon) could form an “odoriferous water” that prevented “fainting fits.”  Various manuscript collections (such as those in the Wellcome Collection) include recipes for masking stenches, purifying the air, preventing aging, and enhancing beauty.

Such books indicate how the use of perfume changed. In the early 1700s, the emphasis was still on scenting waters, gloves, linens, and homes. By the second half of the 1700s, however, the emphasis switched from perfuming things and places to perfuming the body. For instance, The Toilet of Flora (1784) recommended that “Hungary-Water” (made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy) be used “to bathe the face and limbs, or any part affected with pains” in order to cleanse and strengthen the body.

As these different sets of evidence suggest, perfume in the eighteenth century was multifarious, and the history of the word “perfume” is consistent with these multiple uses and meanings. The word derives from the Latin per fumum (“through smoke”), and throughout the seventeenth century perfume usually referred to substances that released odour when heated. However, by the mid-eighteenth century the “agreeable odour” of perfume was as likely to feature in dictionary definitions as its medical uses. By the early nineteenth century, some dictionaries referred to the purported medicinal uses of perfumes as an anachronism, while adding that perfumes were increasingly sought after for their refined and luxurious scents. It would not be until the nineteenth century, then, that the meaning and uses of perfume – though not its marketing – took on a character that looks decidedly familiar to us.


Kirsten James is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation is provisionally titled ‘The Science of Scent and Business of Perfume in Paris and London in the Eighteenth Century.”