What was used in the 1770's? soap cream? anything like it around today?

Discussion in 'Shaving Soaps' started by ziggy1706, Sep 19, 2013.

  1. Hi all! For quite some time, ive been looking into what the militias and men would have shaved with around revolutionary war times, 1770's. Its a time and ear i like reading into...
    Obviously, they used single edge blades. My resaerch, shows creams werent really popular till 1940's. before that, soaps were around. What would lets say george washington, or men in those times, shave with soap? some kinda cream?
    and...what products could or would be around today, that would be identical or near it in terms of ingredients and quality?
    Thought it would be a little fun thread and history as topic as well:)
  2. I wondered if they cracked open an aloe Vera plant for aftershave.
  3. If I'm not mistaken, shaving soap was around back then. Creams didn't come into existence until the 19th century if memory serves. Someone on the forum posted an article from the 1700's wherein the author recommended rubbing the puck of soap directly on the face and then lathering with a brush as opposed to loading the brush on the puck as a way to save soap and make it more convienient for travel.
  4. SiBurning

    SiBurning Steward Contributor

    Once Over Lightly, by Charles de Zemler, has an interesting quote on page 58, attributed to Peter Labat, a Dominican monk, who wrote in 1330 about an Italian Barber:

    "Without exception, he is clad in black. He wears a cloak and comes to the customer's house, assisted by a famulus (assistant), who carries two silver shaving bowls in a silk bag, a mirror, bottles and containers filled with rose essence, soap, and pomades."

    The next reference to (shaving?) soap is from a 17th Century schoolbook, the Orbus Pictus of Comenus written by a Moravian Monk. Zemler quotes "he washeth one over a bason, with suds running out of a laver, and also with sope."

    Other references seem to point to the 17th Century or even to 1840 when Williams began production. They usually mention rose water as the main after-shave scent. Keep in mind that the general cleanliness conditions were nothing like today, and varied from pretty dirty to abysmally unhealthy. Also, keep in mind that the Barber-Surgeons were only dissolved in 1745.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
  5. Vergulde Hand in Amsterdam started making soap in 1554. I don't believe they started producing dedicated shaving soap before the 2nd half of the 18th century though.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
  6. interesting replies! I guess i got this idea, form the movie the patriot with mel gibson. because thats the lifetstyle i would be happy as! farmer, living off the land, free of chemicals, ect like how things mainstream are today.
    What kind of soaps would be around today, that would mimic or be the same as soaps of that era, aka the patriot? webistes anyone knows of who sells them? nothing really turned up in search, but did look into organic shaving soaps, and old time soaps.... which is what ide imagine at least the organic ones, is what they would have used back then.
  7. SiBurning

    SiBurning Steward Contributor

    Just thinking aloud here, but...

    There's been few innovations is soap making in at least 2000 years. Lye and tallow or vegetable oils have always been used. (It may have started with ash, but lye has been used somewhere for at least 2000 years.) Shaving soap is just a particular blend of oils and fat that povides a good, tight lather and lubrication. The only major difference is triple milling, and only a few shaving soaps are triple milled today. Things might be more refined today, on average. Probably any small batch soap will be similar to what was used in 1770, but if shaving-specific soaps weren't being made back then, they used whatever soap was available.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
  8. The soap making is more controlled these days, resulting in less harsh soaps.
  9. The lye made from ash (often called potash) is chemically very similar to (although less pure than) potassium hydroxide, the lye used by most quality shaving soap manufacturers today.

    This book, A Treatise On Razors, from 1810, might be of interest to you, as it's only about 30-40 years after the period you're interested in, and before the industrial revolution kicked off in earnest. See Sect. IV in particular. It appears that they used shaving soap and soap powder, with a soft brush for the powder and a firmer brush for harder bars. The author recommends olive oil soap, which would come as a bit of a surprise to the shaving soap enthusiasts today, who tend to view olive oil soap as a lather killer. He also recommends orris root as a scent.

    I suppose the other thing to think about would be the class of the shaver. If you were wealthy, and could get around the import taxes, I'm guessing that castile and tallow soaps from France and Spain (and England) were probably available for import, while the less well off most probably used homemade / locally made tallow soaps using spare rendered fat (which was also used for candles) and lye made from ash.

    Making your own tallow soap wouldn't be too hard (assuming a) that you're not vegetarian/vegan, and b) that you don't have a significant other that objects to the pungent smell of rendering fat. You'd need the beef fat, some sort of scent to add, some hardwood/fruit tree limbs to burn for ash, to create the lye as per these instructions, and a little practice to render the tallow and create the right balance of lye water to fat. Other instructions here.

    For those of you that are vegan / vegetarian, you could do something similar, but with castor/peanut/olive/other oils instead of tallow, depending on your level of desired historic authenticity.

    OK, that's enough geeking out on soap, but I figure this crowd would probably appreciate it. :001_smile
  10. Ask Joel or Jim....I think they were scribing their B&B posts back then...
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2013
  11. I think most people kept doing what they were used to in their "Old World" countries back then? Soaps were expensive for the European poor as well, so many things were made at home.

    Or are you looking specifically at "New World" shaving? I think they just copied what was done in Europe at the time? Most immigrants would be 1st or 2nd generation anyway? And the long timers would probably mimic what the new immigrants took with them?

    Edit: does anyone know about native american shaving cultures?
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2013
  12. I agree about basic saponification. However there was probably some innovation in figuring out optimal soaps for shaving, and even using soap at all. The Romans shaved, but we are told that they mostly used olive oil or almond oil - not soap. European barbers were certainly using soaps by ca. 1750, when shave brushes first appeared in London. But I do not know what kind of soaps they were. They may not have been made expressly for shaving.

    By the 1830s Mechi was recommending Naples soap for shaving. His family was Italian, which may have had something to do with that.

    At http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/JBWilliams/MSS19670001.html we are told that ca. 1840 James Baker Williams "began experimenting with various soaps to determine which were best for shaving, and eventually developed Williams' Genuine Yankee Soap, the first manufactured soap for use in shaving mugs." This suggests that shaving soap still was not all that well understood.

    And I note my own disappointment in a Pears stick from ca. 1908-18. I suspect that Pears simply packaged up their ordinary household soap as a stick. More on that at http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showth...s-this-Pears-stick-made?p=5185589#post5185589 for anyone who is interested.

    When we discussed this source at http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php/253844-Puck-vs-Stick-Historical-perspective I mentioned that he might have had a hard time laying his hands on genuine olive oil.

    So the stuff he was buying as olive oil might have been adulterated with something that actually improved it for his purposes. Or possibly he cared much more about skin conditioning than he did about lather.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081226131106AAxChzv has a plausible answer or two.
  13. Thanks for that link!
  14. Speaking back to the OP's mention of The Patriot ... it looks like they were just as stumped as you as to how they shaved in that time. Lots of money and research goes into trying to make these Hollywood blockbusters time/era sensitive, yet still ...


    No lather at all! What a badass. Of course, he does seem to have two mugs/cups for some purpose. Perhaps he should have learned to lather better, to prevent this horrible post-shave irritation seen here:


    I guess Tavington didn't bother with alum or aftershave, either! Pretty sure the guy on the right in the background is thinking the same thing. "Technique, Tavington. Technique!"
  15. BigFoot

    BigFoot Moderator Contributor

    Great post Ziggy!! I have really enjoyed reading this.
  16. Mike H

    Mike H Moderator Emeritus

    I would imagine, the early colonist would have made their own soap.
  17. Ziggy, are you really wiling to adopt the total lifestyle??/ When the average lifespan was probably 45-50 years??
    Easy to pick and choose from a particular time in history, take the good and ignore the less attractive.
    Nonetheless, the thread is an interesting one and provided some interesting info.
    Thanks to the OP and the respondents!
  18. I highly doubt there were vegetarians back then.
  19. Read more history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_vegetarianism to start with.

    Speaking of Ben Franklin, he had that fine quote about shaving. Too bad he failed to endorse his preferred soap.

  20. Native Amercians for the most part don't grow facial hair, or body hair for that matter. For those that do, it's pretty sparse or light.


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