Friday, 11 October 2013

Anyone else want to bring back Jane Austen's soap?

As you will have learned from yesterday's post, cosmetics in the 18th Century were disastrously harsh. One can only imagine how harsh the processes used for removing such cosmetics - probably involving carbolic soap and terpentine.. England was in great need of some gentle love for the kin of its citizens. In response to this need, the son of a Cornish farmer developed a glycerin soap that was easy on the skin and contained only natural ingredients. In 1789, he opened a barber shop off Oxford street, including a production facility for his soap products.His name was Andrew Pears.
The first interesting thing I must tell you is that his name is not pronounced like the fruit. In the old days, spelling was much more varied, and there became numerous ways of spelling family names in particular. The historic and well-known brand, should actually be pronounced "Pierce." The same name is sometimes spelled "Piers" and one can assume "Pearce" to be another variant.
Pears soap is the oldest continuous brand name in the world. Corporate ownership has changed, but the brand itself has been around for over 220 years.
By the time Jane Austen was writing her novels, Pears Soap was quite popular, at least in London. Although I have no evidence whatsoever that Jane Austen ever used Pears, it is not an unreasonable supposition. She certainly could have. And if she didn't, doubtless her characters did - Fanny Dashwood, for example, perhaps Sir Walter Elliot. Up until 2009, when you smelled a bar of Pears soap, you shared an experience with Georgian English society. Is that not incredible? I think it is.
In 2009, however, the company changed the formula for the soap to make it cheaper to produce. It was a tricky product to make. It often turned opaque in the drying process (though that was remedied in the 1970s with the addition of BHT). It had to be made in small batches and it took months to dry (it was the drying and not any special moulding that created the concave shape associated with Pears). It is now softer and doesn't last as long. It no longer smells the same and it no longer has the hypo-allergenic quality which was the cause of its invention. They changed the fragrance after people rebelled, but they haven't changed the formula back.
I say fine. Have your cheap glycerine soap for the masses. But couldn't they do a specialty soap that they charge more for? They could make it with the original method, with original packaging, and they could charge way more for it. They could sell it at health food shops, and at all the National Trust sites, and other historic places, as well as on line and wherever else they wanted. It seems like a crime against humanity to be able to destroy something that has existed for two centuries, regardless of private ownership. You can't tear down a 200 year old building, freehold interest or otherwise.
I have even thought about licensing the brand name, and starting my own soap factory and barber shop, in Oxford Street, offering tours of the drying ovens and straight-blade shaves. But when am I going to have time to do that, really? Is there anyone who will take on this cause? I will buy your soap.

(Follies Past: A Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, is a novel by Melanie Kerr. Expected publication date is October 31, 2013. Until then, I will be posting things I learned in the course of my research and of my life so far as a geek. Sharing always welcome and encouraged. Follow me on twitter @FolliesPast and on facebook.)

No comments:

Post a Comment