I am still reading The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, written in 1875 by Florence Hartley. The last chapter features recipes or “receipts” for home-made lotions and potions. As a newly redundant lady (work-wise; in all other areas of my life I am still singularly relevant), I really do have to think about ways of making money. Perhaps a range of quaintly Victorian cosmetics in glass jars with curlicued labels will be the answer. Retrenchee’s Olde Worlde Unguents For the Complexion. I’ll start the range with the cold cream.
Cold Cream is a useful application to hard and dry parts of the skin, to abrasions and cracks. When spread thinly on a rag, it is an excellent application to blistered surfaces or burns, or may be used to protect exposed parts from the influence of the sun.
Take 2 ½ ounces of sweet oil of almonds, 3 drachms of white wax, and the same of spermaceti, 2 ½ ounces of rose water, 1 drachm of oil of bergamot, and 15 drops each of oil of lavender and otto of roses.
Melt the wax and spermaceti in the oil of almonds, by placing them in a jar, which should be plunged into boiling water. Heat a mortar (which should, if possible, be marble) by pouring boiling water into it, and letting it remain there until the mortar is uniformly heated; the water is to be thrown away and the mortar dried well. Pour the melted wax and spermaceti into the warm mortar, and add the rose water gradually, while the mixture is constantly stirred or whisked with an egg-whisp, until the whole is cold, and, when nearly finished, add the oils and otto of roses.
It sounds wonderful (especially the egg-whisp) but we might need a little translation here: The English apothecaries system of weights is divided into pounds (1 pound), ounces (12 ounces), drachms (96 drachms), scruples (288 scruples) and grains (5760 grains). Their metric equivalents are:
1 pound = 373 grams
1 ounce = 31.1 grams
1 drachm = 3.89 grams
1 scruple = 1.296 grams
1 grain = 64.8 milligrams
A drachm is also referred to as a dram. So when next you ask for a “wee dram” of Scotch, the bartender, if well-schooled in the apothecaries’ system, would give you slightly more than half a teaspoon.
Also, I’d like to point out that at 1.296g, if you lose your scruples late one Saturday night, you really haven’t lost very much at all.
Rose otto is rose attar or rose oil.
Spermaceti is also obviously off the menu. Jojoba oil can be substituted. Spermaceti is a wax found in the head cavity of sperm whales. It was originally thought to be whale sperm and hence its name. Hundreds of thousands of sperm whales were killed in the 19th century to supply the demand for whale oil, spermaceti and ambergris. There are still reports today of spermaceti being used in cosmetics.
“Over 20 cosmetic or personal care products manufactured in China, Iran, the Russian Federation, Romania and the Dominican Republic that claim to contain spermaceti. Several are available in the USA and European Union although their import would violate CITES.” ~ from www.pureandgreenorganics.com.au
I can imagine nothing worse than using spermaceti on my face, but I thought that perhaps sperm whales had been so maligned by Herman Melville in Moby Dick (published in 1851), that the Victorian woman would feel less than a scruple about doing so. For Ahab, Moby Dick was a very bad whale. When he finally harpoons him, he shouts “… to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” A very bad whale indeed!
Interestingly, Melville’s Moby Dick was not well-received by the critics of the day. His first publisher printed it without the epilogue and made a confusing situation even more so. It was only after World War 1 that Moby Dick enjoyed the acclaim Melville had so hoped for, in what he thought his magnum opus.
(I am quite incapable of talking about Moby Dick without wanting to shout out “CALL ME ISHMAEL” like I was at a pub quiz.)
As ever, I have become distracted…So Retrenchee’s Olde Worlde Unguents For the Complexion. What do you think?