Thursday, September 06, 2012

Playing the Cosmetic-detective

Part of the fun in reading old recipes is that you get to play detective. When I researched yesterday’s post on pearls I found a recipe in Corson’s History of makeup that apart from pearls also contained pale coral and a mysterious substance called tin-ice. The author of the recipe was Nicholas Lémery, Louis XIV’s apothecary, so I was evidently reading a translation. Corson’s or someone else? After some rather extraordinary Google-luck I found out that Recueil de curiositez rares et nouvelles dans les plus admirables effets de la nature from 1681* was translated into English in 1685. And that the translation is online too; Modern Curiosities of Art and Nature. I don’t dare transcribe the French original as my French is very rusty, but you will find it on page 54, called Tres excellent blanc d'Espagne. In the English translation it is called;

A most Excellent Spanish White
Take the Seeds of Oriental Pearl, white or pale Coral, of each two ounces, beat them apart, then put them into a Matras and add as much Aq. Fort. As you shall think fit, Juice of Citron I better: then you must have another Matras, wherein you must put Tin-Ice 8 ounces; having first beaten it well, and pour therein the said water, till all be dissolv’d: then mingle the Pearl and Coral together, and that which you have dissolv’d to the Tin-Ice, pour upon the said Pearl and Coral, to cause them to precipitate, and then before you mingle them, you must add twice every day Fountain-water, till you perceive no taste of the Aqua fortis and then you shall use it with Peach-flowers, distilling each apart; take a little quantity of each and so compound them.

A rather complicated recipe- I think it means that you dissolve the pearl and coral together and then mix it with the equally dissolved tin-ice. After that you add water until the acid is weak enough for use and when you want to use it you mix it again with peach flower water. I may be wrong, though. So, what is tin-ice then? My first thought was that it might be white pigment made of tin. Tin-white do crop up occasionally, but then I asked my friends on FB what they thought. There were several excellent notions, but Madame Berg resourcefully found out that tin-glass is another name for bismuth in the 18th century.

‎"Bismuth, Tin-glass, is a Mettallick Matter, White, Smooth, Sulphureous like to Tin, but hard, sharp, brittle, disposed into Facets or shining Scales, as Pieces of Glass, whence its Name." /Glossographia Anglicana nova; or, A dictionary interpreting such hard words of whatever language, as are at present used in the English tongue: with their etymologies, definitions, etc, 1707

If you consider that Spanish white nearly always means bismuth, then it isn’t too hard a leap to conclude that tin-ice is a version of tin-glass, i.e. bismuth. What do you think of this conclusion? I have only had the Net for research here, so I’m well aware that there may be other source that can put a better light on the subject.

*Google books say the author is Antoine d’Emery, but everywhere else it seems to be Nicholas Lémery’s book.


  1. Say, have you got an auburn hair powder recipe? (I have an idea for a Halloween costume and need to temporarily become a red-head.)

    Otherwise I may have to just oil up my hair and dust brick dust or something over it.

    1. No, not really. I have one for brown with the help och wormeaten wood... Corson mentions that black powder made of black ivory, cloves, cinnamon amd ginger is teh basis for all darker hair powders, but don't mention what red pigment could be used. I used iron oxide in my pink powder and it was a complete nuisance every time it came in contact with water- I destroyed three white towels... I've got some Dyer's Madder from a friend which is a nice orangy red, but haven't tried it yet.

    2. But I have found something for you! :) :

  2. Madame Isis, come by my blog, I have a little surprise for you.