Thursday, February 07, 2013

Black, brown and grey hair powder

A Young Lady With Two Dogs by Giacomo Ceruti,
painted before 1767
I struck a bit of gold a few days ago. I was a bit under the weather over the weekends, running a temperature and had to stay in bed. So to kill tike I did some idle searching at Google books and found this, The British Perfumer by Charles Lillie. It was published in 1822, but I noticed that it contained several recipes for hair powder, which I found a bit odd, as that fashion was pretty much over and outdated in the 1820’s. Then I saw that Lillie had been practicing for over 30 years, which I thought explained it- he must have started his practice in the late 18th century. Or so I thought… When reading more carefully I realized that this was a lot more intriguing because Lillie’s time of practice was really the 1710’s-1740. He had written this book with the intention of publishing it, but somehow it never was, not until 1822. Now all the hair powders were explained!  I have never seen this book mentioned in the context of 18th century cosmetics, probably because it wasn’t printed then and it’s easy to mix if you don’t read the introduction carefully. The editor is very particular in saying that noting has been changed and any additional text is clearly placed in footnotes under the actual text.

This is truly a wonderful book, probably one of the best on 18th century cosmetics I have yet found. Lillie was a perfumer by trade and his book is aiming to explain and educate. Therefore he makes comprehensive explanation of ingredients and notes measurements in an admirable way. The recipes are also peppered with remarks with additional information. It’s interesting that a lot of passages in this book got lifted, verbatim, to other beauty books later in the 19th century, without proper citations. Especially the passages on rouge and pearl powder are something I have read before, but always attributed to the 19th century cosmetics. Now I have learned that they wear in used several decades earlier. Can you see why I feel exited?

Being, as I’m sure you have noticed, very interested in coloured hair powders, I was really happy to find recipes for black and dark brown powder! You may recall that I have been looking for such. Corson do list one for black powder, but that recipe is rater complicated. Not this one, as you shall see:

The recipes

Black Hair-powder.
Take about four pounds of fine starch powder, put it in an earthen pan, and, with a pint of the blackest japan ink, make it into a paste. Dry this in an oven, which is by no means very hot, until it becomes of the consistency of starch; then grind it in the mill, and sift it very fine. Mix the black powder with ink a second and third time, and dry and sift as before. Add to the last powder a pound of ivory black (see Chapter 3) in fine powder, then mix, and sift through a fine hair sieve.

There is a base sort of this hair-powder, which is made in imitation of the genuine kind; but, from its greater weight and other bad qualities, it has no resemblance to it whatever. It is made from small coal and sea coal, which are mixed together, and then powdered in a mortar.
Kitty Fisher by Joshua Reynolds, 1867

Take of umber, (for which see Chapter 3,) of various colours, and in the state of fine powder, about four pounds; mix it well with water, and let it stand, that it may all fall to the bottom of the glass jar. When settled, pour off the water, and then take off the top of the mass, only; for, by frequent stirring previously, all the dirt and sand will be separated, and fall to the bottom. These impurities, instead of being of any use, would be extremely hurtful in the composition in which the umber is to be used.

Dry the fine parts, as above directed for black hair-powder; and to this, which will weigh about two pounds and a half, add half a pound of the black hair-powder, and two pounds of the second remains from honey* water, (see Chapter 23,) in fine powder; mix all these together, and sift them twice over.
By putting more black hair-powder, or more umber, the brown colour will be deeper or lighter. If the perfumer wishes to lighten the colour much, he ought to add a little fine dry starch powder, before sifting. 

Take two pounds of the black hair-powder, two pounds of fine starch powder, and one pound of fine orris powder, (see Chapter 28.) Mix all these together, and add four ounces of fine calcined smalts, which have been washed, cleansed, and dried, in the same manner as the umber above mentioned. Now sift the whole twice over

By mixture of some, or all, of the abovementioned hair-powders, the perfumer will be able to prepare others of several shades and colours, to match the hair of different persons, as is sometimes required during general mournings, &c.
Breaking down the recipes
(Such ingredients as starch and orris that have been covered before I refer to the list of ingredients at the top of the page.
Ink A pigmented of dyed liquid (or paste) used as a medium to produce text or drawings. I don’t know enough of 18th century ink to be able to say what kind of pigments that were used then.

Ivory black A black pigment that used to be made by burning ivory. Today’s ivory black is not made of ivory, but is made from charred bones.

Umber A natural brown clay pigment that comes in several shades.

Second remains of Honey water This refers to the making of a perfume called honey water. It is distilled in stages and in the second stage nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon, cassia, pimento, storax, bensoe, labdanum and Vaniloes are added. These ingredients are saved after the perfume is distilled, dried and ground into a powder. I can imagine that it smells quite nice.

Calcined smalts Smalt is blue coloured glass. Lillie uses the word for blue pigment, which can be lighter or darker blue. Calcined ought to mean that it has been heated, but if that would make the colour darker or lighter I can’t say right now.

My thoughts
All this recipes seems entirely doable to me. Presumably one can make the brown powder without the scented Honey water remains, it ought to be possible to make a spice and scent mix that is similar. Of course, I do feel a need to make the perfume, but in that case I need something to distill it in…

Mrss Cadoux, 1770's
The purification of the pigments that takes up so much of the recipes is, thankfully, not necessary today.  I find it interesting that the grey powder has blue pigment in it and that they author notes that one can tinker with the pigments to match a natural hair powder. It’s entirely new to me that it doesn’t seem to be proper to use white powder when in mourning. Perhaps it was something done in the early 18th century and changed by time. The books also have recipes for black and brown hair pomade with the remark that even here that the proportions between pigments can be changed to match a real hair colour. This is chiefly used by widows or people in general mourning “when little, or no hair powder, is used”.

So, I need to make more hair powder, don’t you think?


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