Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cyprian powder

Lady at Toilette, Utrecht school, 17th century
Click on the link for a fun article on 17th century beauty.
Today I have a 17th century perfume recipe for you, taken from Polygraphice by William Salmon, published in 1685.

The recipe
To make Cyprian Powder.
Gather Musk moss of the Oak in December, January or Februarys wash it very clean in Rose-water, then dry it, steep it in Rose-water for two days, then dry it again, which do oftentimes: then bring it into fine Powder and fierce it: of which take one pound, Musk one ounce, Ambergrise half an ounce, Civet two drachms, yellow Sanders in powder two ounces, mix all well together in a marble mortar.

Another way to make the same.
Take of the aforesaid powder of Oak-moss one pound, Benjamin, Storax of each two ounces in fine Powder: Musk .Ambergrise and Civet of each three drachms, mix them well in a mortar.

 Breaking down the recipe
Oak moss Despite the name, this is really a lichen, Evernia prunastri, and has been used in perfumes since the Middle ages. The scent has been described as dry, woody, and smoky with a hint of tar. Used as fixatives in modern perfumes, or rather, a synthetic is, real oak moss is now forbidden, and is often used in men’s perfumes and in the perfume family that is called chypre.

Musk A common base notes in perfumery derived from glands from various animals. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Musk in large doses smells rather pungent, but diluted it is a warm, sweet and woody scent.

Ambergris A base notes in perfumery with a sweet, vanilla-ish scent with aquatic undertones. It comes from the intestines of sperm whales that habitually vomit out lumps of ambergris, which then age into scent maturity by the sea water. Though it is perfectly, even preferable, possible with ethically gathered ambergris, it is also very expensive and synthetics are almost always used today.

Civet Another animalistic base note, derived from the civet. It is similar to musk, but even more pungent concentrated and more sweet, smoky and sharp when diluted. Nowadays usually a synthetic.

Yellow sanders Wood from a tree, Zanthoxylum flavum. The scented and durable tree is on the brink of being endangered, unfortunately.

Other ingredients can be found at the ingredient list at the top of the page

My thoughts
I bought some oak moss last year and have wanted to try my hands at a Cyprian, or Cyprus powder for some time. It was a popular perfume in the 17th and 18th century as well as the 19th. In the 18th century it was popular to mix it into hair powder to scent it, but it can also be sewn into small sachets to be worn inside clothes or pockets. There are several recipes around and they are all rather alike. Unlike modern perfumes that consist of base, middle and top notes, this perfume is all base notes. Such notes are long-lasting and often quite heavy.  I’m going to make this recipe, as I have vegetal musk, civet and ambergris substitute that I want to try. It is a very easy recipe. Wash, dry, steep dry and pound. I have actually done the first steps. The oak moss is currently steeping and smells quite lovely of roses and rain wet forests.


  1. Dying to smell this.

    1. As soon as it has dried out completely. :)

  2. Interesting post.

  3. So how did it turn out? Is it similar to anything modern we might be familiar with today? Does it change on you over time, mixing with your own pheromones? Did it mentally take you back in time? Fascinating post.

    1. It did turn out quite well, I just haven't had time to write about it yet. :) I don't think it smell quite like anything else. Being dry and not worn on skin, the scent doesn't change as modern perfume do. And yes, it did feel a bit like stepping back in time. :)


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