Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Possible self-portrait of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1787

This blog now has a FAQ. This post have a permanent position above.

If you have any questions not covered in this FAQ, please don’t hesitate to contact me at isis.33 at

Do you sell any products? No, I don’t. I have thought about it, but Swedish regulations make it much too expensive and difficult to do that on a hobby basis.

Where can I buy cosmetics made after historical recipes then? Try these shops:

Ageless Artifice They don’t have a web shop anymore, but they still sell products. You can read my review of several of their 18th century products here.

Little Bits on Etsy. I don’t have any personal experience of their products, but you can read American Duchess’ review here.

Sally Pointer I have only tried her white lead substitute, but she has done a lot of research into historical cosmetics and knows a lot about it.

Where do you shop for ingredients? You can find a list here.

Where do you find the recipes you use? By playing detective a bit. Searching Google books has proved a bit of a gold mine. Even if the books may not be available online, you at least get titles and authors. When reading books about cosmetics I take note of sources and check them out.

You seem to know a lot about historical makeup. Why don’t you write a book about it? Maybe… I have been thinking about it quite a lot, actually. If I do, though, I don’t think I would be able to pull it off writing it in English, but in my native Swedish.

You use [ingredient X] in a recipe and I’m allergic to that. Why do you use that if people are allergic to it? You can have allergies just about everything, so to provide recipes that no one is allergic to, is impossible. I try to be clear if allergic reactions are common, but I strongly urge anyone who wants to try any of the recipes found here, to do more research about the ingredients needed and to do a patch test.

How historically correct are you? As close as I can. I never use ingredients that are harmful for you and I try to steer clear from anything that are endangered, so recipes including such things are by necessity less correct. I try to find substitutes which are as close as possible to the original ingredient. I also make the recipes with modern equipment.

You wrote [statement y] which isn’t correct. Can I trust that what you write is true? My aim is to be as correct as possible. However, this blog is a research tool for me, not the end product. In other words, my research is ongoing and I constantly go back and revise. I may get things wrong or misunderstand things. If you think something I say is wrong, please ask. Or do a bit of research on your own- research is a great ways to exercise the brain cells.

You mostly write about the 18th century even if the blog title says it’s about historical makeup. Are you going to write about other time periods as well? My main interest lies mainly with the 17th and the 18th century, but I don’t want to restrict myself to that narrow period as I may very well want to write about cosmetics in a broader sense. As I have in a few posts already. I will probably not write much about the 19th century for the reason that there already is a blog that does that very well:

The Gibson Girl's Guide to Glamor

Sally Pointer also has a few articles on cosmetics.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Honey water

Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife, or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion,
After my post on hair powder I really had to look up the Honey water mentioned in the brown powder recipe. Curiously enough this perfume, despite the name, doesn’t contain any honey. It is also a long recipe; though I will try to break it down to make it easier to overview. 

The recipe

Take twenty-eight pounds of coriander seeds, ground small in the starch-mill; twenty-eight common bunches of sweet marjoram, in flower, dried and stripped from the twigs, one pound of calamus aromaticus, one pound of yellow saunders, and one pound of orange and lemon peel. Let the three last mentioned substances be separately beaten into gross powder.

Mix the above ingredients, and put them into a sixty-gallon copper-still, and add to them twenty gallons of proof spirits, and the same quantity of rain or spring water.Lute well all the junctures of the apparatus, and leave the ingredients in this state, without fire, for forty-eight hours. At the end of this time, begin to distil by a very gentle heat, lest the flowers and seeds, which are very light, should rise suddenly in the still-head, stop up the worm, and endanger the whole work.

Increase the fire after the first half hour, and keep it regular, thereafter, till the termination of the process.

Draw off about twenty-six or twentyseven gallons, or continue so long as the spirit will burn, by the application of a lighted paper to a small quantity of it in a saucer.

Next day, when the still is perfectly cold, let it be well cleaned out, saving the remaining ingredients for further uses, as will be after directed.

Now return the spirits drawn off yesterday into the still, and add thereto ten or twelve gallons of water. Then put in the following nine ingredients, bruised andmixed as directed. These are to remain in the liquor, in a cold state, for forty-eight hours; attention being still paid to luting and stopping close, as before.

At the end of this time, kindle the fire, and work off (slowly at first) as before, until twenty-six gallons are distilled. Mix all the different runnings together in a copper vessel, kept for this purpose only; and, as for what may come over after the twentysix gallons, it must be kept, and added to the ingredients used for the making of the next quantity of Hungary water.

The nine ingredients alluded to above, are as follows :—

Fourteen ounces of nutmegs, Four ounces of cloves, Twelve ounces of cinnamon bark, Eight ounces of pimento, and Forty ounces of cassia lignum. These are to be separately broken or bruised in an iron mortar, until they are about the size of small peas. If there be any dust, it must be sifted from them before they are used.

When the above are broken, take Forty ounces of storax, Forty ounces of gum benjamin, Forty ounces of labdanum, and Forty venellios, by tale. Break and bruise the above also, but make as little dust as possible. Put the dust from these and the foregoing, together, into a coarse muslin bag, which is to be hung in the still, so that the liquor, during distillation, may extract all its virtues.

Having drawn off, in this second distillation, just twenty-six gallons, add to it, in a copper vessel, that will hold forty gallons, six gallons of orange flower-water, and eight gallons of rose-water, which has been recently made.

Now mix together ten ounces of spirit of musk, ten ounces of spirit of ambergris, half an ounce of true oil of lavender, half an ounce of good essence of bergamot, and half an ounce of oil of rhodium.

When properly mixed, put all these into the copper vessel, and stir the whole well together. It would be better, however, if

these strong perfumes were put in before the orange-flower and rose waters.

Add to all these a quart of milk, which has stood for a night, and which has had all the cream taken clearly off:, then agitate and mix the whole well together, and stop the vessel up close, until the time when it is to be used.


The jar ought to have a lock-cock soldered into it, to prevent accidents. This should be placed fully two inches from the bottom, in order that the milk, and other impurities, may fall to the bottom, and not flow through into the vessels in which it is drawn off for use.

If this honey-water be made in the spring, about March or April, and if the weather be fair, it will be quite fined down in the course of a month; that is, if it be not opened or disturbed. When the perfumer finds, by drawing off a little in a glass, that the milk, &c. have fallen down to the bottom, he may draw the whole off into clean andwell-seasoned stone, or glass, bottles; or much rather into another copper jar.

This composition ought never to be drawn off in rainy or cloudy weather; for then the milk is apt to rise. In warm weather it should be kept cool; and, in winter, as warm as possible. When distilled in the winter, the jars ought to be warmed, otherwise the honey-water will not be fined for five or six months.

If the honey-water be twenty years old, so much the better.

The ingredients from the first distillation should be immediately dried in the sun, otherwise they will become mouldy. When there is a considerable quantity from three or four makings, it ought to be ground in a mill, and finely sifted. They will be found to be of great use in the making of ordinary brown wash-balls,- and, with some additions, of brown powders for the hair.

The ingredients from the second distillation are of much greater value than the above, and therefore require more care in the drying. These are of great use for the best sort of gross powders, for sweet bags, &c.; and, if made into a fine powder, may be made use of, with great success, in the best sort of brown perfumed balls.

The same powder, with fresh ingredients, makes excellent pastils, to burn; and may be further used in making spirit of benjamin. For all these uses, it is necessary to attend to the receipts which will hereafter be given./ The British Perfumer 

Breaking down the recipe
Ingredients that have been described in earlier posts can be found in the ingredients list on the top of the page.

First stage
Coriander seeds An herb, with a citrusy flavor. Very common in Indian cuisine.
Marjoram An herb with a citrus and pine flavor.
Calamus Aromaticus
Yellow sandalwood Aromatic tree. A common ingredient in scents
Orange and Lemon peels The dried peels of the fruits.

There ingredients are steeped in alcohol and water before being distilled. The remains of the spices are saved and dried and the liquid is returned to the still.

Second stage
Add more water and add:

Nutmeg Spice. Dried seeds. Used in cooking, but can be poisonous in large quantities.
Pimento A little tricky, perhaps- Pimento can mean a red pepper but it can also mean Allspice, and that is what it means here. That spice is the dried fruits of the of the Pimenta dioica plant
Cassia Sometimes called Bastard cinnamon. Has less taste and rougher texture than true cinnamon and is therefore cheaper.
Gum Benjamin or Benzoin resin
Venellios Tonka bean, a fragrant seed of the Tonka bean tree; used in perfumes and medicines and as a substitute for vanilla. EDIT: After further research, Venellios is NOT Tonka bean, but an inferior quality of Vanilla. Tonka would probably work well as a substitute, though.

Let it steep again and then distill. Once again the remains are saved and dried, but keep them separate from the first remains.

Third stage

Spirit of Musk Animalistic scent originally derived from the glands from various animals, like musk deer. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Probably the most common base note in perfumes. Spirit of musk is an alcohol extract.
Spirit of Ambergris Ambergris is a waxy substance that comes from the digestive tracks of Sperm whales. Prepared it smells wonderful and has been used as fixative and base note in perfume for a long time. It can be ethically harvested, but the price is very high so usually synthetic substitutes are used. Spirit of ambergris is an alcohol extract.
Lavender oil
Bergamot essence Comes from Bergamot orange, which looks like a yellow orange. Used in scents and to flavor Earl Grey tea.
Rhodium oil, or Rosewood oil
Orange flower water A distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms
Rose water

Stir and leave it to settle

Fourth stage
When the milk, along with any impurities has settled at the bottom, decant the perfume into suitable bottles.
The dried remains can be used to perfume scent bags and powder.

My thoughts
There are a lot of ingredients in the recipe and with steeping and distilling it takes several days to come to the end of the third stage. The recipe suggests that the fourth stage will take months. The recipe also has huge quantities, which isn’t surprising as Charles Lillie was a perfumer by trade. I would really like to try this one, on a much smaller scale, of course. Most of the perfume recipes I have read demand real ambergris and musk, which would mean trying to convert it, as essence if what I can get my hand on. This recipe, as you can see, doesn’t need any such thing.

The problem that needs to be solved is the distillation process. Steam distillation in short, short is boiling water, making the steam go through the scent matter, leading the condensed liquid into another container and cool it. Hey presto, scent! I don’t really have the room to by any fancy apparatus, but I have found some simpler arrangements, like this one. For a smaller amount, it does seem to be doable.
I wonder if the perfume turns out spicy or flowery. The first batch of ingredients all have a citrusy scent, which ought to mean that the top notes will have a lemon quality. Then it would have spicy/resinous middle tones and muck and ambergris as base. Sounds quite a lot like a perfume I would enjoy!
Alchemy satire, 18th-century artwork

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?