15/04/2021

THE HISTORY OF PEARS PURE SOAP...



In Michel Faber’s novel The Crimson Petal and the White, the subject of some previous posts – the male character of William Rackham has inherited a soap ‘empire’ The product he sells is famed for its lavender perfume, and also because it has his face printed on the packaging.

What an ingenuous decision it was for Faber to select the industry of soap on which to base his industrialist’s wealth, because his novel tells a story reeking of filth and degradation: the selling not just of soap, but also of women's bodies.


  

A contemporary Victorian model for a business such as Rackham's could very well have been that of Pears. 

The company which won a medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851 was named after Andrew Pears. He originally hailed from Cornwall before travelling to London to set up in trade as a barber. But in 1789 he also began to manufacture cosmetics based on glycerine and natural oils. He used ingredients purer and kinder than many others sold to enhance what was then the fashionable look of an ‘alabaster’ complexion - but which also contained harsh ingredients such as arsenic or lead.




As the years went by, Pear's cosmetics business prospered and was eventually handed down to Andrew's grandson, Francis. Francis built a factory in Isleworth, on the outskirts of London. His son-in-law, Thomas J Barratt then helped to promote the family brand even more when he headed up the firm. 

Barratt is sometimes spoken of as the father of modern advertising after he took to buying the rights to artworks which were then reproduced as posters. If you look for Pears Soap in Google images you will find a huge selection of prints. Why, even Mr Millais, one of the VV’s favourites, provided his painting of ‘Bubbles’ which is still well-known today.


Bubbles by Millais




Another publicity tool was to use the soap as an emblem of cleanliness abroad in the expanding British Empire. Images such as the one below would be rightly be construed as being racist today, though it is actually quite mild compared with some of the posters used. 




Another rather ingenious method of marketing the product was to buy up unwanted coins from France and then re-press the metal with the words of ‘Pears Soap’. Many of theses coins were often passed off as common currency. 





Celebrity endorsement was also brought into play when Lily Langtry, famed for her ivory skin, also advertised the brand. For this she was handsomely paid - a fact noted by Punch magazine in various cartoons. 




Between 1891 and 1925 Pears printed Christmas Annuals in which many pages were filled with the company's advertisements. 

In the early twentieth century the 'Miss Pears' competition was born, with families entering their little girls in the hope that they might then become the next pretty 'face’ of Pears. 

Pears soap is still available to buy. The almost transparent amber bars are unique and widely loved; so much so that when Unilever, the company that now owns the brand, attempted to alter the perfume there was an enormous public outcry for it to return to the original. How proud Andrew Pears would be to know that his original recipe still endures to this very day.




26 comments:

  1. In the early 20th century Pears became part of Lever Bros. and manufacture moved to Port Sunlight in Cheshire.

    At the centre of the Port Sunlight village is the Lady Lever Art Gallery, built by Lord Lever in the 1920s. Now open to the public and worth visiting for its impressive collection of Pre Raphaelite paintings. A second way in which Pears has enhanced all our lives.

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  2. Thank you so much why-Lydia - wonderful information, and definitely worth a visit.

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  3. You suggested that a contemporary Victorian model for a successful business was Pears, a medal-winning company at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

    I love that idea :) The Great Exhibition was, to my mind, a great opportunity to display industry, design, the arts, modern porcelain, scientific advances etc. But why shouldn't a well designed and marketed soap be rewarded?

    Re Lydia's comment on Port Sunlight village and Lady Lever Art Gallery, spot on! I wouldn't have been able to find Port Sunlight on a map until The Antique Roadtrip went there recently. Worth a historian having a look at the town and gallery.

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  4. Thank you VV for your post. It makes me want to go out and buy a bar of Pears soap! I haven't used it for years.
    Interesting to hear about the Lady Lever Art Gallery from why-lydia. To me and many others, I'm sure, Pears is synonymous with gorgeous Victorian paintings.

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    1. I always use pears soap. I worked at the Isleworth factory in 1960. Been in Australia 48 years and carried on using it. Pure soap and I am always reminded of my workplace when I use it.

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    2. It has such a lovely evocative fragrance.

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  5. I think the next post HAS to be on The Lady Lever Gallery...

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  6. I ADORE the smell of Pears soap, and was (very nearly) a smidge offended when I noticed it now comes in a handy dispenser bottle - until the shape and colour persuaded me that yes, they're sticking to their beautiful trade-marks - nice that some things endure.

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  7. I love it too...so nostalgic. Cussons Imperial Leather soap has a similar affect on me, though quite a different perfume.

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  8. I enjoyed your stories of Pears and Cadbury's. They remind me of these memories of Yardley's and Quality Street...

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  9. I have a Pears print I believe is called "The Gentleman Caller" still in the original frame. It is a large print and the frame is also an antique. Found under a house I bought, the house built in 1898. Can you advise if this worth anything?

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  10. I'm sorry. I don't really know about values. Have you tried contacting one of the large suction houses for a valuation, or looking for similar in eBay etc to give an idea of value?

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  11. That should be 'auction' house. Sorry!

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  12. I have a numbered print of "Seeing", on of the 5 Senses Collection. Do you have any idea if I would be able to find out who originally owned this, I'd love to find out the history of the owner and how it ended up beign sold to me. I've tried to locate information, but I'm not having any joy. Any ideas would be gratefully received.

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  13. I'm so sorry - I don't know. But do keep checking the comments here, in case someone comes back with some information. E

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  14. Many thanks. Lets hope someone can point me in the right direction.
    I really would love to learn something about the history.

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  15. My husband's Grandmother was a Pears poster girl and I would love to find a picture of her any ideas where I can look?

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  16. Dear Chickierock - how wonderful! I would suggest contacting Unilever (their Press and Publicity or Corporate Communications departments) who are the current manufacturers. They may well have some idea as to how to track down that information. Good luck!

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  17. Dear Virtual Victorian,

    I am intrigued by the first image of the lady with the looking glass. Could you tell me where you found it please?

    Many thanks for such as enjoyable blog!

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  18. Hello Plain, Charmless, but Highly Opinionated! I'm really sorry - I've been searching my files but can't find this image any more. I'm pretty sure it was an old Victorian advert...and I'm still looking. I'll let you know if I can find it again. Sorry not to be more help.

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  19. Hello Plain, Charmless, but Highly Opinionated! I'm really sorry - I've been searching my files but can't find this image any more. I'm pretty sure it was an old Victorian advert...and I'm still looking. I'll let you know if I can find it again. Sorry not to be more help.

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  20. I have been aware that Pears Soap used to have a new model for their soap. In 1901 my grandmother's sister, Georgina Thompson of Middlesbrough was selected as the model. The painting of her hung at the home address of my late uncle, Frank McIntosh. I think it then passed down to his eldest son.

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    1. How fascinating. It would be lovely to see the painting of Georgina.

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  21. I have a picture of Burton Barber 1894 it's been in my family for over 60years.

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