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Old Soaps

Matthew Brooks is a collector of old soap. He also manages the creation of new toiletry products, but his penchant for vintage soaps started when he was very young. A tour of an old Victorian home showed him how the scent of the vintage soap used there lent an air of authenticity and nostalgia to the past.

In many ways, the soap I seek could be described as mundane. I seek the brands which were once very commonplace, but which are now really very difficult to find. There was a category of soap called ‘household’, which encompassed the sort of all-purpose soaps sold in large, long lasting bars, which could be used for washing clothes and general cleaning, amongst a plethora of other uses. These soaps (which were made of natural materials such a coconut oil, tallow and pine resin) started to be replaced by washing powders and synthetic detergents in the 1950s, to the extent that there are now no existent consumer brands left in Great Britain. My key outlook therefore is for old packets of once famous brands, such as Lifebuoy, Fairy, Sunlight etc, and of these I have been lucky to find specimens which are over 100 years old. I find them in a great many different places, from friends moving into old houses and discovering forgotten packets scurried away under kitchen sinks, to rummaging through London’s many hardware shops looking for old stock at the back of shelves (it is alarming what you can find in such places!).

Read an interview with Brooks, in which he explains how soap led the world in branding, how the graphic design of the packages has changed, and how colonialism scattered the different brands of soap. Check out some of his collection at Soap Journal at Instagram, in which each entry tells the soap's history. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Wellcome Images)

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