“Well not that bad, really.” : Claire’s Cold Cream

August 11, 2013 in Creating The 18th Century, Living history, Soap, Scent, Toners and Tonics by M C

It was something of a revelation to me to realize, when I hit the half century mark, my husband’s vision is deteriorating in direct proportion to my looks.  As crinkles appear around my eyes, and lines cross my brow, my dearly beloved’s eyeglass prescription is climbing ever higher.  I figure by the time I’m a wrinkled crone my husband’s near vision will be reduced to the point where I’m just a fuzzy blur with eyeballs.

If that’s not a brilliant divine plan I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of money on anti-aging skin creams.  I labor under the delusion that there is a cream out there that really will smooth lines and wrinkles, I just haven’t found it yet.  Or been willing to pay the right price.

And then there’s Claire.

Claire leaps overboard to escape the British, survives a hurricane at sea, builds a home in the wilderness, gets trapped at Fort Ticonderoga in the early stages of the Revolutionary War, tramps hither and yon half starved, and when she finally perches a much needed pair of glasses on her nose peers at her reflection and remarks “”Well not all that bad, really.”

That’s just annoying.  That’s what that is.

I like to think Claire had a secret stash of cold cream in her medical kit.  If she did, and she followed a period recipe, such as the one in The Toilet of Flora from 1779, her cold cream would have included spermaceti.

And you may now dig your mind out of the gutter.  Just because Claire used her microscope to look at Jamie’s sperm does not mean she used that sperm as a cosmetic.

And I won’t be using mine either.  So put that out of your mind right now.

Robert Kemp Philp, The dictionary of medical and surgical knowledge, by the editor of the 'Dictionary of useful knowledge' , Published 1864Spermaceti comes from the fat deposits in the head of a sperm whale.  At “harvest,” which is a polite way of saying “when the whalers disassembled a whale on the open sea,” the head would be bailed out of the liquid spermaceti, which would be packed into barrels in the hold.  Fresh the fat had a “smell similar to raw milk,” which probably isn’t relevant, since the smell of the whale’s meat likely dominated the deck.

A large whale might produce as much as 500 gallons of oil, which, when back on land would be boiled and strained, and again packed into barrels, where it was allowed to solidify in the cold of winter.  The congealed mass was then pressed to remove the liquid, which was bottled as “winter-strained sperm oil,” an incredibly valuable machine oil since it remained liquid in the cold.  The remaining material was allowed to warm, additional oil was poured off, and the remaining wax was bleached to be sold for candles and cosmetics.

A sample of spermaceti wax, a spermaceti candle, and a jar of sperm oil. Genevieve Anderson

Ingredients may be something of a challenge for this project.

Nevertheless, we’re going to be making a “cold cream, or pomatum for the complexion” from The Toilet of Flora, by Flora (goddess) published in 1779… a book which promises Receipts for Cosmetics of every Kind, that can fmooth and brighten the Skin, give Force to Beauty, and take off the Appearance of OLD AGE and DECAY.”  For the use of the ladies.

Men don’t decay.  But their eyesight fails as we do.  That’s some consolation.  Just not quite enough consolation to keep a lady from trying a potion billed as capable taking off the appearance of old age.. and decay.

How could a girl resist? >>

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