Well, this is embarrassing. The Curator is quite ashamed to be learning just now of the Smithsonian's collection of vintage cosmetic and personal care items. Thanks to an email newsletter from Cosmetics Design a few days ago, I learned that the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has a collection of over 2,200 beauty and health items that will soon be digitized with support from Kiehl's. (Um, hello, Kiehl's? I know my museum isn't the Smithsonian but I'd sure appreciate some money to fund it. Please and thank you.) So there's an excellent selection of cosmetic objects right here in the U.S., a mere 45 minutes away from the Makeup Museum! Since I can't get down there within the next couple of weeks I thought I'd take a peek at their collection online. I was not disappointed - tons of good makeup, skincare and hair care items abound. I picked out a few items I had never seen before and thought I'd share them here.
Collecting Vintage Compacts has an informative post on the Norida company.
Once again, Collecting Vintage Compacts has a thorough history of the Edna Wallace Hopper company, among the first to use the name and image of an actress to sell beauty products.
I wish more companies did 3D embellishments like on this powder. That red ornament survived remarkably well.
I was so pleasantly surprised to see a little lady peering into a mirror rather than a spider in the middle of those webs!
Don Juan lipstick - love the name and the cameo detail is great.
I'm really surprised most companies today haven't seized on the lipstick tissue gap in the market. We have facial blotting sheets but not a lot for lips. I think they're highly unnecessary but just the thing a company would invent to make money off of (and I'd buy it in a heartbeat if it had a graphic of a cool, cave-painting-esque huntress on it like this package.)
I always think of multi-use products as a modern invention, but this eyelash and brow pomade from 1920 proves me wrong.
Despite the box's claim of being "absolutely safe and harmless to anybody", the phrase "safe arsenic" seems like an oxymoron to me.
Totally misread the name as cocaine, but it's not. This hair treatment is made from coconut oil.
Here are the more health-related items. I wouldn't necessarily include them in my own collection (well, maybe the bath items/soaps since I collect those too currently) but they're pretty interesting nonetheless.
For a kid in the '60s I bet bathtime was a blast, what with all this fun packaging.
More harmful ingredients...we think aluminum in deodorant is bad, what about formaldehyde?!
Toothbrushes in the 1890s were usually carved from bone or wood and had pig bristles. Thankfully most were made from nylon by the 1930s.
Who wants to see an old douche? No, I'm not referring to Donald Trump. The collection has a whole section of "feminine hygiene" products. Apparently you were supposed to shove one of these "cones" in, um, yourself and leave it in overnight! I can't imagine the irritation from the salicylic acid. *shudder*
The name "Dr. Shoop" cracks me up. Also, I learned that a "chilblain" is an inflammation of the skin caused by an abnormal reaction to cold. #themoreyouknow
Doesn't matter if you're a horse or a cow or a man - Taylor's Oil of Life can soothe what ails ya.
What I really appreciated about the Smithsonian collection is that they seemed to have made an effort to ensure that beauty items for people of color were represented, especially in the hair items. And in the brief histories of skincare, hair care and makeup, the museum included descriptions of beauty practices for women of color and resources on the topic in their bibliography - so many short beauty histories and timelines that I've seen mostly exclude non-white folks.
(all images from americanhistory.si.edu)
I found it odd that Kiehl's did not have much in the way of vintage items. It looked like the earliest objects were from the 1980s or so but as the Kiehl's name says, the company goes back to 1851. I think it's rather telling that they included the 2010 Jeff Koons lotion - see, I told you current artist collaborations with beauty brands belong in a museum! I'm happy that the Smithsonian agrees with me on that. The only sad part is that so many of these aren't on display, which I guess is why digitization of the collection is all the more important. But I think it also begs the question of why not put at least some of this stuff out? Beauty items don't take up much room, after all. Maybe Kiehl's should fund a special exhibition of collection highlights.
What do you think? What's your favorite item I've shown here?