Friday, May 2, 2014

The Dark Side Of Selling Beauty Products In The 18th Century & How Things Have Not Changed

       recently had a specific issue come up regarding a 

                                 seller/store on Amazon.
What was happening without my knowledge was this: Said person stole my photos and listings of my products and put them in their store on Amazon- listing only 1 available.  If a customer had purchased the listing, the store seller would then have purchased from my shop and changed his address to the address of the customer- thus making me the unaware drop shipper. The prices of my products were inflated at least 3 times the original price. This also involved many other Etsy stores, mine was not the only one affected. I am thankful for those that caught it and notified me.

 It has since been taken care of, but who is to say it won’t happen again. Even though I continuously get many requests every week to wholesale- I have not yet taken the plunge. So this means I am the only one selling my products or products of the like.

 My first reaction when this was brought to my attention was forgetting to breathe…. I was in shock. After said shock, I went into action to see what needed to happen to stop this Amazon store. During this whole issue, my mind kept telling me this is the same issues cosmetic sellers in the 18th century faced – you are just experiencing it in a different era.
      Advertisement: "Lady Friz at her Toilet . In an hour or two she will be handsome enough. - sold by 
           W. Humphrey N. 227 Strand"
Selling Beauty in the 18th century wasn’t an easy task. Beauty products had become so popular, that it created a vast market with sellers competing for clients, to be the “best” and to come up with recipes that cured everything or made anything it was applied to “beautiful” or at least “feel beautiful”. To be able to say you sell to royalty was the tip-top and if you could get that far and have the crown incorporated into your advertisements, then you had no problem getting business. But there was a darker side of the trade which involved, stealing and copying.

Those selling beauty used various methods to stand out promising satisfaction, or putting instructions on the package. We have documentation from letters that shows just how concerned with customer satisfaction the makers and sellers of cosmetics were. Mme. Sadous a manufacture of rouge wanted to make sure her products were properly applied and satisfaction was had, so she would many times be seen at her customers homes, demonstrating her products.[1] Others like Mr. Maille would advertise that his rouge could travel across the ocean and not run- even in the hottest weather. [2] Others guaranteed their rouge would last for 10 years. One cosmetic maker went over the top and promised to receive no money until his clients were satisfied. 

 By 1742, fixed prices started appearing in the advertising of beauty to reassure clients of quality. This meant no more bartering. Now, a customer would know how much a pot of rouge cost from a specific manufacture. The price also told the “quality” of the rouge. Now customers knew what to expect when they arrived in the shop. It is documented that Mr. Collin sold his jars of rouge at different prices depending on the quality of the packaging. So the wealthy and the poor could have the same rouge- the difference being whether it was sold in a porcelain container for 24 livres   ( 1 Gold Coin or roughly $96.00 modern US dollars) or plain crockery for 6 livres. ( 1 Silver Coin or roughly $24.00 modern US dollars)[3]

The use of homemade cosmetics was so widespread that those who had actual storefronts needed to make their products seem “better” than their homemade counterparts. They used advertising and started naming their products after culturally recognized symbols that promoted taste and beauty. [4]With that said it is important to note that manufactures stayed away from political issues and those in primary positions. So you would never have cologne named Eau de Marie Antoinette. Think instead of a rouge named, “La Fleur De La Jeunesse” or “The Bloom of Youth”.

With all this, the fear and reality of being copied was mainstream- so much so that in advertising business’s would warn clients’ to beware of falsifications.  Widow Dupre’ who sold rouge for the Queen and her court warned the public that, “There is sold daily in Paris and the provinces rouge marked and numbered as coming from my factory that can only harm my favorably established reputation, seeing that these different sellers or makers falsify my rouge or make it themselves with harmful ingredients.” She tried to combat the counterfeiting by signing her packages.[5] This attempt to authenticate products is even seen in this 1906 “Harmless Toilet Powder” container in my personal collection.
LaBlanche Face Powder. Ben levy Co. 1906. Personal collection of LBCC Historical
 Other makers started signing and sealing all their containers being well aware of the danger they were put in if their cosmetics were sold under false pretenses. Some counterfeiters were stealing and selling a specific cosmetic brand or placing counterfeit labels on lower quality and even harmful cosmetics, telling the purchaser it was from a reputable merchant and making away with a good sum of money. Another way of trying to rebuttal the counterfeiters, reputable cosmetic sellers numbered and limited the sale of specific products.

One gentleman who made and sold eau de Cologne (which has a fascinating history- maybe for another blog post) promised his clients that his Cologne would only be sold by one specific outlet in Paris. [6]Mme Josse made it clear “ that she has authorized no one either in Paris nor in the provinces to distribute her rouge, which would only be sold in her store.” Eventually she changed her mind and by 1781 she had set up one authorized Parisian outlet. [7] After this little incident with Amazon, I can sympathize with these historical sellers. It’s something that has been around for centuries and I am sure it won’t stop anytime soon.

Advertisement: Printed for Robt. Sayer, Printseller in Fleet Street 1760 (Lewis Walpole Library)
So in the light of the situation, I am going to take the advice of those in the 18th century. 
I will always keep you alert if I am made aware of those trying to counterfeit my products. I feel like I’m being a bit like Mme. Josse here, but I have authorized no one to distribute my historical products. Therefore, the only place as of now you will find my products is in my ETSY store, or if we are traveling and have set up shop. If you should see someone selling products that resemble mine in any way, be warned, they are counterfeit. If such time arrives in-which I choose to authorize other outlets, I promise to keep you, my customers informed.

[1] Journal des dames 20 Dec 1815
[2] Ruscelii, Secrets du Seigneur Alexis Piedmontais, 569.
[3] Goulin, Medecin des homes 411, 412.
[4] Selling Beauty, Martin, 67.
[5] Oldendorff, Traite’ anatomique, 25.
[6] Selling Beauty, Martin, 67.
[7] Dupont fe L’ain, Etudes medicales sur les quatre ages de la vie, 170.


  1. VERY well written! It's sad that so many people try and con others...then as well as now. I know we've all had our problems with "copy cats"....but to actually SELL your stuff at a HUGE profit....make YOU do all the's so unethical. I'm glad you got this taken care of.

    1. Thanks. I am too. It just goes to show.. this whole "copy cat" idea isn't new :)

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