Vintage Pears Soap Memorabilia
Pears transparent soap is a distinctive brand of soap that was initially created and sold by Andrew Pears in 1789. Andrew Pear’s branded soap was manufactured at a factory near London’s Oxford Street. It was the world’s very first translucent soap product.
Under the stewardship of Thomas J Barratt, A & F Pears Ltd. Company initiated a number of innovations in sales and marketing, producing a wealth of advertising items designed to promote the Pears product that are considered collectible today. Vintage Pears soap memorabilia includes advertisements, inserts, presentation prints, counter and outdoor signs, postcards and other assorted promotional items. Probably the most famous soap in Britain, if not the world, the Pears Soap brand has the potential to underpin a fascinating and diverse collection of ephemera.
As the world’s first registered brand, Pears Soap is also considered the oldest continuously extant brand and its inception during the eighteenth century is often understood as marking the beginning of the modern capitalist era.
Andrew Pears, the son of a farmer, was born around 1770 and moved from his native Mevagissey in Cornwall to London in about 1787 in order to train as a barber. He completed his apprenticeship in 1789 and established a barber's shop in Gerrard Street, Soho, beginning to produce cosmetic products at around the same time.
During this period, Soho was a wealthy residential area, and Pears' clientele included many wealthy socialites who took great pride in their appearance. The fashion amongst the wealthy of the period was for pristine white complexions - tanned faces were associated with those who laboured out of doors.
Pears found that his powders and creams were frequently being used to cover up damage caused by the harshness of the soaps and other beauty products (many of which contained arsenic or lead) that were in general use at the time. Pears began to experiment with soap purification and eventually managed to produce a gentle soap based on glycerine and other natural products. The clarity of the soap gave it a novel transparent appearance which provided a marketing advantage. To add to the appeal, Pears gave the soap an aroma reminiscent of an English garden.
In 1835, his grandson Francis Pears joined the business and created the company A. & F. Pears Ltd. In 1838 Andrew Pears retired, leaving Francis in charge of the company. In 1851 the company was awarded the prize medal for soap at The Great Exhibition.
Francis' son-in-law Thomas J. Barratt, sometimes referred to as the father of modern advertising, eventually managed the firm.
In 1862, production of the soap moved to Isleworth, and three years later Francis' son, Andrew, joined A. & F. Pears Ltd. as joint proprietor and ran the factory, whilst Thomas ran the head office in London.
In the mid 1910s, A. & F. Pears Ltd. became part of Lever Brothers and moved production to Port Sunlight in north west England.
Pears soap is now made in India by Hindustan Unilever a company in which Unilever controls a fifty-two percent stake.
From the late 19th century, Pears soap was famous for its marketing, which was masterminded by Barratt. Its campaign using Millais's painting Bubbles continued over many decades. As with many other brands at the time, at the beginning of the 20th century Pears also used their product as a sign of the prevailing European concept of the "civilizing mission" of empire and trade, in which the soap stands for progress.
In the late 19th century, Pears used coins countermarked with "Pears Soap" as a way of advertising its soap. The coins used were manufactured in France and subsequently imported by Pears. About the same size and shape as the British pennies at the time, these French coins were generally accepted as pennies in Britain.
Lillie Langtry's famous ivory complexion brought her income as the first woman to endorse a commercial product, advertising Pears Soap. Her fee was allied to her weight so she was paid 'pound for pound'.
Between 1891 and 1925 Pears issued their famous annuals, which are now highly collectible. From the early 20th century Pears was famous for the annual "Miss Pears" competition in which parents entered their children into the high-profile hunt for a young brand ambassador to be used on packaging and in consumer promotions. Many Miss Pears subsequently entered acting or modelling.
Beginning with 2003, a British company called Cert Brands is in charge of marketing and distribution of Pears soap.
Pears produced a raft of products designed to promote their brand, many of which are considered highly collectible today. These include:
- Annuals, including Christmas annuals
- Chromolithographic prints
- Outdoor signs
- Victorian halfpenny stamps
- French ten centime pieces
- School rulers
- Mimiature tablets of soap
- Paper napkins
- Hand towels
Pears annuals and presentation prints
From 1891 to 1925 Pears issued a large format Christmas Annual each year. It not only contained Christmas stories and advertisements but came complete with presentation prints. The annuals themselves are collectable but rare in that they've normally been broken up to yield collectable Pears ads and the cover design for framing. Presentation prints were produced in the early years by the chromolithographic process of paintings bought by Pears' for the purpose. They were given away free with the Christmas Annuals and were intended to be framed and hung on the wall. In some years, four or more different prints were given away with the annual, at other times two or three. Over the period of the annual some 100 prints were issued. These are all highly collectable, particularly those that are complete with the title. The most famous of them all, of course, is Bubbles by Millais, given away with the 1897 annual. Many Pears prints were turned into jigsaws between 1900 and 1920 by the people who had bought them and these can still be found occasionally.
Outdoor signs and counter cards
Becoming increasingly rare are the outdoor metal signs and shop cards for the brand. (Beware, there are many imitations and reproductions of these and advertising mirrors.) Less expensive and more common are postcards of 'Bubbles' from the early 1900s.
Pears inserts were found in almost every Victorian publication. They can still be picked up for a few pounds each.
China figures, most notably of 'Bubbles' and 'You naughty boy', were manufactured and distributed in order to promote the product. These are considered collectible, but condition should be a key concern.
Pears' Soap wrappers, bars and other assorted Pears' products, including shaving sticks, hair tonic, talcum powder, can still sometimes be found.
A porcelain Pears soap advertising sign sold for $750 at Dan Morphy Auctions LLC in September 2005.
An 1880s Pears soap sample box sold for AU$450 at Davidson Auctions in September 2007.
An unmounted corner block of Pears soap stamps sold for £950 at Bonhams in April 2004.
A Pears soap advertising litho on paper featuring a Charles Dickens print sold for $190 at Rich Penn Auctions in November 2005.
A frames Pears soap chromolithographic print sold for $60 at Skinner in April 2008.
2 vintage Pears soap paper advertisements sold for $30 at Classic Edge Auctions in November 2008.
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