Bewitching Beauty

Enough of the Witch Trials, on to Witch City.  For the past century or so, rather then obscuring Salem’s association with the trials, the city fathers celebrated it, creating the present-day “Witch City”.  I’ve wrote about this development in numerous posts, but the essential beginning can be found here, with Daniel Low’s witch spoon.  Shortly after this successful turn-of-the century marketing campaign, other Salem businesses jumped on the witchcraft train, and it really took off.  Another example of a nationally-marketed Salem product was the “Witch Cream” manufactured by the C.H. and J. Price Pharmacy of Essex Street.

These advertisements can be found in all sorts of publications in the later 1890s; clearly “Witch Cream” captured the public’s attention.  This was a boon period for skin lotions and face creams (often called “vanishing creams” because they melted into the skin, unlike cold creams, which are ancient), following the success of the Pond’s Company and the discovery of new, less-irritating (than lead!) recipes.  While early modern women were often criticized for indulging their vanities and layering on too much cream and “paint” (the two women preoccupied with their faces below are clearly vulnerable to the wiles of the Devil), existing recipes for “precious” ointments and waters confirm that they whipped up their own moisturizers.  But the late Victorian era, in characteristic fashion, initiated a profitable cosmetics industry.

Daniel Hopfer, Death and the Devil Surprise Two Women (1520 etching, late 17th century print). Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Price Pharmacy in Salem advertised several products, including “homeopathic tinctures”, a “hygienic wine” (a strengthening tonic for nervous protestation, dyspepsia, etc…), and New England Tooth Drops, but they definitely showcased their Witch Cream, which they sold by mail-order and also distributed to other apothecaries.

I’m not sure what was actually in Witch Cream, although if it’s anything like other contemporary concoctions on the market, it was probably made of cucumber, rose and/or elder flower oils, essences that go way back to the Elizabethan era, and probably beyond.  Like so many modern products, it was probably a case of the wizardry of words rather than ingredients.

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