‘BLOATER PASTE’. It doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but this vinegary cured fish paste was a popular condiment during the 19th Century, when the industrial revolution meant that manufacturers needed to develop new, efficient ways to transport food to a rapidly-expanding population of middle class Victorians. Small ceramic lidded pots were mass-produced, decorated with ornate but inexpensive black lettering and logos. It wasn’t long before they were used to store everything from cold cream to potted meats, but the most common usage was for toothpaste.
Whenever I’m at an IACF fair, I make a beeline for these beauties. Sometimes, only the lids survive, but it’s the fully-intact ones I’m after – to fill with earrings, bath salts, or wax and a wick for a vintage-style homemade candle.
Often, the chemists who prepared the products would include their name and address on the lid. I picked up a stunning ‘American Dentifrice’ pot recently for £5, marked: ‘William Darling’ of ‘126, Oxford Street, Manchester’, but made according to the prescription of a Dr ‘Coffin’ – not a name that fills you with confidence. Some look more inviting than others; ‘Cherry toothpaste from Colwyn Bay’ sounds quite nice, but collectors covet the rarer and hideous-sounding ‘Genuine Russian Bear’s Grease’ pot, for ‘beautifying and nourishing the hair’. Some of these lids bore the additional words: ‘HIGHLY SCENTED’ – presumably of something floral so your hair didn’t smell too strongly of bear…?
Like most Vintage Obsessions, once you ‘pot’, you just can’t stop. Display them on a black tray on top of your coffee table or stock up on (cheaper) lonely lids and superglue them into a box frame for quirky wall art.