Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Talc Tins

I'm not a fan of talc, but I do take great delight in seeing some of the many ways it has been packaged over the years. Since 1893 talcs have been sold globally for use as a cosmetic, a baby powder and astringent to prevent diaper rash, and as a personal hygiene product for adults. During the latter half of the 20th century, talc gained a wider audience as manufacturers mercifully began marketing it to nearly any demographic. If you needed that perfect gift for the macho outdoorsmen in your life, Jolind Distributors marketed a gift set containing the manly Winchester After Shave Talc design with the pipe-smoking hunter, and the rugged Reel Man talc for the adventuresome pipe-smoking fisherman. For the gent whose idea of the great outdoors is a starlit lounge, there was a tin of Night Club talc with a mellow bar scene topped with some tantalizing brush lettering. 

Pretty Peach Talc by Avon, two sides with charming illustrations and decorative lettering | Source: Mable Rose

Mansco Baby Talc, Borated | Source: Advertising Antiques

Beauty Contest Talcum Powder, I believe to be from Nigeria, two sides | Source: Letterology archives

What the hell?

The talc in talcum powder; also known as toilet powder, after shave talc, or baby powder, comes from the crushing, drying and milling of mined talc rocks and contains minerals such as magnesium and silicon. Until the mid-1970s such products contained the toxic mineral asbestos, commonly linked to rare cancers of the lung. (Great! All of us baby boomers have been fully innoculated as babies!) Today, all talcum powders are essentially free of the naturally occurring mineral asbestos, however there continues to be reports of suspicious links between talc and ovarian cancer. Ongoing medical studies by the American Cancer Society and others have so far found claims to be inconclusive. Cornstarch is a great alternative to talcum powder people! 
     If this cautionary tale sounds bleak, it should; yet we have every reason to continue finding pleasure with the packaging of 20th century talc tins. They display a diverse overview of stylistic designs spanning more than a century. Tins vary as much in size and shape, as they do in design and lettering styles. If you happen to have an old pre-1970s talc tin, either keep it tightly sealed, or take care to empty the talc while wearing a face mask to prevent inhalation of any powder. You should then dampen the talc with water, and dispose as toxic waste. Do not put in trash! This concludes my public safety message on talcum powders.     

margo of mayfair's, With the Beatle's Talc (is that a piñata they are stepping on with their Beatle boots? And yes, we get the B is supposed to be a beetle.) | Source: Fellows Auction

Klein-Stillwell Borated & Perfumed talc | Source: Advertising Antiques 

 Lion Toilet Powder | Source: Advertising Antiques


Little Singer Mosquito Talcum (not sure I want to know what ingredients it contained) | Source: Advertising Antiques

Perfumed Talcum Powder for Infants & Adults | Source: Advertising Antiques

Prep Talcum (perhaps for the collegiate?) | Source: Advertising Antiques

Vantine's Sana-Dermal Talcum | Source: Advertising Antiques

Empress Toilet Powder | Source: Advertising Antiques

Humpty Dumpty Borated Talc and Baby Powder | Source: Advertising Antiques

Olivilo Velvety Talc | Source: Ruby Lane

Sweet Pea Talc | Source: Ruby Lane

The unusually economical Rawleigh's Talcum with balloon type! | Source: Decotique

A bit of talcum is always walcum. 
Ogden Nash


  1. Great post.

    I actually remember the Avon Pretty Peach talc box. My grandmother and aunts used to use it. Thanks for the charming Proustian moment!

  2. I love the "Beauty Contest" tin. And the "Little Singer" tin leaves me…speechless. A mosquito playing the guitar? Why?

    Some of these would make fun t-shirts.

  3. Most letterpress shops had as supply of talc for cleaning off the tympan. The process of makeready included taking an impression on the tympan and this image was used as a guide for positioning the paper. When position was achieved the pressman would sprinkle some talc to absorb the ink in order to prevent it marking the back side of the press sheet.

    1. Talc has so many uses, but I did not know there was also a use for it in the print shop. I'm surprised printers haven't been target marketed as well...or maybe they were ;)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.