Today’s Item of the Week is about an experimental soap ad campaign that ended in failure.
In 1789 Andrew Pears set up a factory just off Oxford Street in London to produce and sell soap and cosmetics.
Pears began to experiment with soap purification and were able to produce glycerin-based soap with the addition of other natural products.
His trials produced a clear, soft soap with a transparent appearance, and with the addition of a fragrance giving the aroma of an English garden, it proved very popular and sales began to boom.
It was first sold in London in 1807. At the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, Pears was awarded the Soap Prize Medal.
When production moved to Isleworth in 1862, Thomas J. Barratt was appointed accountant and later directed the administration and publicity of the business.
Their advertisements were so successful that Pears was able to build up a large following in the United States.
Read more: Vacation rental tagged ‘absolute joke’ after ‘cottage’ turns out to be a terraced house
Barratt is often considered the father of modern advertising. He used many innovative methods to advertise Pears products from enamel signs, large posters and postcards. He even recruited English actress and socialite Lillie Langtry to become a poster boy for Pears in 1862.
But not all of Barratt’s publicity ideas were successful. In the late 1880s, Barratt approached the Postmaster General with the idea of using the reverse side of postage stamps to advertise Pears Soap.
The postmaster contacted De La Rue who were the current stamp printers and asked them to investigate the printing of advertisements for Pears Soap on the back of postage stamps.
As a trial, they printed the words “PEARS’ SOAP” in double capitals under the gum on the back of the current Queen Victoria 1881 1d lilac and 1887 Jubilee ½d Vermilion.
Records show that De La Rue reported technical difficulties and the idea was dropped. But Pears did not give up and conducted his own printing experiments. It would seem that they were a bit more successful than the printing experts at the time.
There are recorded examples of the same double line “PEARS” soap printed in orange, blue and purple inks, but this time they were printed on top of the gum. In philatelic terms these are called “underprints”
Another underprint in solid red capitals “USE PEARS SOAP” was recorded on both stamp values.
These stamps come on the market occasionally and their price is quite high. A mint block of four of the ½d Vermilion underprint ‘PEARS’ SOAP’ in orange was valued at Stanley Gibbons’ auction in 2021 at £2750.
Pears even had their name punched into the stamp, this time not as publicity but to prevent petty theft and private use of their stamps by staff, as stamps bearing the company name or initials do not were not reimbursable by mail.
This is another very popular collecting area and these stamps are called ‘perfins’.
*The stamps pictured here are part of the collection of a Northeast philatelist.
Learn more about previous Weekly Items here: