19th Century 'Pocket Encyclopedia' For Women Is As Wonderfully Strange As It Sounds

7 Things You Can Learn From A 19th Century 'Pocket Encyclopedia' For Women

"It's a wonderful combination of Martha Stewart, WebMD and Allure magazine... for the court of Charles X."

That's how Christine Von Der Linn, a senior specialist in Swann Galleries' Book Department, describes a small, extremely rare item up for sale this week at the New York auction house. The unassuming orange books -- no more than 4 inches in length -- are parts of a "pocket encyclopedia" for women dating back to the 19th century. Break out your bonnets and slippers, ladies, this is your guide to mastering bourgeois life in the 1820s.


Chock full of beauty tips, personal hygiene advice and home remedies, the remnant of vintage French society offers a pocket-size masterclass on dominating stain removal, perfumery, split-ends, and pest control. All in one four-volume series by the prolific publisher of almanacs, advice books, and popular literature -- Blocquel.

"The first volume gives advice on personal hygiene, skin and hair care, beauty, and wardrobe," the lot description states, "the second deals with stain removal, household cleaning, and pest control; and the third and fourth volumes contain home remedies and first aid instructions for a wide variety of complaints."

"It was often carried by servants of the court households," Von Der Linn explained. "It was intended for woman of the home, but was used by servants as a training book -- a cheat sheet or reference book -- for anything from how to color hair to how to use bronzers. That’s part of the appeal of the small size. If any incident came along they would have a way to deal with it. Because they could carry the books with them."


Blocquel published the advice series in 1827, at a time when guide books were just starting to appear, Von Der Linn added. The concept of the restaurant had just been introduced, and thus emerged how-to's on eating out and gastronomy etiquette, as well as books on animal husbandry, household care, and anything else you could think of. This particular guidebook, "Le Nécessaire des Dames, Véritable Trésor de la Toilette, de la Santé, et d'Économie Domestique," is particularly rare because they were printed on such fragile paper. As they were circulated from one woman to the next, they would deteriorate; not surprisingly, few have survived today.

Essentially, if you thought a preoccupation with never-ending streams of beauty advice -- think: 8 Ways To Make Your Hair Look Younger -- was a 21st century phenomenon, you'd be wrong. Behold, a few examples of the bizarre bits of information every young women just had to know in the early 19th century:

1. To fight wrinkles: mix onion juice, honey, and melted wax, spread on face and leave overnight.

2. Keep ants away by sprinkling tobacco in chests of drawers and wherever else you find them.

3. Fight bad breath by rinsing your mouth with alum and water.

4. For cramps, take 10-12 drops of a warm sage and cinnamon solution until the body sweats, and observe your diet very carefully.

5. For canker sores, gargle with dishwater and camphor oil, followed by a laxative tonic of rhubarb.

6. Lace and embroidery in ladies' clothing often causes embarrassing and unpleasantly sweaty hands. Remedy this by rubbing with a bit of rye seed.

7. It takes a very long time to properly comb hair with an ivory comb. Use a thicker comb every fortnight for three weeks otherwise you can twist, break, and destroy the brilliance of your mane.


"Le Nécessaire des Dames, Véritable Trésor de la Toilette, de la Santé, et d'Économie Domestique" will go up for sale May 1 as part of Swann's Early Printed, Medical & Scientific Books auction, estimated to fetch $800-$1,200. All photos courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.


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