Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Art of Play: Child's Novelty Soap, "Smile and Cry," c. 1930

Scary Soap
Shaped Like a Baby's Head
Made by Norton's, England, 1930-39
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Who doesn’t love the gift of soap?  I remember, as a child, always being overjoyed upon being presented with the ever-so-thoughtful gift of soap—especially novelty soap.  I mean, really, what kid doesn’t just squeal with delight at the thought of washing with a nice, cloudy piece of soap in the shape of…SOMETHING…ANYTHING!  (Reading all these antique trade cards has awakened a new love of caps in me).  Now, imagine this—it’s Christmas (or Chanukah) and you’re atwitter, about to open a shiny present.  You tear off the paper and there it is!  Soap!  Soap shaped like a baby’s head!  Whoo hooo! Mama, run me a bath.  I’m gonna clean myself with a baby’s head!

Okay, soap was not a favorite gift.  It’s nobody’s favorite gift.  Even as a kid, I preferred diamonds, limited-edition paperweights and antique silver.  But, I do recall having been given novelty soap as a child.  I don’t recall exactly what it was shaped like, but I remember being given soap.  Who the heck wants birthday soap?

Nevertheless, the novelty soap business has been around for many years.  Some of it, even, has ended up in museums.  For example, here’s some creepy soap which dates between 1930 and 1939.  It’s in the V&A, and, yes, it’s shaped like a baby’s head.  Not, just any baby’s head, mind you, but a TWO-FACED baby’s head.  Shudder…

This child's novelty soap came as a set with a “flannel” (in America, a washcloth) and it is still set in its original box.
  The soap is flesh-colored (ick) and depicts the head of a baby.  On one side it has a smiling face, on the other, it is crying (gag).
The flannel is made of white cotton with a looped pile.
  It is machine hemmed in bright pink thread.   To make this all the more disturbing, the flannel was originally presented wrapped around the soap to give the effect of a baby's face looking out from its blankie!  Oh, for fun!

The box consists of taupe card covered with white paper printed in pink, grey and blue with designs of children, toys etc.   Pictures of toys = good times, I suppose.

This choice gift was made in England by Norton’s.
  It remains to this day in pristine condition.  Do you know why?  Because NOBODY WANTS TO WASH WITH A BABY’S HEAD!

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