Luce's Eau de Cologne

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Preparing an order for export in Southampton

The manufacture of Luce's Eau de Cologne was started in Jersey by George Luce in 1837. He soon introduced a production and sales system which was to give his product a world wide reputation, with a separate company in South Africa by 1924. The manufacturing departments were later transferred from Jersey to Southampton.

History

From the Manawatu Standard, New Zealand, 10 April 1902

A German industry which is passing into British hands

Early in the 11th century, in 1016 or thereabouts, Canute the King lived in Southampton. His house still stands, and in the cellars underneath it, one wall of which is still the old wall of Southampton Town, the eau-de-cologne Britannica is made.

The secret of its manufacture belongs to two comparatively young men, George Luce Dupre and his younger brother Wilfrid. Their father won it as an inheritance upon the death of George Luce, the inventor, whose daughter Dupre had married several years before.

George Luce began in 1837 to manufacture eau-de-cologne at his home in Jersey. It is made there by his heirs and grandsons still, and in considerable quantities, but the chief manufacture, both for home consumption and for export, is carried on in the cellars underneath Canute’s old house, facing Southampton Water, whose waves of olden time refused the monarch their obedience.

The actual manufacture of Luce’s eau-de-cologne is carried on mysteriously. Armed with scales and various measuring appliances, the Dupre brothers meet in their cellars, among the huge 200-gallon casks, which, standing empty, occupy all the space except that taken by a big square table in the centre.

Here the ingredients of the scent are mixed. The process takes some hours, and while it lasts the cellar doors are locked, and no one save the brothers is admitted. There are no less than 40 different ingredients in English eau-de-cologne, some of them fearfully expensive – such as attar of roses, the pod of the musk deer, and many other things, the scent of which is exquisite, but whose names the Dupre brethren would not divulge for half the wealth of Klondyke.

When the compound parts are mixed and stirred, the great 200-gallon casks are filled and closed hermetically, and Old Father Time contemplates the first part of the work. All that remains is bottling, corking, capping, labelling and so forth, and this is done by men and girls, above the ground.

To give some idea of the amount of eau-de-cologne which is made in Merrie England, it is a fact that in Southampton, at Luce’s bonded warehouse alone, 3,000 three-ounce bottles are filled, corked, capped and labelled between the hours of ten and three each day – the Custom House forbids them longer hours – and in the duty-paid warehouses, where the scent for use in England is prepared, as much is made, or more, because the hours are longer.

“The Colonies use far more than England does,” said Mr Dupre. Our cases go to all parts of the world – to Canada, Japan and Buenos Ayres; to Asia and Australia; and as for South Africa, we send out ever os many thousand bottles there a month. You may see our cases almost any day – Messel Bay, in Durban, in Capetown, of cours, in Biera – in all South Africa, in fact, and St Helena, too, uses up large quantities, and sends us constant orders. Since the Boer prisoners were sent to St Helena our export there has nearly doubled. I don’t try to explain this fact, I merely state it.
“We bottle our eau-de-cologne in 30 different shapes and sizes – ‘long greens’ and ‘Jersey squares’, ‘Champagnes’ and ‘barrels’, and ‘wickers’ and ‘tourists’, or ‘flats’, as they are sometimes called. And all sorts of others. Our smallest bottle holds about a teaspoonful, our largest holds about half a gallon, and two small men could stand upright and drown in the amount we turn out every day.
“To give you an idea of the amount which stays at home, I may tellyou that our last cheque to the Customs was £269 14s 8d. The duty is 19s 1d on each gallon. I think a good deal more duty would be paid if more English people knew that such a thing as English eau-de-cologne exists.
“Oddly enough, the Colonies and India use it far more than England does, and just to give you a notion of its popularity across the sea, we, only a short time ago, had to take measures to prevent a curious kind of fraud. A Colonial firm – strangely enough, the members of the house were Germans – ordered 60,000 Luce’s eau-de-cologne labels, with the Jersey flag upon them, and made in every way exactly like our own.
“Perhaps the bottles for which these forgeries were meant contained the German aqua pura. Anyhow, the labels were not sent, and we go damages. Sixty thousand smudges on the fairness of our reputation would have been a little too much to put up with quietly.”
Part of the Southampton production area

How many boxes are turned out every month?

“Ten thousand dozen – 120,000 – cardboard ones, each one of which holds a dozen bottles, and about 800 or 1,000 wooden ones, which also hold a dozen bottles each.”

So roughly speaking, 1,452,000 bottles of eau-de-cologne are turned out every month, or 17,424,000 every year from one British manufactory. And we may lay the flattering unction to our souls that, as time goes on, the family Farina, in Cologne, of which George Meredith once wrote the history, will look back and wonder where its export trade of Cologne water to Great Britain can have gone.

Wartime

In May 1917, in an article about German products which were no longer available on the British market during World War One, The Graphic noted: Some people think that eau-de-cologne has to come from Germany to be good, and do not realise that it is no more peculiar to Germany than Bath buns to Bath, or Brussels sprouts to Brussels. Eau-de-cologne is only a recipe, and the old-established brand, Luce’s Isle of Jersey Eau-de-cologne, which first began in the Isle of Flowers in 1837, is now recognised as the world’s standard toilet perfume.

The history of the business after the publication of the 1902 article above is somewhat confused, but it appears that in 1917 James Wilfrid du Pré bought out the Channel Islands part of the business from his elder brother George, and subsequently formed a partnership for the Channel Islands with their younger brother Harold.

The brothers' shop was at 42 King Street, where Harold is said to have perfected Luce’s Eau de Cologne winning gold medals in Cologne, much to the extreme annoyance of his German competitors. Whether the Jersey and Southampton operations ran separately from this time is not clear. Eventually the Jersey operation was sold to perfumers Elegance, but it is not known whether they continued to manufacture eau-de-cologne, nor is it known when the Southampton business closed.

Harold also created Eau-de-Cologne in stick form, calling it Frozen Eau-de-Cologne. Perfect for ladies to keep in their handbags and dab on glowing foreheads in hot weather.


Family memories

By Piere du Pre

My grandfather, James Wilfrid du Pré, had a scent-making company with his brother Harold. Luce’s was at 42 King Street, St Helier, where Harold, a perfumier of outstanding talent, perfected Luce’s Eau de Cologne winning gold medals in Cologne much to the extreme annoyance of his German competitors.

Harold also created Eau-de-Cologne in stick form, calling it Frozen Eau-de-Cologne. Perfect for ladies to keep in their handbags and dab on glowing foreheads in hot weather.

As children, my two sisters and I remember the wonderful smells in the shop and the laboratory at the back where perfumiers, huddled over pipettes and flasks, created perfumes for ladies many of which made the journey from the mainland just for their Luce’s perfume. Sadly, the business began to decline in the 1960s, finally being sold to Elegance which subsequently was also consigned to the great graveyard of failed companies in the sky.

No 42 is now a clothing shop. Its original and intricate shop front replaced with sheets of plate glass.

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