rub- a - ub-dub



I purchased my first vintage travel soap in 2010 from an antiques shop. It was from the Emporium department store in San Francisco and was sitting in a bowl of odds and ends. Most likely it had been swiped from the ladies’ room at the store and tossed into a smart pocketbook. I don’t have it anymore – I gave it to a friend. But a few years later I started actively collecting vintage soaps.

I never expected to have a vintage travel soap collection, but they can be hard to find, so they’re fun to collect. For collectors, it’s often the thrill of the hunt that keeps them going. With these soaps, I also love the smell. It’s amazing that a fragrance can remain over the course of decades! With just one sniff, you’re immediatel­y transporte­d back in time. I don’t use the soaps, though – most are 60 or more years old. What’s the shelf life of soap? I see them as little pieces of history. They represent an era of ‘mom and pop’ businesses in America, instead of the big, global, faceless corporatio­ns.

Almost all my soaps are from the 1950s and 1960s. Most are from motels or hotels in California, where I live – my favourite time for design was 1958 to 1962. Often travel soaps were modest in design: just the name of the place in a simple type and plain white packaging. I’m more interested in soaps with notable illustrati­ons. When I see an illustrati­on I like, I immediatel­y wonder who the artist was. The fact people treasured these items as souvenirs is lovely. What a brilliant marketing/branding concept to place your products in hotels and motels! If you enjoyed using Colgate, Camay or Cashmere Bouquet during your vacation, you might just buy it for home use, too.

My goal was to collect 100, but you know how that goes. One little soap leads to another, and the collection grows. Now I have around 150, give or take. My favourite is from the Candy Cane Motel in Anaheim, near Disneyland. The place is still in business, still familyowne­d, but they no longer have these branded soaps in the rooms. They do, however, use candy cane-shaped pens at checkout, and there’s a basket of mini candy canes in the lobby.

Another design I love was produced by the Las Vegas Motel Associatio­n and features the Vegas Vic character – the brainchild of a PR company the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce hired in the late 1940s to help promote the area. I just love the illustrati­on, the bouncy lettering and the colour choices. I’m really trying not to buy any more soaps, but sometimes you have a bad day at work, and only a treat from ebay can brighten your day.

That’s where I’ve purchased almost all of my collection. I’ve also had some luck on Etsy. I always look for them in antique shops, but rarely get lucky. Once I get them home, I keep them in boxes. If I displayed everything I collected I would most certainly be divorced by now! My hope, though, is to have a ‘Motel California’ museum exhibit one day. I’ll be ready with my vintage travel soap collection, my vintage motel ashtrays and, believe it or not, I’m even the proud owner of a boxed Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed device!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia