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Antique Soap Making Books

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I think most soap makers, from beginner to dedicated, can all appreciate and enjoy the history and traditions of soap making. Like most of you, I've never really been satisfied just knowing how to make soap...I wanted to know why to make soap, or rather, what has motivated soap makers throughout the centuries. These scans of antique soap making books, courtesy of good old Google, will show you over a hundred years of soap making history. I bet you'll discover some things that you never knew about soap making. I'll also bet that you'll find the same soap making spirit in these authors that us modern soap makers share.

1. The Art of Soap-making: A Practical Handbook by Alexander Watt

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From 1896, this book is a great overview of the entire soap making process - hard, soft, toilet and miscellaneous soaps - and even includes an appendix on candle making.

2. Every Day Life in the Colonies

This book, from 1908, has a fun Pilgrim spirit to it. (It even includes a chapter on the Puritan sabbath.) You'll experience "Soap Making at the Howlands" and "Candle Making at the Coolidges."

3. American Soaps: A Complete Treatise on the Manufacture of Soap

From the chemistry of oils, to making and using lye, to the manufacture of several different types of soap, this book, from 1893, even talks about rebatching and remelting soaps!

4. The Canadian Settler's Guide

This book, from 1857, from the same author as "The Backwoods of Canada" is a complete primer on back woods living - everything from knitting and bread making to candle and soap making. But beware, the candles she gives instructions for are old fashioned tallow candles. I've often said that every soap and candle maker should render tallow at least once. Well here's how to make candles with it too!

5. Soap-making Manual: A Practical Handbook...

Focused more on large scale manufacture of soaps, this book describes nearly 40 different soap varieties including some very interesting "medicinal" soaps like tar soap, peroxide soap and mercury soap.

6. Science for Beginners: An Introduction to the Method and Matter of Science

This book, from 1918, is, like it's title says, a really fun introduction to some of the chemistry of soap making. It has some great illustrations too. This is one of the best examples of how soap making hasn't changed much at all. On page 188, the book says "fat + lye = soap + glycerin" - that notion/equation is in every modern soap making book as well.

7. Chemistry in Daily Life: Popular Lectures

This book, from 1905, is for the more seasoned chemist/soap maker among us. Instead of saying "fat + lye = soap + glycerin" like "Science for Beginners," "Chemistry in Daily Life" says "Compounds of glycerin and fatty acids + alkali = compounds of alkali and fatty acids + glycerin." Pretty much the same equation - just in more advanced "chemistry-speak."

8. Soaps and Proteins: Their Colloid Chemistry in Theory and Practice

This book, from 1921, similarly shows that the chemistry of soap hasn't changed over the centuries. But it's a pretty serious chemistry book. You'll probably pass on this one unless you're a hardcore soap maker, or have a real love for chemistry. But if you do, you will love looking at this book.

9. The Toilet of Flora

This book, from 1779, contains "A collection of the most simple and approved methods of preparing baths, essences, pomatums, powders, perfumes and sweet-scented waters..." including emollient baths for the feet, a fluid to make the hair grow, a powder to clean the teeth and directions for making lavender water. A really fascinating glimpse into the bathing habits of long ago.

10. The Art of Manufacturing Soaps

This book, from 1854, includes the "most recent discoveries: the best methods for making all kinds of hard, soft, and toilet soaps; also olive oil soap and others necessary in the fabrication of clothes; with receipts for making transparent and camphine oil candles." I had to look at this one just to find out what "camphine oil candles" were! There's also a section about adding cabinet-makers (or animal) glue to soap - to thicken it in the winter.

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