Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book

Cover of Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book
Adoption Amount: $500
Category: Preserve for the Future
Location: National Museum of American History Library

Harriet Hubbard Ayer's book : a complete and authentic treatise on the laws of health and beauty

By Harriet Hubbard Ayer. New York: Home Topics Book Co., 1899.

You’ve heard of Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden, but have you heard of Harriet Hubbard Ayer? Mrs. Ayer was the original cosmetics mogul, founding Recamier Manufacturing Company, the first American cosmetics company, in 1886. She began her life as a Chicago socialite, but following a divorce from a philanderer who lost his fortune, she had to make her own way. She adapted a face cream formula she bought from a Parisian chemist, which reportedly had been used by the famous French beauty Madame Récamier, and started a company to sell it. Eventually her company branched out into balms, soaps, brushes, and other cosmetic and health products.

Though it was considered controversial at the time, Ayer put her own name and family crest in company advertisements, and she sought celebrity endorsements, including one from actress Lillie Langtry. This savvy approach appealed to consumer aspirations and resulted in enormous success, with the company earning over a million dollars a year at its height. But some shady dealings by a business partner and her ex-husband led to Ayer losing control of her company and being committed to the Bronxville Insane Asylum from 1893-1894. Following her release, Ayer reinvented herself as a lecturer, speaking about the deplorable conditions in asylums, and as a journalist and editor for the New York World. This 1899 book is a collection of her essays on beauty and health, including recipes for cosmetics and advice for healthy living. Though Ayer was not active in suffrage or other women’s movements, she was a pioneer in her own right, making strides for women in business, journalism, and advertising.

Condition and Treatment: 

A late 19th century publisher's binding with a printed and embossed cover and spine. The front cover and spine are detached. The lining of the spine is failing due to the adhesive failing. Conservators will repair the case and reline the spine. The textblock will then be re-cased in the repaired original cover.

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