What interests me about this obviously highly effective and versatile product is why Mr Cusson’s company ever stopped making it
I recently asked readers if anyone knew what Preservene soap was and who made it. It was mentioned many times in a book of household hints published in 1926. Apparently it could be used for a vast range of household cleaning jobs, from getting grease off pots to cleaning carpets and freshening hats.
My neighbour Richard said it was probably pure soap made from the salts of an organic acid. Soap, he explained, allowed water to combine with fats and grease, making it easy to remove them from surfaces.
He added that pure soap was completely biodegradable.
My niece Debbie wrote from America saying Preservene was the brand name of a pure soap made originally by a chemist, Thomas Cusson, in Manchester.
He started his business in 1869 and obviously made a good profit selling his soap.
Preservene became such a vital part of every housewife’s equipment that the name was used as a generic term.
What interests me about this obviously highly effective and versatile product is why Mr Cusson’s company ever stopped making it.
My guess it that it was just too good to be true.
It was cheap, simple and effective. You could use it as it was or grate it and make easily dissolved soap flakes to use for cleaning your curtains or Sunday trousers.
The people who took over the company simply could not leave it alone.
Before long all the soap they made had to be perfumed and tinted and put into a pretty wrapper so it could be sold at 10 times the price of Preservene.
Before then one soap was all you needed to keep your home fresh and clean.
That simply wouldn’t do today. Today you have separate products for cleaning kitchens, crockery, bathrooms, toilets, laundry, walls, floors, tiles, windows and dogs. Preservene did all those and more.
It’s more than just a soap.
It’s part of an era when people were content to use simple things as long as they worked. They lived by the old saying: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”
Today they fit flash lights to pepper pots and make shoelaces that glow in the dark.
Nobody knows why, but people buy them.
Freddie had some expensive renovation work done to his home and the builder waited and waited for his payment.
Eventually in desperation he sent Freddie a photograph of his three small children. At the bottom he wrote: “This is why I need the money.”
A few days later he received an envelope from Freddie and felt very relieved as he tore it open. Inside was a photograph of a gorgeous young woman and under it Freddie had written: “This is why I can’t pay.”