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Do you remember ... visits from the Avon Lady

October 31, 2012
By Sharon Traylor - President, MOTI , Pine Island Eagle

Do you remember when the "Avon Lady" came to your house and spread out those special products in the living room? Well, we have a real Avon Lady from the 1940s right here in our midst on Pine Island -Naomi Brewer, vice president of MOTI and "volunteer extraordinare." In 1943, at the tender age of only 15, Brewer began her working career as an Avon Lady. It was wartime, and many of the women were going to work to fill the jobs in factories left vacant by soldiers serving our country. Brewer was too young to work in the factories, but when an Avon recruiter came to their door, Brewer's mother recognized her sales talent even at that early age. If you know Brewer, you know what I'm talking about! She continued with Avon after graduating from high school, and by the time she was 21, she was named assistant manager. She continued in this capacity for two years, at which time she went to work in sales for the well-known Lazarus Department Store in Columbus, Ohio.

So, it is of great interest that we have some first-hand remembrances from those early days of Avon, when there were eight lipstick colors, eight colors of rouge, and the containers were made of cardboard, since all metal was saved for the war effort. Although Brewer had no experience selling, she loved the cosmetics and traded in her 25 cents per hour babysitting career for that of an Avon Lady. Her first sale was a tube of lipstick, for a whopping 59 cents, of which she was able to keep 40 percent! Brewer's territory consisted of a 16-street-square area, consisting of approximately 400 houses and businesses. Since gasoline was rationed, she had to make her rounds either by walking or riding the bus wearing heels, no less!

In addition to cosmetics and perfume, Avon also sold household items at that time. One very interesting product was an air freshener that consisted of one bottle of ammonia and one bottle of rose-scented liquid. You mixed the rose liquid into the ammonia, and when you needed to remove an odor, you simply opened the bottle and let it stand until the odor dissipated. Brewer has a particularly vivid remembrance of this item. One time, in her excitement to open newly delivered items, she opened a bottle of what she thought was perfume, took a big whiff of ammonia and almost passed out!

Today, Avon is still calling, and many of those Avon products of yesterday, and even their containers, have become collectors' items. While there are collectors for everything from Avon's trinket boxes to photo frames, their perfume bottles are particularly popular, and range from hands to race cars. The surprising shapes of these containers make them especially fun to collect and display.

It all started with the Ancient Egyptians who first wore paints as a method of protecting their skin from the sun. The skin painting later became a way of separating social classes. Little did they know what they had started. Putting color on the face evolved over the years until it became a way of life for women of all ages, and a winning business venture for a man by the name of David McConnell. In the late 1800s, McConnell could be found going door-to-door selling books in order to make a living. He gave his female customers samples of perfumes, and it was these samples that ended up changing his life forever. One day he finally realized that the women liked the perfume samples better than they liked the books. The realization inspired McConnell, and in 1886, he and his wife, Lucy, started the California Perfume Company. The company's first product was called the Little Dot Perfume Set, and it contained five different fragrances.

Perfume bottles first became popular in the Victorian era when perfume was decanted into a lady's own special perfume bottle, but by the end of the 19th century, most women preferred the boxed, named sets which had become widely available. The great perfume houses produced ever more exotic and expensive fragrances which, during and immediately after World War II, became largely unaffordable for many. Although such perfumes are as popular as ever today, this period showed that there was a place in the market for a range of lower priced, mass produced, but quality perfumes.

In 1939, after a trip to England, the California Perfume Company was renamed "Avon" after Stratford upon Avon and remains Avon to this day. Products were originally sold door to door by a Mrs. Albee, the very first Avon Lady, who recruited others to sell and so became the First Avon Manager. As the name suggested, the company focused exclusively on perfume at first.

It was during the 1960s that Avon began creating the novelty perfume bottles. The first fancy decanter as we know it was a car - the Stirling Six. This came in various colors, but mostly dark amber glass. Since then, hundreds of different decanters have been produced in the shapes of animals, transport, steins in both china and glass, and probably the most popular with collectors figurines. The bottles often came in colorful, whimsically decorated boxes, as well, and today's collectors vie for the bottles that still have their boxes.

Today, Avon is still a familiar name across the United States and all over the world too. Its total number of independent representatives totals about three million men and women! More than 95 percent of its representatives work for Avon on a part-time basis. Avon products are sold through its representatives, on the Internet, and in some department stores. The products can be seen in nearly every home across the United States, as well as in many countries.

Maybe we have other early Avon Ladies right here on Pine Island and maybe some of you even still have some of those wonderful tiny sample lipsticks? We would especially love to know if any of you have an original sales kit, brochures, or anything "old" and "Avon." We would love to add them to our display at the museum (on loan, if you do not wish to donate). While these treasures from our past are not necessarily worth a lot of money, they are rich, indeed, in memories! After these many years, I can still remember those visits by the Avon Lady and how much I wanted to smell and touch all those enticing products. Contact Sharon at 283-9155, if you have any Avon things to share.

The museum is located at 5728 Sesame, next door to the Library. Our summer hours are: Tuesday, Thurs-day, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please come and visit your museum.

 
 

 

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