It appears Parfumerie Monte Christo is actually a line of toilet articles associated with L Shaw’s Hair Emporium and later with the Monte Christo Cosmetic Co., both located in New York City.
In an 1899 interview, published in the October 25 Issue of Printers Ink, the L Shaw business manager, Albert Edelstein, stated that the business had been started 37 years prior by Madame Shaw. This would put the start of the business around 1862, but the first listing I can find was in the 1871/72 NYC Directory: “Louise (sometimes Louisa in later directories) Shaw, real and imitation hair, 352 Bowery.”
Around 1873, the business address moved to Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village and then in about 1876, they relocated to 54 West 14th Street which served as their retail location through the early 1900’s.
The business was the predecessor of what we would call today the beauty parlor or spa. In his 1899 interview, Edelstein described the range of services provided at this location.
These four stories and the basement are devoted to all the details pertaining to the hair, hairdressing, dyeing, shampooing, scalp treatment, manicuring, facial steaming and care of the complexion. As advertised it is the largest hair store in the world.
In the interview he stated that they were also the leading wholesaler.
…while in another part of town we occupy another entire building for our wholesale trade, being also the leading wholesaler. We import our hair direct, and in fact are the only house doing so, and probably supply more hair goods to retailers than all other wholesalers together.
The firm’s clientele and primary target of their advertising was the wealthy woman. Edelstein stated that they began to advertise about 15 years prior (1884) and primarily used daily papers and the theatre programs. At the time there were eight New York newspapers and he preferred the morning papers to the afternoon ones. His reasoning leaves no doubt about who his target audience was.
We believe that people have more time to read them, and read them more closely. And especially is this the case with ladies, whom we catch at just the right time, we think for good results. It is seldom that a lady reads an evening paper closely, even on those evenings where she may stay at home. But in the morning, after breakfast, she generally has an hour or two of lounging, even before going out shopping – a time when seeing our ad makes a substantial impression on her.”
In fact, the second floor of the West 14th Street parlor was restricted to women only – “No man is permitted entry.”
The business marketed a wide range of hair and cosmetics items including several under the name Parfumerie Monte Christo. Sounding French it was probably named this way for appeal to the wealthy woman and her preference at the time for French toiletries and perfumes.
It’s not clear when they started using the Monte Christo name but items with this tag were being mentioned in advertisements as early as the mid-1880’s when the business started advertising. One from 1886, advertised “a complete assortment of beautifying cosmetics by the Perfumerie Monte Christo.
Another in the July 1891 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine mentioned “all toilet preparations of the celebrated Parfumerie Monte Christo.”
The business changed hands around the turn of the century. The 1901 Copartnership and Corporation Directory lists the business for the first time as the Firm of L Shaw, with Gerson Hyman and Manuel Oppemheim listed as the principals. Around 1905 the business moved from their longtime 14th Street location to 506 Fifth Avenue. Hyman and Oppenheim remained listed as principals through 1909. The directories also listed Albert Edelstein, the business manager, at the L Shaw business location through 1909.
In 1910, ownership changed again and it appears that the Parfumerie Monte Christo piece of the business was split off. In the 1910 Copartnership and Corporation Directory the principals in the firm of L Shaw are listed as Leo B. and Felix A. Simonson. In the same directory, listed for the first time is a firm called the Monte Christo Cosmetic Co., located at 13 East 30th Street with Albert Edelstein as the only listed principal.
The Monte Christo Cosmetic Company continued to be listed through at least the 1925 NYC Directory. After that, I lose track, but Edelstein still lists himself as a proprietor in the cosmetics industry in the 1930 census records. The firm of L Shaw vanished from the directories around 1920.
In 1912, the Monte Christo Cosmetic Co. was convicted of violating the food and drug act with a product called Monte Christo Rum and Quinin for the Hair. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association:
The Monte Christo Cosmetic Company of New York City, which is a trade style used by one Albert Edelstein, shipped in interstate commerce a product labeled “Monte Christo Rum and Quinin for the Hair.” The claims for the product were: “Cools and Invigorates the Scalp. Prevents the hair from falling out. Removes and prevents dandruff, imparting to the hair a delightful perfume.”
A sample of the product was analyzed by the Bureau of Chemistry and the chemists reported the following results: ethyl alcohol 18.5%; wood alcohol 42.0% and quinin 38 grams per 100cc.
The preparation was declared adulterated in that its purity and strength were inferior to the professional standard under which it was sold, in that wood alcohol had been substituted for part of the rum. It was declared misbranded because the label was false and misleading and likely to deceive the purchaser into the belief that the product was composed of rum and quinin, when as a matter of fact it was composed of rum, quinin and wood alcohol.
Interestingly, there was no mention of the product’s false and unsubstantiated claims but only its mis-labeled contents. Containing mostly alcohol, were you supposed to drink it or massage it on your scalp?
The current building at 54 West 14th Street does not date back to the late 1800’s and therefore is not the building that housed the Shaw retail operation. It’s not clear where the wholesale operation mentioned in the 1899 interview was located.
The bottle I found is six sided, mouth blown and about four ounces. Embossed on two adjacent sides at on one end is “Parfumerie Monte Christo” and on the other end is “Beaume Mamma Dura.” Mamma Dura was mentioned in a written advertisement I found in an 1888 issue of Lippenott’s:
It may be understood at once that so far as hair, switches, curls, bangs, or wigs go, any aids to the skin and hair, hands and eyes, in washes or unguents, America offers none of such value as those prepared by L. Shaw, the world-renowned alchemist and coiffeur, at 54 west Fourteenth Street, New York. Nor in fact, is there in Europe just such as house as this from which all our beautiful women procure toilet articles. Lovely actresses, as well as rulers in the social world, preserve their charms with cocoa-milk, mama dura, and the superfine Monte Christo rouge.
Maybe it was some sort of facial lotion?
I’ve seen bottles embossed “Monte Christo Parfumerie” on the internet with L Shaw printed on a paper label that’s wrapped around the neck. The bottle I found includes the slightly elongated neck required for this label.