Mineralava was one of the first heavily advertised beauty clays. Popular in the 1920’s, newspaper advertisements published early in the decade explained the reasoning behind the “Mineralava” name.
The name Mineral-lava is well chosen. “Mineral” indicates the healing features, “Lava,” the clay, discovered to have wonderful natural properties. It may be – who knows? – from the bed of the ancient Fountain of Youth itself.
The advertisements went on to describe it’s many purported benefits.
Mineralava does what no artificial cream, cosmetics, soaps or massage have been able to do – it cleanses the cogged pores. All the dust of cities, all the grease and impurities that modern life jams down the skin – hitherto quite irremovable – are now drawn forth gently and naturally and completely by Minerlava, in one application in your home.
Immediately, a blooming youthfulness of complexion glows and radiates from the cheeks. The long-stifled face pores breathe again. The blood rushes joyously through every tissue and muscle. Pimples, blackheads and blemishes are removed – wrinkles and tiny lines give place to a natural fullness of contour. Enlarged pours, oily skin, sagged muscles all go their way – and the face becomes striking in its beauty and youthfulness.
Recommended to be applied at least twice a week, it was to be used in combination with their face finish.
And the whole process only took 15 minutes!
After Mineralava is on the face there are twelve or fifteen minutes of complete restfulness. Or you can go about your regular work. You feel the agreeable tingle of the drying beauty clay, the delightful drawing sensation as the pores free of accumulations. Cold water quickly and easily removes the beauty mask.
The Face Finish is a bleach and tonic for the skin. It soothes and gently closes the pores, acting as a perfect base for your face powder. Best and lasting results proceed from continued use of Mineralava, Cold Water, Face Finish, in combination.
According to these early advertisements the product was the brain-child of a woman named M. G. Scott who developed it based on years of research and who had been using it locally in her beauty parlor. The American Medical Association certainly had their doubts, expressing this somewhat sarcastic opinion in their November 10, 1923 Journal:
Needless to say, it had a wonderful origin. It was the result we are told of “twenty-three years of scientific research and experiment” on the part of one Mrs. M. G. Scott. For some unknown reason Mrs. Scott is not a scientist, but a “fashionable specialist.”
That being said, by late 1920 Mineralava was being manufactured and distributed by a company called Scott’s Preparations, Inc., whose president was a man named Herbert Z. Pokress. A feature on Pokress entitled “The Romance of Small Business,” by Edward Mott Woolley, published in the November 26, 1923 edition of the Buffalo (N. Y.) Times lends some credence to the “Mrs. Scott” story.
For eighteen years Mrs. M. G. Scott was a facial specialist in Chicago, and evolved a so-called mineral clay. Among her patrons this clay was very popular, yet during all these years it remained a local product.
The way it happened was this, as I get the story from one of the principals:
H. Z. Pokrass, a Chicago hat manufacturer, was talking to Raymond Hitchcock, the actor, and Mr. Hitchcock chanced to mention this particular facial clay as being especially good. In a spirit of adventure, the two went to Mrs. Scott and tried it out.
Mr. Pokrass, who had imagination, saw the opportunity and soon afterward bought a ninety-per-cent interest in the clay, Mrs. Scott retaining the remaining ten percent.
Initially Mineralava was only marketed and sold to the beauty and cosmetics industry. The first newspaper reference for it that I can find offered the “new Mineralava Treatment” at the beauty parlor of a Hartford Connecticut department store called Wise, Smith & Co. The ad appeared in the December 23, 1920 edition of the Hartford Courant.
Around the same time Mineralava treatments were also available in the New York City area as evidenced by the following two advertisements. The first, published on February 16, 1921 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that women could obtain the “new Mineralava Treatment and Mask of Youth” in the salon, located on the fifth floor of Loeser’s department store.
Another published the next day in the New York Herald made it clear that men were also in luck; able to obtain a Terminal Mud Massage using Scott’s Mineralava at any one of nine Terminal Barber Shops.
By this time Arthur J. Karr and his brother-in-law, George H. Souther, Jr. had joined the business. The 1922 New York City directory located Scotts, Preparations at 10 East 38th Street and named Pokress, Karr and Souther as president, secretary and treasurer respectively.
According to Woolley’s feature:
Karr was an advertising man in New York, and when he learned about the campaign to market the clay he saw even bigger possibilities.
So, likely at Karr’s urging, the company began looking to expand Mineralava’s distribution by promoting it for home use. As a result on May 5, 1921 they entered into a contract with Vivaudou, Inc. to act as their sole and exclusive agent. Around the same time, according to Woolley:
After much consideration, it was decided to invest $10,000 in advertising Mineralava…The first advertisement appeared in the fall of 1921 – a full page in a weekly magazine published by a chain of newspapers.
The full page advertisement told a concocted story suggesting that renowned perfumer Victor Vivaudou discovered Mineralava while on a visit to the United States. Found in the September 18, 1921 edition of the San Francisco Examiner, the ad exhibited the following headline:
The advertisement went on to say:
Mr. Vivaudou writes as follows concerning Mineralava “I am sure all women take interest in the beauty with which Nature endows them.
Here in your own America I have found the one thing which ladies in Paris and all over the world have yearned for – a care of the complexion which is at once natural, convenient and successful – Scott’s Mineralava.”
Seldom have Mineralava treatments been administered for less than five dollars. Often the price was $10. Now the Vivaudous organization is placing Minerlava in the drug and department stores of every city and hamlet in the country so that the price of a treatment by yourself in your home is less than 12 cents.
In December 1922 Scott’s Preparations and Vivaudou entered into a second contract. The terms were included in the June 1, 1924 edition of the “Soap Gazette and Perfumer.”
By the terms of the contract the Vivadou company was granted exclusive selling rights for the beauty clay in the United States and Canada, except to beauty and barber shops. The Mineralava concern agreed to spend $1,000,000 yearly in advertising during the term of the contract, beginning January 1, 1923 and to pay Vivaudou 10 percent of all gross business.
The significant dollars committed to advertising generated magazine and newspaper advertisements across the country.
In addition to newspaper and magazine advertising they signed Rudolph Valentino on as a spokesman for the clay.
Throughout much of 1923 he and his wife, Natacha Rambova conducted a Mineralava sponsored dance tour, performing in 88 cities across the United States and Canada. According to the June 1924 “Soap Gazette and Perfumer” story the total cost of the dance tour alone was $187,000.
In addition to dance routines, the tour included a beauty contest in each city, with the 88 winners participating in a national contest held in New York City. Here’s the invitation/advertisement for the April 7th Pittsburgh stop on the tour published in the Pittsburgh Gazette:
The national contest was held in New York City on November 28, 1923. That weekend, according to Time Magazine’s December 17, 1923 edition:
Then the 88 beauties were transported to Manhattan. They and their chaperones were housed on an entire floor of the Waldorf Astoria. They were taken in a fleet of taxi cabs to see the Acting Mayor…and paraded with three bands up Fifth Avenue.
The contest itself drew over 8,000 to New York’s Madison Square Garden. The next day the New York Daily News reported:
Rudolph Valentino acted as chairman of the judges of the beauty contest at Madison Square Garden last night – the competition that resulted in Miss Toronto’s selection as the queen of beauty from eighty-eight entrants from as many cities…
Thousands of persons notably paid $5.50 to see eighty-eight beauties parade around the platform, but actually stayed until long after midnight when Valentino placed the rhinestone crown over Miss Toronto’s black curls.
On a side note: Unfortunately for the Mineralava company the impact of the final contest was muted when the press viewed it for what it was, a publicity stunt, and refused to mention the Mineralava name in their stories. Instead they simply referred to it as a “national beauty contest.”
As if all this wasn’t enough, Mineralava was also a pioneer in radio advertising as evidenced by a story on the “Golden Age of Radio,” published in the February 9, 1991 edition of the South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel.
The exact date of the first radio commercial is subject to debate. Of importance to premium collectors is a 1922 broadcast by movie queen Marion Davies. Her sponsor was Mineralava, a manufacturer of facial mud packs. The company offered listeners an autographed picture of the star.
Around this time, while sales were increasing significantly, the company’s advertising expenditures were taking a heavy toll on profits. According to “The Cumulative Daily Digest of Corporate News (Covering July, August and September, 1923):
SALES – Pres. of Co. reports that total sales in 1921 amounted to $94,000, in 1922 to $611,000 and for the first six months of 1923 to $767,000. Production cost for the first six months of 1923 was approximately $164,000, exclusive of advertising and selling costs. Due to high selling costs and to the expense of a huge advertising campaign put in operation a few months ago only $106,851 were saved to net profit.
Adding insult to injury, their distributor, Vivaudou Inc., was having financial difficulties and was ultimately sued by Scott’s Preparations for not living up to their contract terms. The June 1, 1924 Soap Gazette and Perfumer detailed Scott’s allegations.
The complaint alleges that the Vivaudou company failed to live up to the contract by neglecting to employ special salesmen to push the Mineralava Beauty Clay, by neglecting to pay its salesmen 5 per cent of the commissions of Mineralava sales and by refusing to sell Mineralava Beauty Clay to concerns which did not use Vivaudou products at the same discounted prices made to merchants purchasing Vivaudou products. In addition, the complaint alleges that the beauty clay was sold at higher prices to some merchants than agreed upon in the contract, and that no accounting of the sales was made, other than at regular prices.
The story went on to say:
…the beauty clay will not be sold through Vivaudou in the future, but will be sold direct to merchants by the Scott’s Preparations Company.
As far as I can tell national newspaper advertisements for Mineralava, though less numerous, continued up through 1925. By then, according to this October 6, 1925 ad in the Sacramento Bee, the facial had been reduced from fifteen to five minutes and the Mineralava product line had been expanded to include a face powder, face cream (guaranteed not to grow hair!) and six other related products.
At this point the manufacturer’s name had also changed to Mineralava Preparations, Inc. Whether or not this reflected a change in ownership/management is not clear to me.
After the national advertisements disappeared the Mineralava name continued to appear in drug store advertisements and price lists up through the late 1930’s.
The bottle I found is mouth blown with a rectangular cross section. “Scott’s Mineralava” is embossed on the base. The bottle, sans packaging, matches those from early 1920’s advertisements. Recognizing the 1920’s manufacture, I’m surprised its not machine made.
Typically called the $2.00 size, in the Spring of 1924 you could buy a bottle for $1.39. By then it was also available in a smaller, 50 cent tube size for 35 cents. Their $1.50 face finish set you back a buck..