This is the first post in an occasional series where will I dig deeper into the history of an artifact found here at the Chancognie House. I will start with the Hoyt’s Nickel Cologne bottle pictured above.
Eli Waite Hoyt was born in Alexandria, NY in 1838 and moved with his parents to Lowell, MA in 1846. He started working in the apothecary shop of E. A. Staniels in 1851 and eventually became Staniel’s partner. When Staniels passed away in 1863, Hoyt took over the shop. Not long afterward, he formulated a men’s cologne to sell there.
In the early 1870s, Freeman Ballard Shedd joined Hoyt as a partner at the apothecary and Hoyt’s Cologne became Hoyt’s German Cologne. It is unclear which partner was responsible for this change, but “German” was likely added to the name to create the impression of imported cologne which was regarded as superior to domestically produced scents.
This marketing ploy was so successful that by 1877 Hoyt and Shedd had sold the apothecary to focus on producing and selling the cologne. Although hardly a household name today, Shedd was a marketing genius and the product’s success was due in large part to his innovative ideas. If you have ever enjoyed a free sample size bottle of cologne or perfume, you can thank Shedd who came up with the idea of giving away free samples of the cologne to create interest in the product.
While the sample size bottles did indeed create demand for the cologne, they were expensive to give away, so Shedd devised the more cost-effective method of soaking printed cards with the cologne. The cards served as both advertising and a sample of the scent and were forerunners of the scented pages now included in many fashion magazines.
Originally sold only in large bottles at a price of $1 each, Shedd realized that this was more cologne than many users wanted (or could afford) and introduced a 50 cent medium size bottle and a 25 cent trial size bottle that was especially popular. In the early 20th century, 5 and 10 cent bottles of the cologne were introduced to further expand the market for the cologne. Although standard practice today, Shedd’s idea of offering different sizes of a product at different prices was quite innovative at the time.
Hoyt died in 1887 and Shedd died in 1913 so neither founding partner lived to see a significant change to the product that garnered them great success and wealth. With the outbreak of World War I, “German” suddenly lost its appeal in the US and was quickly removed from the name. The company operated as E.W. Hoyt & Co. in Lowell, MA until 1951 producing the cologne as well as eau de toilette and Rubifoam teeth cleaner at various points in the company’s history. Hoyt’s Cologne is produced today by another company, but I do not know how it compares to the original product.
I have not been able to find a comprehensive guide to Hoyt’s cologne bottles, so I am not sure exactly when this bottle was in production, but given that it is not labeled German, it almost certainly dates to after World War I. If anyone has additional insight into Hoyt’s bottles, I would be happy to hear about it. I hope that you have enjoyed this first installment of Digging Deeper as much as I enjoyed the research – more to come!