6/3/14

Touring Irish Bars: Irish Spring, Then And Now



I recently purchased a bar of Irish Spring soap that I estimate is from the late 1970s, perhaps '77 or '78. This qualifies it as "vintage," although its barcode limits the likelihood that it is of "original" vintage. I got the soap from a seller on Etsy, which is quickly becoming my favorite site. I have officially purchased a vintage house, and I intend on filling it with antiquated knick-knacks in a relatively sly manner - no overtly "old" things anywhere, except for the utilitarian stuff, like soap, floss, dollar bills. The "details" stuff. I'm doing this so that visitors will be quietly freaked out as they go through my things, wondering if I truly am a denizen of the past who hoofed it to the present somehow and brought all his possessions with him.

The purchase is enlightening and disappointing. To actually hold a thirty some-odd year-old bar of Irish Spring in my hand is actually really cool. It's my favorite soap. I've read a lot about it. Its commercials are all over Youtube. People opine on how much better the older version was, compared to the new. They're usually referring to two aspects of the product, its size and its scent, with the overwhelming sentiment being that the larger 5 oz bars were harder and better, and the fragrance was fresher and superior to the current stuff. Memory is a tricky thing, though. It turns out that Irish Spring has actually gotten larger by .25%, relative to the "regular size" of yesteryear. It used to be 3.5 ounces. It is now 3.75 ounces. They've changed the sizing jargon to "Bath Size" instead of "Regular Size," but that's splitting hairs. These are both Colgate's "Regular Sized" bar of Irish Spring.


What has changed of course is that Colgate no longer offers the 5 oz bar, or the subsequent 4 oz bar. In other words, there is no longer much variety when it comes to the size of this soap. I believe they still make it in a 2 oz "travel size" or something like that, but I haven't seen those smaller bars in a while, and can't verify whether or not they still make it.

One thing that has changed is the color. Now I believe this old bar of soap has actually faded in color, despite being stored in a sealed box, likely due to the dyes gradually aging. However, it still bears a very clear imprint of the name and logo, and is a beautiful marbled white and jade, much streakier than the current bar. I guess the temptation to whip out a pocket knife and slice into the stuff is supposed to be part of the appeal, but I honestly have no desire to do that. What you see here is what you get, inside and out, I'm sure:


The new bar is much greener, much less marbelized, and for some reason doesn't have the cute shamrock imprint. I guess the cost of stamping shamrocks was vetoed at some point by the suits in charge of production. No biggie, but they could have at least tried to preserve it. It would look nice on this pale, seafoamy green:


As for the fragrance, well, that's the disappointing part. I figured that unlike perfume, the fragrance in soap would stay true regardless of age, provided the bar remains in a sealed box, away from the elements. The box arrived sealed, with no signs of serious damage other than a few wrinkles and scuffs. Yet the soap barely smells of anything. The odor off the dry bar, and from the box itself, is all there is. It's a vaguely spicy, woody odor, very meek and pleasant, but impossible to decipher properly. I wet a portion of the bar and built up a lather on the palm of my hand, but that seemed to squelch what little scent remains, and I smell nothing but basic soap materials (tallow-like odors). Quite a bust, I'm afraid.


This soap has been around for over four decades, and perhaps bars from the late '80s and '90s have held up better scent-wise. Unless you're a die-hard Irish Spring fan, it's tough to see the point in seeking out a really old bar, but if you can get it for pennies like I did, you may has well buy it and see. Perhaps the luck of the Irish will be with you.




6 comments:

  1. I am not familiar with Irish Spring - despite being Irish - but your post has brought back a slew of memories about Shield deodorant soap, which was also green and 'marble-ized'. ;)

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    1. I spent about a year and a half in Ireland, and seven months in mainland Europe, and don't recall ever seeing Irish Spring anywhere. However, I wasn't looking for it, so take that into account. It got its start in Germany, and after selling well there, Colgate sent the product stateside. Unilever's Shield was essentially the answer, filling 30% of the market share and meeting European demand for deodorant soap. Both soaps are excellent, although Irish Spring has developed a reputation of being a skin dryer.

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  2. Loved reading this, I'm a user of IS and a fan of cosmetics history. Thanks for the great post!

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  3. Irish spring is a bit harsh for my skin but I still buy it because I love the scent. This soap makes an awesome air freshener :).

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    1. Yeah it's best for oily skin only, really, it definitely dries it out. If you like the smell but feel it needs a little extra something to qualify as a perfume, check out Sung Homme, the purple stuff. A touch of ashy tobacco and carnation-infused laurel really rounds it out and elevates it to another level.

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