In 1896, John M. Price, born in 1872 in Washington County, Indiana, started the Crown Chemical Company, which originally produced household products such as laundry detergent. In 1900, Price moved his growing company, and growing family, to Indianapolis. In 1905, after abandoning the laundry detergent business, Price moved on to what would become his legacy – cosmetics.
Price changed the name of Crown Chemical Company to Boncilla Laboratories in 1905 and focused on a line of skin care products and cosmetics. One of the company’s most popular products, the “Package-O-Beauty” is advertised above, in an advertisement likely from the early 1920’s. The Boncilla line of products was popular with many Hollywood starlets, including Joan Crawford, who lent her name and image to Boncilla advertisements. Boncilla Laboratories also produced a line of men’s skin care products. An ad for men’s line, from the April 9, 1921, Saturday Evening Post, indicates use of the product will result in the much-revered “well-laundered man.” Amateur etymologists may find interesting, the use of a word, now very offensive, used prominently in the Saturday Evening Post ad to describe the condition of a person’s face. The use of that word in the context of this vintage ad, refers to a tired, or exhausted state of being.
As noted in an earlier HI article, “Indianapolis Collected: A Dirty Tale of Mudpack Marketing” the “secret formula” in some of the Boncilla Cosmetic products was nothing more than dirt, water, and some fragrance. This discovery seemed not to deter buyers, as the products survived through 1943, when ownership of the company changed and the cosmetics line appears to have been discontinued–perhaps due to World War II, though that is unclear.