When I first started making soap I saw the world with new eyes. Anything and everything equipped with some form of cavity became the centre of intense focus as a potential soap mould. This is a common phase that many soapmakers go through. As you make more soap you then tend to become a little jaded in this respect: you learn what works and what doesn’t and you learn to appreciate the value of uniformity. It’s just easier to calculate volume and storage and then to cost and price and package bars that are of uniform shape and size.
Like so many seasoned soapmakers before me I’ve pretty much outgrown the phase of seeing soap moulds everywhere. I stick to what I have (admittedly I have quite a stash of moulds in various shapes and sizes) and every year I’m getting better at resisting all sorts of potential mould temptations that I run into.
But, relapses happen and this is one of those stories.
A few weeks ago I was invited to an antique fair by a friend.
Now, I grew up in a house full of antiques and that teaches you a few things. It teaches you to sit straight on delicate chairs and not to play ball indoors. It teaches you never to clear the antique stemware off the table late at night after you’ve had a long, wet dinner, and it teaches you to spot the good stuff among the junk. It should also teach you not to amass unnecessary belongings, because those beautiful things carefully handed down to you through generations already fill your space.
I held on to that last thought as I browsed through some junk and some nice pieces I liked but did not need. All was fine until I came across a little silver box with a funny face on the lid.
It was a repoussé and chase work cigarette case, complete with a spring hinge in perfect working condition and little rings inside to attach bands for keeping the cigarettes in place. It was solid silver, undamaged – and beautifully made.
I don’t smoke so I don’t have any need at all for a cigarette case (and this is a very short little cigarette case – from a time before filter cigarettes), but the size and shape of this little box just shouted out ’EXTRA UNIQUE ONE-OF-A-KIND SOAP’ to me. The box was not exactly cheap, but without knowing anything more about it I could tell from the design, the condition and the workmanship that this little box was worth it. And so I forked out the money and the box became mine.
As one does I felt I needed to know all about my box immediately. A bit of close examination revealed hallmarks both on the front lid and on the back.
From my childhood I remember lengthy dinner conversations about silver hallmarks in a time when you had to look them up in books. Now, with Google on my phone it was a matter of seconds to find out what these hallmarks stood for.
The maker’s mark is a combination of two sets of initials: JR over SJ belonging to the company Rosenthal, Jacob & Co, JR standing for Julius Rosenthal and SJ for Samuel Jacob. Their partnership lasted from 1881 until 1892.
The leopard’s head mark is a town mark indicating that the piece was made in London. The lion passant guardant or Britannia stamp indicates that the silver is of a purer grade than sterling silver and the letter M stamp on the backside tells us that the piece was made in 1887. Finally the last mark on the backside is the sovereign head or duty mark indicating that duty for the piece had been paid.
So, my box was made in London in 1887 of high quality silver. A further image search revealed that the box is made in the style of Samuel Jacob rather than that of Julius Rosenthal.
But what about the enigmatic face on the lid? Who could that be? At a quick glance it looks as if flames of fire are springing from the mouth of our character. But at closer inspection those flames are almost identical with the foliage of the flowers in the top corners, and do in fact end in flower heads in the bottom corners. So, our fellow is holding not one but two flowers in his mouth, and in addition to the four flowers in the corners there is a flower immediately above the face and one immediately beneath the face. Lots of flowers all around..
This time Google didn’t spit up any handy references to imps or goblins with flowers. But I know somebody called Florian, a name which obviously refers to flowers, so I casually looked up Florian and St. Florian.
Well, lo and behold – what do you know! It turns out that St. Florian is the patron saint not only of fire fighters and beer brewers, but of soap boilers too! How’s that for an interesting coincidence!?! There’s why research is so rewarding; it teaches you new things you didn’t know 🙂 The Florian who later became Saint Florian was born in 250 AD in what is now Austria. He was an officer in the Roman Army and trained military units specifically to fight fires. In the Roman persecutions of Christians around 304 AD Florian was executed by drowning. He is the patron saint of Linz in Austria as well as the patron saint of Poland and his feast day is on May 4.
So, without any further ado I’ve decided that the face on the box symbolizes St. Florian. It would have been very prudent, I think, to keep the patron saint of firefighting on a box of smokes.. I agree that he looks somewhat more like Shreck than a saint, but who says that saints must look like hipsters and can’t look like goblins? I’ve decided not to be judgmental in this respect. Also, the symbol of St. Florian resembles a Maltese cross. If you look at the outlines of the foliage and those rocaille scrolls left, right, top and bottom of the face, they are more than just a little reminiscent of a Maltese cross..
But now over to the question of how to use the box for soap.
I was going to make a soap mould using the box as a negative. The box is only about 8.5cm x 6.5cm x 2cm. That’s a little smaller than what I prefer a bar of soap to be and so I began by building up my ’negative’ with some mould making clay. With the clay I could conveniently cover the hinge, and seal the box opening. I was going to make the mould from silicone and silicone has a knack for creeping in everywhere so I knew I had to seal the box tightly. From previous experiences I’ve also learnt that silicone is relatively heavy. This means that whatever you want to cover with silicone needs to be well-weighted, otherwise it will float to the surface of the fluid silicone. Hence I filled the box with coins before I sealed the opening.
Silicone is the obvious material for individual cavity moulds. I’ve worked with silicone before and so I had some tucked away from previous projects.
Silicone is flexible, doesn’t react with lye or much anything else and soap doesn’t stick to silicone. The down side is that silicone is relatively expensive – at least the pouring kind used for mould making – and so you want to waste as little as possible.
To use only as much silicone as I needed for a mould, I decided to build a custom designed cardboard box slightly bigger than my silver box and place my silver box in the cardboard box. The space between my silver box and the cardboard box would be filled with silicone which would eventually make the walls of my mould.
First I drew the box template onto cardboard.
Then I scored all the lines with the very pretty butter knife that I also picked up at the same time as the silver case. The butter knife has a blunt edge and is well-suited for the purpose.
I made four cuts and stuck some double-sided tape as close as possible to what would become the corners of my cardboard box – and eventually the corners of my silicone mould.
Then I stuck the box flaps in place with the double-sided tape and secured the corners with masking tape
Now my custom-made box was ready to host the silver case
Next up I needed to mix my silicone. As I said earlier silicone is expensive and you don’t want to waste any, so it’s a good idea to mix as little as you think you will need and then mix more later if necessary. For this project I guesstimated that 150g of silicone would be just about enough and it turned out to be the perfect amount. Too lazy to fetch my proper soapmaking scale from the soap room I used my little battery scale in the kitchen and boy is it annoying to have that gadget turn itself off mid project! Anyway, I did manage to weigh first the silicone and then the catalyst. The silicone needs to be mixed thoroughly; when you think you’re done you go on mixing for a good while. Once thoroughly mixed I poured the silicone onto my silver case in my cardboard box.
Once I had poured all the silicone into the cardboard box I used a skewer to release air bubbles from all those little bumps and grooves on the surface of the silver box. A soap mould I would routinely tap against the worktop to release bubbles, but here I definitely didn’t want to dislodge the silver negative from its position inside the cardboard box so no tapping or banging this time.
After chasing bubbles in the blind for a while I stuck some masking tape across the opening of the box to keep the sides from bulging. And then it was a waiting game.
I let the silicone set over night and then carefully opened the flaps of the cardboard box to unmould the silicone mould. Once I had ‘unmoulded’ my silver box this is what the mould looked like:
So far so good: no annoying bubbles and the face and flowers looking very crisp indeed.
Now for proof of concept – et voilà! Here my 1887 London silver cigarette case has been turned into a bar of soap. Pretty cool!:
When it comes to moulds with fine detail like this one, my personal preference is for soap of a solid colour. Also, the more opaque the soap, the better the detail shows up. Once again I can only marvel at how accurately the silicone and then the soap picks up the detail of the original object.
I repeated the cardboard box and silicone process a few times and now I have a nice set of completely unique and very exclusive St. Florian soap moulds.
On that note I wish everybody a very happy new year. May 2016 be an exciting and prosperous year with lots of happiness and interesting new challenges. May the trace be light, the swirls fluid, the suds abundant and may the beautiful magic of soap continue to bestow pleasure upon us all. Cheers!
I LOVE the case, the soap, the mold and your wonderful story!!
Thank you so much for sharing your adventure.
How much does the finished soap weigh?
Would you consider selling any of your molds?
Thank you Sly! If I fill the moulds to the brim I will get a fully cured weight of about 160g. That’s bigger than my normal bars, but still quite comfortable to handle. At this point I’m holding on to my unique moulds and I’m not selling them. But the soaps will be for sale.. 🙂
BEAUTIFUL YOU NOW HAVE ME LOOKING AT FLEA MARKETS FOR SILVER BOX’S!
Thanks Jane – and good luck! 🙂
Beautiful work! I’m still in the first flush of excitement that everywhere I go I see potential soap molds. I’m trying to restrain myself. I’m very pleased you didn’t in this case. It turned out so lovely. I hope to continue to learn from your experience and elegant design.
Thank you Jenn! Enjoy that first flush – it’s a nice place to be 🙂
I am sitting here shaking my head, in a good way. In an awe struck way. Clara, you are so wonderfully talented and creative, it was so enjoyable watching this tutorial unfold. You found a beautiful silver treasure that inspired beautiful bars of soap! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Thank you Brenda!
Stunning! – You never cease to impress and inspire me!
What a wonderful read and journey of your soap mold! Thanks for that…and yes, it is very cool!!!
Thank you Joan!
Wow, that was a whole lot of text but so interesting I read it all. 😉 I really admire these silver-box-soaps and should you come to Munich some day, I will happily offer a nice, homemade dinner in exchange for one of your molds. 😀 Best greetings from the most beautiful Bavarian city!
Hi Ute! I’ll think about your offer. I like München a lot and I’m a great friend of Krapfen.. 🙂
Beautiful. Your soap craft is amazing and an inspiration to fellow soapers. Thank you for researching, documenting and sharing. I so enjoy reading your post. If you ever plan on selling the mold I would be interested. I have a fireman in the family and some amazing firemen in our community I would like to present a bar of soap to. as an appreciation Maria in Livermore, CA USA (just to reinstate how far your post travel)
Hi Maria! For now I’m holding on to my moulds, but in the near future I will have some St. Florian soaps available in the webshop 🙂
Outstanding post! I enjoyed reading your about your adventures. Truly, a unique soap.
Thank you Bhakti!
I love our blog and always look forward to new posts. It is true that people always find unique things to inspire us to make soapmaking. Your first paragraph got me totally hooked. Same feeling here. I hope to have an eye for beautiful art just like you do.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you! Keep your eyes open – they’ll reward you.
Amazing article, thank you! May 2016 be sweet and joyful to you too!
Very interesting read. You are a very talented soap maker.Happy new Year to you!
Thank you Julie! Happy New Year to you too!
Such an exciting adventure that yielded an incredible mold and a beautiful bar of a soap. Your eye for soap design is truly a gift and I am so grateful you share that gift with the world on this blog and through selling your gorgeous soaps.
Each and every one of your soaps is an idiosyncratic marvel of creative genious! You inspire me (and the global soap community) with your your extraordinary talent and artistic flair!
This one of a kind soap mold, the unique soap, and the history of this amazing sterling silver cigarette case are exquisite!
Thanks Amy! Glad you liked it 🙂
A wonderful story with a happy ending…love those ones. Thank you for the tutorial and a new perspective on moulds. Wishing you a beautiful New Year and looking forward to more from you.
Thank you! Happy New Year to you too!
What a most beautiful soap! I love how the details of the face and flowers are just so crisp. Thank you so much for sharing your research into the provenance of the box and your mould-making procedure and results. This is something I will definitely try, so would you be willing to share the brand of silicone that you’ve used to achieve such amazing results?
Hi Marie! I use the softest two-component pouring silicone I can get hold of here. It’s called Mould Max 30.
Thank you Clara! And a Happy New Year!
Oh what a great find and story, love the end result, very unique. I’ve yet to make a mold but have one I need to make. I have a single silicone mold of a pear on top of another pear. I want to make and package for my granddaughters wedding.” A Perfect Pear”. Do you think I could line up some of the soaps I’ve already made (one at a time) and make a mold I could use that would have about 1 0 . Guess the question is do you think I could pour silicone mold over soap and make a new mold? Happy New Year!! to you.
I’m sure you can, as long as you plan the project properly and make a plan before hand for how you will be unmoulding uncured soap from the mould once it’s finished etc. Soap does not react with silicone so you can use a soap as a negative for making a silicone mould.
What a delicate piece! Lucky you! Thank you for this interesting post! Sherlock Holmes couldn`t investigate better! I live near Linz in Austria, it´s the Capital City of my Province Oberösterreich. Near Linz there is a big church, called St. Florian. I´ve often seen it. The father of my children was born in this village, also called St. Florian. What a nice story you wrote about this little case! One question: Do you think the ornaments coming out of the mouth are maybe smoke, lol? I wish you all the best for 2016, Good tidings to you and all of your friends! 🙂 Helga Baumann
Hej Helga! The face certainly looks like there’s flames coming out of the mouth and who knows – maybe there is some subtle play on the fact that those ornamental elements can be interpreted both as flames or smoke and as parts of flowers. A play on the name as well as on the patronage..? Of course, we’ll never really know – which makes it all so much more interesting 🙂
Like you, I have learned to resist viewing every object as a mould. However, I’m fascinated with trinket boxes of all kinds…always have been. I, too, would have had to pick up the silver cigarette case. I’ve not ventured in making silicone moulds, but I was thinking how hard it must have been to pour that silicone over your precious keepsake. I found myself holding my breath looking at the photo of the pour. Well done, it’s beautiful. And who knew we had a patron saint? Love the depth of your research.
Hi Marley! I’ve worked enough with pouring silicone to know that it wasn’t going to affect my silver case in any way. In fact I was more concerned about the mould-making clay, but in the end that also didn’t seem to affect the silver. But, I’d hesitate to cover a silver object in acidic caulking silicone.
A great story with wonderful instructions about how to create the mold. And, as always, Clara, you end with the most beautiful soap! Thanks so much for sharing your work with us.
Thank you Nina!
Clara this is so beautiful, and bless those Jewish goldsmiths for making such astonishing things. I wonder if the box was made for a really important purpose or person? The date of the coin, 1762, must be significant for the recipient of the box? Anyway, you spied that box for a reason and what a great soap it makes.
Thank you, Clara, for continuing to inspire me to make better and better soaps.
A box like this one seems very exclusive today, but in the day when it was made, large quantities of silver items like this were made in various towns in England. I think there probably was a special story to this box initially; a special commission for a particular occasion perhaps. But we’ll never know; there are no personalized engravings on the box. The coin is another mystery. At 125 years it was quite an old coin at the time, but what was the significance of incorporating it in the box? Was it a special lucky coin that whoever commissioned the box specifically asked to have embedded in the box? Again, we’ll never know..
Fantastic story. I’m not a religious person…but maybe a few whispered kind words to St. Florian will help with those difficult batches 🙂
Hi Kevin! I’m also not a religious person but I do like the idea of a patron saint for soapmakers. In olden days with large open cauldrons of hot rendered fat and caustic lye from wood ashes – and no safety gear – accidents involving both heat burns and chemical burns would have been inevitable. Counting on protection from a higher power would have been very welcome indeed.
Curiosity got the better of me, so I began researching the date on the coin, and that in turn led me to the fabulous House of Esterhazy (and to Maria Octavia Frn von Gilleis, who died in 1672) and that, via a long and winding path led me to Launceston, Tasmania, which is where I live. So there you go; everything is connected. I can’t help but feel that the box was made to mark a specal event somewhere in the House of Esterhazy. How it ended up in a market is the stuff mystery novels are made of!
A lot of enigma surrounds that box. So many questions, so few answers. A treasure trove for the imagination.. 🙂
Well worth reading about your adventure and the making of this exquisite mold! I have a piece from my Mother’s collection that I’ve been wanting to made a small mold from for lotion bars. You’ve given me the inspiration and know-how to proceed! Happy New Year to you as well
Thanks Peggy and good luck with your project!
Love your soap mold,love your kind heart always share your knowledge,I learn a lot from you. Thank You So Much and God Bless You.
Thank you! <3
Beautiful illustrated story, I’m new into soap making, so excited, and now even more inspired!! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Thank you for the beautiful story and tutorial!! The mold turned out beautifully.
Hi Doreen! Glad you liked it!
Thank you so much for sharing. Your mold is so exquisite and it is wonderful to see how you have incorporated the vintage design with modern techniques.
Thank you Jenn!
How gorgeous, and such a find! Thanks for sharing- I always look forward to your creative pioneering posts Clara.
Thank you Colleen!
Love, love your mould! It’s so unique and interesting!
Thank you Judet!
I simply adore your blog. Your taste is exquisite. Happy New Year!
Thank you! Happy New Year to you too!
Thanks Aunt Clara, Love your blogs and thanks for sharing.
Happy Super 2016!!
Thank you San, you too!
Precioso!!! como todos tus trabajos.
Superbe i love your box they very Nice
Thank you Violette!
Thanks for the tutorial!
Best wishes for 2016.
Thank you! Best wishes to you too!
How fascinating! I enjoyed reading your account of finding the silver box – what a treasure – and discovering the figure is quite possibly St. Florian, patron saint of soap makers. Your mold and resulting soap turned out beautiful. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you Debbie, glad you liked it!
Unike og vakre, grattis! Godt Nytt År!
Tack Yvonne! Gott Nytt år till dig också!
Clara, thanks for sharing your experience. Really love all the story behind your magical box! ^___^
Thanks! It’s an enigmatic little box. Lots of unanswered questions..
Another gorgeous soap, Clara! You are truly an inspiration.
Regarding the figure on the box, I am fairly certain it is called a Green Man. These images are often found in medieval church architecture, and are usually depicted with a face surrounded by foliage and often with vines coming out of the mouth. It’s a symbol of nature and fertility, hearkening back to its pagan roots. Here’s a short but interesting piece about the Green Man found at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland: http://www.rosslyntemplars.org.uk/index.php/rosslyn-chapel/scotsman-article-on-the-green-man/ A Google search for Green Man images will turn up lots of figures similar to yours.
Wishing you and yours a happy and prosperous 2016!
Hi Shari and thank you so much for shedding more light on my box! Now that I’ve googled the Green Man I’m sure the face on the box belongs to a Green Man – in one of his many forms. The connection between the Green Man and Rosslyn Chapel and the Knights Templar – perhaps leading us to those superheroes of conspiracy theory, the illuminati, would be stuff for great fiction!
Interestingly it seems that in the Victorian time when the box was made, a common form of the Green Man was Jack-in-the-Green, a trickster character appearing in the May Day parades of chimney sweeps. May Day was the only holiday of the year for chimney sweep apprentices, child labourers living and working under horrific conditions. And – who was the patron saint of chimney sweeps? Yes – St. Florian. Coincidence of course, but pretty riveting nevertheless 🙂
Such a beautiful story. I love your creativity and the manner in which you make a decision to bring something to life, i.e., soap, and you make it happen!
Thank you Sue!
A real artist with in hers catharsis moments! Thanks sharing with us!
Thank you Pavel!
Oh so beautiful and such a lovely story to it. I thought it was a green man but very much like the interpretation of St. Florian. Thank you for the great post. I want to try something like that.
Hi Frankie! I think the original may well be a Green Man – or a Jack-in-the-green – a mischievous version of the Green Man featuring in May Day celebrations of chimney sweeps in England. The patron saint of chimney sweeps is St. Florian..
Fabulous read! It was no coincidence this little cigarette box was destined to fall into the hands of a soapmaker worthy of its ownership! This is a story worth passing down to future generations.
Thank you Joy! I’m so glad you liked it!
That is just about the greatest story, and coincidence I’ve ever heard. Turned out beautifully.
Thank you! 🙂
Such a wonderful soap mold. I really like your new website too. What kind of clay did you use to build up the sides? I really enjoy your blogs and learn so much from the tutorials you publish. Thanks!
Thanks! The clay I used is a special clay designed for mouldmaking. It’s hard at room temp and needs to be heated to become workable. Once your shape is finished it cools down and becomes hard again. But you could use ordinary plasticine too.
Clara you are a true inspiration. I live in a smallish town of 38k and our downtown has a few remaining antique shops. I’m on a quest 🙂