Since the at least the late 1700’s the British Army had been whitening belts and other personal equipment. For this they used a preparation made from pipe-clay – a very white clay when fired and ground. Pipe-clay was plentiful around the country and was exploited extensively for making pottery as well as clay pipes. As such, a very cheap and workaday compound. And as with many nouns it became transformed into a verb – to pipe-clay leather.

John Needham Pickering, a Volunteer (predecessor of the Territorial) thought his family firm that produced polishing compounds and rouges for the cutlery trade, could produce something better than the traditional pipeclay for whitening the Slade Wallace buckskin equipment the Army then wore. They developed a pure white compressed block product that could, by the addition of a little water, be applied with a sponge, rag or brush. They sold it to the local Hillsborough barracks who adopted his product and their extra white webbing was admired and led to it’s adoption by the rest of the army in the 1880’s. For ten or fifteen years a Blanco-pipeclay controversy went on in the barrack-rooms, and Blanco won.

The product was sold in cake form shown on this page as well as liquid and paste form in a squeezable tube. The period of production of the two other forms is unclear but with certainty after 1900.

The Good Soldier


A pre-1900 zinc tin with splendid lid detail inscribed “Joseph Pickering & Sons – Sheffield”and carries a Pickering trade mark of a decorated “P” inside a lozenge.

It is owned by Denise Wey who recounts it was given to her by her Grandmother as a keepsake who told her it had always been for whitening (and as a child she always whitened Denise’s shoes from it). Denise’s Great Granddad was with the Durham Light Infantry pre 1900, then only a boy (photo below)  and her father remembers it being in her Great Grandmothers house, when he was a boy and always used for whitening.

early Blanco tin
Photo: Denise Wey

Durham Light Infantry
Photo: Denise Wey


This is the earliest Blanco advert the author has yet come across – July 7th 1888 in ‘The Graphic’ periodical – and carries the illustration of “The Good Soldier” busy at work whitening his equipment. It is aimed at the civilian market for sports goods whitening but also describes it’s military application and availability. A similar advert ion August 18th 1880 gives the price as 6d for the complete tin and block and 1d for refill blocks.
1888 Blanco ad

This American advert of 1892 (and other adverts listed here from the Antipodeans) shows that Blanco wasn’t peculiar to the UK and was used across the world.
Blanco 1892 USA

This advert from June 1890 published in the Star newspaper (Christchurch, New Zealand) describes the product as “Blanco, best pipeclay” for use by the Volunteer forces at 4d a cake or 1 shilling a tin.
1890 Blanco advert
By 1894 the small ad changes and simply reinforces Blanco’s matchless whitening ability.
anco-ad-January-1894

blanco white 1898
Photo: Grace’s Guide
This advertisement of 1898 still refers back to pipeclay and so is clearly aimed at winning users over to the convenience of Blanco. Its distribution is both military (via canteens) and domestic. It also refers to a branch office in London of St George’s House, Eastcheap, London EC. This old building destroyed in WW2 is now replaced by newer property bounded by Eastcheap, Pudding Lane and Botolph Lane and occupied by Lloyd’s TSB Bank Plc and the development called St. George’s House, 6 – 8 Eastcheap, London EC3M1AE.
Photos show Eastcheap in flames in the Blitz and nos 2-4 Eastcheap in ruins.
eastcheap EC2 in the Blitz2-4 eastcheap

Come the Great War, if not before, Blanco was supplied to the forces in more utilitarian zinc tins that simply bore the word BLANCO on the lid. Blanco No. 100 was the paper wrapped mould only, sold as a refil1 for the tins and cost 1d; Blanco No. 101 was the mould supplied in a zinc tin complete with sponge and cost 6d; Blanco No. 102 was the mould supplied in a cardboard box with sponge and cost 3d. The mould in this period was of the original deep well style and bore the embossed legend of Joseph Pickering & Sons – Sheffield as well as the word Blanco.



Blanco white cleaner
Photo: David Pratt – Illustrates (left) the original deep well mould type and the more modern shallow well type. It is not known when the design changed (and improved to a more sophisticated fine particulate, highly compressed block) but the old type was in use in WWI and the new in WWII.

This Pickering’s product, simply referred to by the trade name, has been repackaged for the Leicester-based national shoe retailers Stead & Simpson Ltd. It carries the older instruction leaflet that has a footer “Joseph Pickering & Sons Ltd, Printers, Sheffield”, which takes the date to after 1900.
Stead & Simpson Blanco
Photo: Martin Lowe

blanco-white
Photo: Mick Burgess

And here is a zinc coated container from Stig Roadie’s collection, later than the one illustrated at the top of this page. The company trade mark has now switched from the stylised “P lozenge” to the product name of “Blanco”, marking the significance of the product to the company.
Blanco white cleaner
Photo: David Pratt

A post-1900 Blanco wrapper.
Paris 1889It proudly boasts of winning a silver medal in the 1889 Exposition Universelle Internationale, Paris. This was a significant World Exposition event with an astonishing 32 million visitors – the temporary Eiffel Tower was the principal attraction. A large portion of the exhibit hall within the Palace of Mechanical Industries contained Thomas Edison’s electrical inventions, including various electric lamps for use in houses. Variations of the telephone also were shown. During the Paris Exposition Europeans were exposed to the phonograph for the first time.
Also the award of a Diploma of Merit from the Military Exhibition, London, is heralded.
Also can be seen on the illustration of the mould is the number of the registered trade mark of ‘Blanco’ – 91774
Blanco wrapper
Photo: Mick Burgess


As time went on the white Blanco product assumed the new shallow well style of mould, here seen in it’s civilian retail guise on the left:
Blanco white cleaner
Photo: David Pratt

The white Blanco product wasn’t without competitors, among them Snowene, Nugget and Meltonian.

Here is an advert from the Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand 1898 that lists Blanco for White Shoes and Belts. A later New Zealand 1908 advert also lists Nugget, Blanco, Laura and Lilly White products for whitening boots and shoes.

1898 Blanco advert


This December 1910 advert from the Grey River Argus (New Zealand) for a boot and shoe emporium declares ‘Blanco in all colours in Metal Boxes’ is available.
1910 Blanco advert
And this January 1912 lists the Blanco colours available: white, grey, champagne, heliotrope (a pink-purple or vivid lavender) and green. The price of 3d is a penny cheaper than the 1890 price of 4d.
Blanco colours 1912

A rather splendid Bakelite container for the domestic market from Stig Roadie’s collection.

The lid says “Keeps white shoes white”
BLANCO brand white cleaner
Does not rub off

and inside the lid:
Brush off all dirt – rub a wet sponge over the “Blanco” until a creamy liwuid is obtained. Apply this evenly with the sponge and allow to dry.

Blanco white in bakelite container
Photo: David Pratt


Blanco white cleaner
Blanco white cleaner
Photos: David Pratt

white Blanco wrapper
white Blanco wrapper
The above wrapper describes not only the white cake product in a tin for 3d but also liquid supplied in a glass bottle with sponge and tray for 6d and a “quick” paste versions in a tube for 3d too.



This page was last updated: 08th August 2013