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TitleJ & E Atkinson Ltd
DescriptionThe firm of J & E Atkinson has its roots in a business set up at 44 Gerrard Street, London, by James Atkinson in 1799, which originally sold pots of hair pomade made of bears' grease and perfumed with otto of roses. Histories of the company frequently refer to the story that James Atkinson used a live bear, chained to the pavement outside his London premises, to promote the sale of his product.

An advertisement for Atkinson's products printed early in the nineteenth century describes the bears' grease as 'procured from the animal in its native climate' (Atkinson imported the product from St Petersburg] and as 'the only article that can be depended upon for infallibly restoring the growth of hair.' The same advertisement indicates the development of the Atkinson range to include further hair preparations: Atkinson's Vegetable Dye to dye red or grey hair and whiskers brown or black, Atkinson's Curling Fluid, Atkinson's Old Brown Windsor Soap, concentrated Essence of Lavender, Persian bouquet of Rose, Otto of Rose and cold cream. The high-standing that the business had achieved by this time is demonstrated by Atkinson's appointment as perfumer to the royal family in 1826.

In 1829 the business moved from Soho to 39 Bond Street, and in 1832 moved again to elegant premises at the highly fashionable address of 24 Old Bond Street. In 1831 James Atkinson's brother, Edward, became a partner in the firm, from which time the company became known as J & E Atkinson. Following the deaths of James in 1853 and Edward in 1856 the business was passed on to the sons of James Atkinson, James and Edward. The two brothers became aware that they lacked the business expertise to continue running the firm successfully, and in 1869 took on an office manager, Eugene V. Barrett, who proved to be a key figure in the development of the firm. In particular, Barrett realised the export potential of Atkinson's products and was instrumental in opening up overseas markets for the firm. He established an agency in Paris, which was to promote Atkinson's products across the continent and open up sub-agencies in several European countries. As the European trade grew manufacturing agencies were also established in Spain, Germany, Turkey and Italy. Barrett also instigated trade with South America, which was to prove significant to the future of the firm.

J & E ATKINSON LTD 1896-1911

In 1896 J & E Atkinson Ltd was incorporated. James Atkinson had died the previous year, and in 1897 Horace Barrett, son of Eugene, entered the firm. The business was operating at this time from three separate premises: an export factory at St Katherine's Dock, London; a factory for the home trade in Covent Garden; and 24 Old Bond Street where most of the manufacture was carried out. By this time the company was producing a wide selection of perfume brands, with toilet waters and lotions to match the fragrances. One of the most famous brands was White Rose which was launched c1860s-1870s, and was used as the Royal Wedding perfume in 1893. In 1899, to mark the centenary of the firm, a perfume range named Eonia was introduced using new techniques for the production of synthetic perfumes, and promoted for its 'modern' quality. By the turn of the century the company had won a long list of awards for their products at international exhibitions, including the Paris Gold Medal in 1878 and 1889, and the Grand Prix at Paris, 1900.

In 1911, as Atkinson's export trade grew, more manufacturing space was needed. All the wholesale and manufacturing departments of the business were thus moved to a single site at Southwark Park Road, Bermondsey, London, named the Eonia Works, whilst the retail business was maintained at 24 Old Bond Street.

The new factory was divided into two sections: one for the home trade manufacture of perfumes made from duty-paid spirit; the other devoted to manufacture of perfumery and toiletries in bond under custom control using duty-free spirits, an indication of the extent of Atkinson's export business.

Atkinson's leading fragrances at this time included the classic English Lavender Water, White Rose and Gold Medal Eau de Cologne. At around this time Atkinson's introduced two new fragrances placed in a lower price range to appeal to a wider public: Californian Poppy, introduced c1905, and Poinsetta, launched c1910-1911. Poinsetta was the first fragrance whose launch was supported by Atkinson's by a heavy campaign of advertising, featuring testimonials given by glamorous actresses including Phyllis Dare, Gabrielle Ray, Connie Ediss and Olive May. However, it was Californian Poppy that was to prove most successful, rapidly becoming one of Atkinson's biggest selling products.


The aftermath of the First World War brought several problems for the company, including shortages of raw materials, high duties on alcohol and the loss of many overseas markets, due in some cases to the depreciation of European
currencies enabling overseas manufacturers to undercut British production costs, and in other countries to the imposition of high protective tariffs. The company suffered a major setback in 1925 when Argentina, one of Atkinson's strongest markets, raised its import duties to a prohibitive degree. In 1926 the firm sent out Cyril Siegfried Atkinson, grandson of the second James Atkinson,, and Dr Dalton to South America to establish a subsidiary company in Argentina. The factory went into operation in the following year. In 1927 a small factory was opened in Montevideo, operated from Buenos Aires, and in 1929 local manufacture was established in Chile and Brazil. In 1930 a factory was also built in Australia.

In response to post-war difficulties Atkinson's made public issue of 100,000 £1 Ordinary Shares in 1920. A deal was agreed with Crosfield, a subsidiary of Lever Brothers, whereby the company acquired 90,000 of the shares and the
chairman of Crosfield, Giles Hunt, came on to the Board, although the management remained in the hands of Horace Barrett until his retirement in 1945. Crosfield holding increased until between 1936 and1940 Atkinson's was integrated completely into Unilever. As part of the Unilever group the company was subject to reorganisation as part of Unilever's overall strategy of rationalisation of its many subsidiary companies. In 1941 it was decided to use the firm of Doudney and Co., a Portsmouth soap manufacturers, as a selling organisation for Atkinson's and another Unilever toiletry manufacturer, Erasmic. On 26 February 1941 Doudney and Co. changed its name to Atkinson and Erasmic Ltd. The marketing of Atkinson's popular Californian Poppy line was transferred to D&W Gibbs between 1946 and1952, and in 1954 the manufacturing operations of Atkinson's were transferred from Bermondsey to a new perfumery block built on the factory site of another Unilever-owned toiletry company, Joseph Watson and Sons, Whitehall Road, Leeds.


The period following the Second World War was one of decline for Atkinson's in the UK, with consistent losses suffered every year from 1948 into the 1960s, though Atkinson's overseas companies in Italy (a new factory having been built at Affori, near Milan) and South America (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina) continued to thrive. In 1961 the decision was taken to wind-up Atkinson's in the UK as a separate organisation, and on 1 Jan 1963 the UK business was transferred to E.R. Holloway Ltd with Atkinson's stronger Italian company, based in Milan, as its principal. The decision in 1971 to phase out the house name 'Atkinson's of London' in favour of simply 'Atkinson's' reflected in part the continuing decline of Atkinson's UK business and its contrasting strength in several international markets.


In August 2002, as part of Unilever's Path to Growth strategy, Atkinson's, then a subsidiary of Lever Fabergé Italy, was sold to Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, a subsidiary of Wella, for 44 million Euros.
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