The Black and Blue Reviver


When the muse has left me, which is often these days, I sometimes raid the United Kingdom Detecting Finds Database ( UKDFD ) looking for inspiration. This hobby-based initiative was founded in 2005: take a look at the short promotional video.

Deceitful Liquid

In 2010 I looked at some fascinating advertising tokens on the UKDFD found by detectorists and constructed a short post. The token – shown below – was so interesting and I think worthy of a place in this new blog. I have also added further details.

Similar to UKDFD 16518 Found in December 2008 by John Kineavy …

An advertising token of the 19th century, issued by Thomas Pryce, oil and colourman, of London. (Colourman: one who prepares and sells paint.) Both addresses shown on the token (1 York Buildings and 12 [Northampton Place], opposite Surrey Place) are in the Old Kent Road. Thomas Pryce is known to have been in occupation of both premises in 1827, and of the latter until 1840, when Thomas Eastman Pryce continued the business. OBVERSE : T PRYCE OIL & COLOURMAN 1 YORK BUILDINGS & 12 OPPOSITE SURREY PLACE KENT ROAD (J H) LONDON. REVERSE: SOLE MANUFACTURER OF DR WINN’S BLACK AND BLUE REVIVER FOR RESTORING ALL KINDS OF FADED MOURNING.


For anyone not fully understanding the reverse legend, research can lead into unsuspecting places. In this instance it led me to a short story by Charles Dickens, entitled, Shabby – Genteel People. Here’s an extract referring to the phenomena ofreviving’.

“His clothes were a fine, deep, glossy black; and yet they looked like the same suit; nay, there were the very darns with which old acquaintance had made us familiar. The hat, too–nobody could mistake the shape of that hat, with its high crown gradually increasing in circumference towards the top. Long service had imparted to it a reddish-brown tint; but, now, it was as black as the coat. The truth flashed suddenly upon us–they had been ‘revived.’

It is a deceitful liquid that black and blue reviver; we have watched its effects on many a shabby-genteel man. It betrays its victims into a temporary assumption of importance: possibly into the purchase of a new pair of gloves, or a cheap stock, or some other trifling article of dress. It elevates their spirits for a week, only to depress them, if possible, below their original level. It was so in this case; the transient dignity of the unhappy man decreased, in exact proportion as the ‘reviver’ wore off.”

Charles Dickens -‘Sketches by Boz’

It’s good to get the views of a contemporary observer. We no longer scratch our heads over the term black and blue reviver continually wondering what the Dickens the phrase could mean! Or do we?

Mourning – a lucrative business

The token tells us a lot, but you may still be wondering about that phrase ‘Black and Blue Reviver’. Was this one of those Victorian quack medicines promising to pick-you-up if you’d had too much to drink or just feeling weary? Not so.

We must remember that many Victorian customs were different to those of today. Take a widow’s mourning for her deceased husband, for example. It wasn’t unknown for her to wear full mourning clothing for two years – unless you were Queen Victoria. Other family members wore black for varying periods of time.

The turning point in Queen Victoria’s life was the death of Prince Albert in December 1861. His death sent Victoria into a deep depression, and she stayed in seclusion for many years, rarely appearing in public.

She mourned him by wearing black for the remaining forty years of her life.

So, at a time when the average life expectancy was a mere 40 years, mourning was a lucrative ‘business’. Thomas Edward Pryce manufactured Dr. Winn’s ‘reviver’ in London. His occupation was as an ‘oil man’ and ‘colourman’. In census records that is one who deals in the manufacturing of paints and oils.

Below is a ‘reviver’ dye stoneware bottle, which held a deep black dye to revive your daily mourning clothes. It contained a blacking solution to add to black clothing, hats, and fabrics”.

Although described as such on Etsy, I suspect it is an impressed ink bottle advertising Dr. Winns reviver. Perhaps not!

One thought on “The Black and Blue Reviver

  1. Seems like a fancy way to day ‘dye’ John.. LOL.. I really love some of the items that you have over there…They tell a whole story in and of themselves… The language is very flowery and almost urbane.

    thank you for another fascinating look into a snippet of English history


    Liked by 1 person

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