Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Eliphalet Davis Records, 1817-1876

Finding aid created by
Rachel K. Onuf, June 1996

Summary Information
Title: Eliphalet Davis records
Creator: Davis, Eliphalet
Inclusive dates: 1817-1876
Extent: 140 items
The Eliphalet Davis records are comprised of the business and personal receipts of Eliphalet Davis, a soap manufacturer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by Mrs. H. O. Crisler, 1953. M-923.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Preferred Citation:

Eliphalet Davis Records, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan

Biographical/Historical Note

During the mid-nineteenth century, Eliphalet Davis was a fancy soap maker operating a business at 333 Main Street, Cambridge, Mass., with a home around the corner at 58 Cherry Street. In 1813 he left Bradford, N.H., for Massachusetts, and by 1817, he was working in Cambridge with David Oliver. By 1857 he had his own company (with J. M. Davis), which may later have been sold to the Lever Brothers.

Several other members of the Davis family had their own soap firms in Cambridge. George M. Davis is identified as a soap boiler in the Cambridge city directory of 1848. Isaac Davis & Co. (with James C. Davis) was a soap manufacturer with a business located on Mason Street. By 1857 Isaac was a spring bed manufacturer, but James C. was still in the soap business. Curtis Davis & Alexander Dickinson were listed as soap and candle manufacturers. Curtis Davis' later went into partnership with Lysander Kemp.

Little is known about Eliphalet's personal life. His wife, possibly Ann Bemis, and he had a son who attended C. G. Hazeltine's school in Westboro, Mass., in 1845-46. Enoch Davis, possibly Eliphalet's brother, died in 1831 or 1832, and Eliphalet settled his estate. In 1845, Eliphalet is noted as the guardian of John F. Davis, possibly Enoch's child. Eliphalet and Enoch were both members of the First Universalist Society in Cambridge.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Eliphalet Davis records are comprised of the business and personal receipts of Eliphalet Davis, and includes a license from the Internal Revenue Department allowing Davis to carry on business as a soap manufacturer in Cambridge, Mass. Among the receipts are a few bills to his clients, but the majority are billed to and paid by Davis. The receipts are often itemized, making it possible to sketch the growth of an increasingly successful business.

The more modest bills give way to bills for thousands of printed labels for his soaps, often on special colored papers with colored ink designs and lettering. The soaps had various names, ranging from the mundane "diamond soap" to the more imaginative "veritable swoon," and Davis also started selling "Saponaceous Dentifrice" in the 1850s. Another mark of his success is that at about the same time that he paid for advertisements in New England newspapers he started paying various express services, presumably for shipping quantities of his stock to eager long distance buyers.

In addition to supplies for his business he bought basic provisions. Foodstuffs included figs, raisins, oranges, molasses, salmon, coffee and tea. In an early example of the benefits of recycling, Davis received a discount on his porter by providing his own bottles. His clothing purchases included a bonnet, moleskin hat, alpaca vest and doeskin pants. A violin and four marble hearths were two of his more luxuriant purchases.

There are several distinctive letterheads of Cambridge and Boston businessmen, especially for printers and engravers. Most printing services were performed by Dutton & Wentworth, and the principal engraver was Nathaniel Dearborn. Both businesses were in Boston, as was Ammi Cutter & Cummings, who "constantly keep for sale, LIVER OIL and BLUBBER..... Also, NEATSFOOT OIL, and the best of Winter and Summer Strained SPERMACETI OIL, TALLOW, &c." Davis bought quantities of oils, tallow and ashes in order to make his soaps.

Subject Terms

    • Businessmen--Massachusetts.
    • Cambridge (Mass.)
    • Toilet preparations industry--Massachusetts.
    • Soap trade--Massachusetts.
    • Printing industry--Massachusetts.
    • Beverage containers--Recycling.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   57, Small Collections  
    Receipts,  1817 December 25-1876 January 20 [series]
    Folder   1  
     1817-1828 February 20 (10 items)
    1 receipt paid to E. H. Davis for soap. The rest are paid by Davis for ashes, grease, oil, candle paper, sand, salt, rum, tea, coffee, wine, sugar, nutmeg, tallow, flour, boxes, raisins, almonds, and molasses.
    Folder   1  
     1828 February 27-1828 April 23 (10 items)
    Receipts paid by Davis for flatirons, a pine table, flour, potatoes, soap boxes, rose soap, milk, oatmeal, sugar, oil, sugar, raisins, figs, pepper, mustard, almonds, sweet chocolate, whiskey, brandy, rum, tea, coffee, and ashes. Includes the earliest printed receipt in collection, from Ammi Cutter & Cummings.
    Folder   2  
     1828 April 26-1828 July 3 (10 items)
    1 receipt from First Universalist Singing Society for Wine, Brandy, Gin, Sugar and a tumbler. The rest are paid by Davis for flour, coffee, sugar, boots, shoes, ashes, molasses, tea, salmon, cheese, cocoa, figs, oranges, brandy, rum, raisins, milk and a hat
    Folder   2  
     1828 July 8-1828 August 16 (10 items)
    Receipts paid by Davis for porter (he saved money by providing his own bottles), copper pumps, lead pipe, soldering on pipes, labor, rosin, palm oil, casks of potash and "inspection and coopering."
    Folder   3  
     1828 August 20-1831 December 24 (10 items)
    3 receipts paid to Davis for soap. The rest paid by Davis for wood, casks of lime, bean poles, coffee, casks of candle tallow, having wood sawn and split, and printing.
    Folder   3  
     1832 January 12-1841 February 5 (10 items)
    1 receipt paid to Davis for soap. Several paid by Eliphalet to settle the estate of Enoch Davis, including payments for coal, red flannel, for painting a room and oiling a door, taxes, shoes, a basket, a bonnet, and payment of pew tax to the First Universalist Society. There is a printed receipt for Nathaniel Dearborn, an engraver who made stamps and stencils for Davis. Other receipts are for a violin, an airtight stove, tin chambers, zinc and mending.
    Folder   4  
     1841 February 11-1841 August 27 (10 items)
    Receipts for stamps, stencils and a doorplate from Nathaniel Dearborn, engraver. Also payments for soda ash, a box of castile soap, potash, inspection and coopering, cords of wood, wood planks, boot repair, reams of paper, 4 marble hearths, cologne water and manganese.
    Folder   4  
     1841 September 1-1841 December 14 (10 items)
    Receipts for straw board, papers, mahogany showcase, porter and ale from the Boston Beer Co., for glazing plate glass and mirrors, oiling and varnishing the case, loads of gravel, potatoes, bark and coarse salt.
    Folder   5  
     1842 May 20-1843 January 10 (10 items)
    Receipts for gilt frames, mugs, for engraving a soap stamp, beer, lumber, bonnet and ribbon and merchandise.
    Folder   5  
     1845 January 1-1848 March 8 (10 items)
    Receipts for goods and provisions, altering and repairing store, boarding of John F. Davis at the house of Curtis Davis for most of a year, tuition bills for Eliphalet's son, at C. G. Hazeltine's school in Westboro, wine, brandy, moleskin hat, coal hod, trunk, steel shovel, shoe rasp, doe skin pants and an alpaca vest.
    Folder   6  
     1848 April 15-1850 January 5 (10 items)
    Receipts for soda ash, casks of stearine oil, colored ink and impressed soap labels, boxes of soap, colored soap labels, including 1600 for "veritable swoon", printing of bill heads and scale of prices, soap stencils and stamps, including a stencil saying "this side up."
    Folder   6  
     1850 January 14-1852 January 27 (10 items)
    Receipts for tallow, a ton of coal, fine salt, musk, vermillion, the composition and printing of "Diamond Soap" labels, other soap labels, insurance policy fees and check to the Cheney Express.
    Folder   7  
     1853 June 30-1860 March 6 (10 items)
    Receipts for labels for "Saponaceous Dentifrice", advertisements in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont newspapers, creating soap labels and stamps, soap labels and shipment on the Great Western Express.
    Folder   7  
     1860 October 12-1876 January 20 (8 items)
    Receipts for shipment of soap on the Great Western Despatch, soap, money shipped by express, soap labels and boxes.
    Folder   8  
     1863 September 1
    License from the United States Internal Revenue Department allowing Davis to carry on business as a soap manufacturer in Cambridge, Massachusetts
    Folder   8  
     Undated Wrapper for soap (?)
    With rough wood cut of steamship and penciled notes on verso
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Eliphalet Davis materials in other repositories: Eliphalet Davis Collection. Baker Library, Harvard Business School (1820-1880, 3 linear feet)