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Not everything "lucky" is entirely magical in nature. Sometimes the word "lucky" is a form of code, meaning "to be sold to poor people" or, even more specifically, "to be sold to black people."

Two empty tins of "Lucky Brown" hair care products and a box of "Lucky Brown" face powder demonstrate this. They interest me for their beautiful graphics and for what they say about "luck" and about African-American culture of their era.


This Lucky Brown Pressing Oil tin came out of a warehouse trove in Chicago and was never used. It is about 4" in diameter and 3/4 inch tall, printed in a limited palette of black, red, and yellow, and in size and shape it vaguely resembles a tin of shoe polish. The image is that of a beautiful young black woman -- or, rather, a beautiful young woman with African facial features and Caucasian skin colour -- in a bright red heart-shaped frame. The left side of her hair is curly (visual code for kinky), but the right side, which she is combing, is as straight and black as an Asian woman's.

The type on the top of the tin is laid out inside formalized ribbon-shapes and reads:

LUCKY BROWN Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. PRESSING OIL Contents: - 1.5 oz. Distributed by Chicago Products Co., Chicago, U.S.A.

The type on the side of the tin reads:


"Pretty" in this case is code for non-kinky.

The type on the back consists of lengthy instructions for the use of Lucky Brown Pressing Oil with and without a hot comb and gives further (and contradictory) information on the distributor, as well as a date:

Distributed and copyright 1935 by Famous Products Co. Chicago, Ill., U.S.A.

It is the background design on the tin, continuing from the top around the sides and onto the bottom, that evokes the "lucky" imagery of the brand name. A checkerboard of yellow and black squares is attractively laid out so that the yellow squares are blank but the black squares contain small outline drawings of "lucky" artifacts in yellow. There are four of these, which repeat over and over: heart / four-leaf clover / wishbone / horseshoe. Inexplicably, close inspection of the checkerboard pattern reveals that one square, the one touching the beautiful young woman's left shoulder, is NOT part of the repeat-pattern. It contains a fifth "secret-lucky" image -- a key.

The entire effect of this tin is to reinforce ethnic stereotypes while conceding their transformative and uplifting power.

The woman is a "Lucky Brown" because she is so lovely and so pale-skinned; she is on the verge of "passing" for white, and all that remains for her is to have "pretty" hair, straight, unkinky, not even wavy. But although she lives in the North, in Chicago, she proudly carries with her the down-home Southern superstitions of her rural background -- belief in the efficacy of lucky tokens and talismans. She implicitly claims that using Lucky Brown Pressing Oil will grant one more than "pretty" hair -- it will afford the user love and luck and dreams-come-true.

And so it may have done.

And so i hope it did...


This Lucky Brown Hair Dressing tin came from the same Chicago warehouse trove and likewise has never been used. It is copyright dated 1935 and was distributed by Famous Products Co., Chicago, Ill., U.S.A. It is 3 inches in diameter and 1 3/4 inches tall, printed in a limited palette of black, red, blue, and yellow, and vaguely resembles a tin of enamel paint. It has a plain metal bottom, so all of the text and imagery is placed upon the lid and the sides. The artwork is by the same artist who produced the first tin design, but this one bears a different assortment of "lucky" emblems.

Again the major theme is a heart and the major colour is red: in a pale blue heart-shaped frame against a red background the same beautiful young black woman -- or, rather, the same beautiful young woman with African facial features and Caucasian skin colour -- from the first tin is being kissed from behind, over her left shoulder, by a handsome young black man -- or, rather, a handsome young man with African facial features and Caucasian skin colour. Both man and woman have hair as straight and black as a couple of Asians. Surrounding the heart from below is a yellow horseshoe on which the word "Hair Dressing" appears.

The entire text of the lid reads:


The side of the lid is decorated with the following lucky emblems (white on red) and words (black on red)

heart / four-leaf clover / eye / horseshoe / key
heart / four-leaf clover / eye / horseshoe / key

The side of the tin carries before and after pictures of the man and the woman with instructions for use by each gender. Probably the saddest words on the tin are those that accompany the picture of the woman before using Lucky Brown: "Krimpy, Bad Hair."

There is nothing "bad" about her hair, of course; it is naturally arranged in what is now called an Afro, but she is very downcast and sorrowful and each time i look at her i feel a wave of sympathy for the generations of young women who have been oppressed because of the texture of their hair.


In February, 1996, at an antique store in Sebastopol, California, i found a third "Lucky Brown" product box from the 1930s -- Lucky Brown Face Powder. The box is still half-full of powder, so this is not from a warehouse find, like the hair care product tins. The artwork is by the same artist who drew the other Lucky Brown package art and it depicts the same beautiful young black woman with Caucasian skin and straight hair who appears on the hair care products packages. This time her hair is shortish and marcelled; she wears golden ball earrings and she is holding a white powder puff to her chin and smiling.

The woman is inside a pale blue-grey heart and the heart is surrounded by a bright yellow upward-facing horseshoe with the words LUCKY BROWN inscribed on it. The background of the box is bright pink, with black and white text:

LUCKY BROWN Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. Best Highly Quality Perfumed FACE POWDER
Around the side of the box are the usual assortment of good luck symbols, three per side:

eye / heart / four-leaf clover
heart / horseshoe / key
dice / heart / wishbone
dice / four-leaf clover / heart

This marks the only dice i have seen on a Lucky Brown product package. The five-spot is showing, if that matters. As always, however, it is the heart that predominates, signifying the love-luck promised by the manufacturer.

Although the text on the bottom of the box is not as negative as the "bad hair" warning on Lucky Brown Hair Dressing, it conveys coded messages of African-American self-image diffidence that mark the era in which Lucky Brown products were sold:

               LUCKY BROWN
               FACE POWDER
             reg. U.S. Pat. Off.

"Lucky  Brown"  face  powder is  made  from
a  special formula that is  compounded  and
blended  to beautify  brown, tan, and  gold-
den  complexions. People having  this  type
of  beauty  should  not  use  the  ordinary
variety  of face powder but  should  insist
on  "L U C K Y  B R O W N"  which  is  made
specially  to harmonize with the  skin  and
beautify  and lighten the  complexion. When
you  use  up this box, order  another  from
your  dealer. If your dealer cannot  supply
you, send 25c in stamps or coin to company.

            Contents 1.6 ounces
                Copr. 1938
              Distributed by
          Famous Products Company
             Chicago, Ill. USA

and, rubber-stamped at the bottom, the colour of the powder in this box, FLESH, which is code for "very pale Caucasian pink." The lucky emblems used on Lucky Brown products invoke love, luck (including monetary and gambling luck), protection from the evil eye, and wishes coming true.

Pretty nice bonuses for cosmetics to offer, don't you think?


Lucky Brown cosmetics were distributed by Famous Products, owned by Morton Neumann. a Jewish American chemist in Chicago, Illinois, whose Valmor company also manufactured and packaged hoodoo curios and spiritual supplies such as Genuine Mo-Jo Brand lodestones under the King Novelty Company name and produced cosmetics under the Sweet Georgia Brown and Madame Jones names. Neumann's chief competition came from the Memphis based Lucky Heart Company owned by the Shapiro family, which marketed a similar assortment of African-American cosmetics and Lucky Heart hoodoo curios. Both companies sold through a system of agents who lived in the Soiuth, as well as by direct mail iorder through ads in the black-owned and nationally-distributed Chicago Defender newspaper.

Neumann was a major (probably THE major) manufacturer and distributor of hoodoo curios and cosmetics to urban and rural African-American communities from the early 1930s until well into the late 1950s. He maintained four separate lines: of goods -- cosmetics and curios.

Madam Jones Co.: 
    Products: Beauty Supplies; Cosmetics.
    Labels: All Madame Jones Co. labels are pre-zip code era
    Catalogue: I have never seen a Madame Jones Co. catalogue.

Famous Products: 
    Products: Beauty Supplies; Cosmetics, Spiritual Supplies. 
    Labels: All Famous Products labels are pre-zip code era.
    Catalogue: I have never seen a Famous Products Co. catalogue.

Valmor Products Co.: 
    Products: Beauty Supplies; Cosmetics.
    Labels: Valmor labels can be either pre and post zip code eras.
            A few pre zip code era Famous Products labels were re-made 
            during the post zip code era as Valmor labels (e.g. Look Me 
            Over Perfume), but at no time did the two line-names appear 
            together on one label.
    Catalogue: Valmor catalogues were printed both on slick paper (full
            colour) and on newsprint (hand-cut separations; spot colour).

King Novelty: 
    Products: No products; the name applies to a catalogue only.
    Labels: King Novelty name does not appear on any labels.
    Catalogue: King Novelty catalogues were printed on newsprint, 
            never on slick paper.

As King Novelty / Famous Products, the Jewish American chemist Morton Neumann manufactured, distributed, and sold spiritual supplies retail, by mail order, and through agents.

Neumann was born in Chicago, spent some time in New York Cirty as a young man working as a jewelry setter, and returned to Chicago to found his own cosmetics and chemical company. An accomplished inventor, he patented a wonderful type of incense which, when burned, left the faint trace of traceries of lucky numbers in the ashes, sold through King Novelty , his hoodoo and conjure supply company. (The ad at the top of the lodestones page is reproduced from the 1945 King Novelty Co. catalogue.)

Under two other company names, Valmor Products and the Madam Jones Co., he manufactured and sold cosmetics for the African-American market retail, by mail order, and through agents. He also set up Famous Products Distribution to handle distribution of the Valmor, Madam Jones, and King Novelty lines to other wholesalers and to large retailers.

Illustrations of labels, packaging, catalogue pages, advertisements, and agents' flyers for Valmor, King Novelty, Lucky Brown, Lucky Heart. Clover Horn, and other cosmetics and spiritual supply companies of the pre-World-War-Two era, plus further text-based information on the interplay between occultism and hoodoo in the inter-war period, can be found on these "Hoodoo in Theory and Practice" pages by cat yronwode:


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Here are some other LUCKY MOJO web sites you can visit:

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by cat yronwode: a materia magica of African-American conjure
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on tantra yoga, neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Sacred Landscape: essays and articles on archaeoastronomy and sacred geometry
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
The Lucky Mojo Esoteric Archive: captured internet text files on occult and spiritual topics
Lucky Mojo Usenet FAQ Archive: FAQs and REFs for occult and magical usenet newsgroups
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century occultist
Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, and more
      Free Love Spell Archive: love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
      Free Money Spell Archive: money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
      Free Protection Spell Archive: protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
      Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive: lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races

Hoodoo and Blues Lyrics: transcriptions of blues songs about African-American folk magic
EaRhEaD!'S Syd Barrett Lyrics Site: lyrics by the founder of the Pink Floyd Sound
The Lesser Book of the Vishanti: Dr. Strange Comics as a magical system, by cat yronwode
The Spirit Checklist: a 1940s newspaper comic book by Will Eisner, indexed by cat yronwode
Fit to Print: collected weekly columns about comics and pop culture by cat yronwode
Eclipse Comics Index: a list of all Eclipse comics, albums, and trading cards

Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course with cat yronwode: 52 weekly lessons in book form
Hoodoo Heritage Conjure Workshops: hands-on rootwork classes, lectures, and seminars
Lucky Mojo Community Forum: an online message board for our occult spiritual shop customers
Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour Radio Show: learn free magic spells via podcast download
Lucky Mojo Videos: see video tours of the Lucky Mojo shop and get a glimpse of the spirit train
Lucky Mojo Newsletter Archive: subscribe and receive discount coupons and free magick spells
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The Lucky Mojo Curio Co.: spiritual supplies for hoodoo, magick, witchcraft, and conjure
Lucky Mojo Publishing: books on magic with herbs, roots and candles, sugar spells, bone divination, and more!
Herb Magic: complete line of Lucky Mojo Herbs, Minerals, and Zoological Curios, with sample spells
Mystic Tea Room Gift Shop: antique, vintage, and contemporary fortune telling tea cups

catherine yronwode: the eclectic and eccentric author of many of the above web pages
nagasiva yronwode: tyaginator, nigris (333), Haramullah, nocTifer, lorax666, Troll Towelhead, !
Garden of Joy Blues: former 80 acre hippie commune near Birch Tree in the Missouri Ozarks
Liselotte Erlanger Glozer: illustrated articles on collectible vintage postcards
Jackie Payne: Shades of Blues: a San Francisco Bay Area blues singer

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Arcane Archive: thousands of archived Usenet posts on religion, magic, spell-casting, mysticism, and spirituality
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: psychic reading, conjure, and hoodoo root doctor services
Candle Ministry: Missionary Independent Spiritual Church deacons will set lights for your petitions and prayers
Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic, plus shopping
Crystal Silence League: online prayer request network; upload your prayers here and pray for the welfare of others
Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Hoodoo Psychics: connect online or call 1-888-4-HOODOO for instant readings now from a member of AIRR
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: spirit-led, inter-faith; prayer-light services; Smallest Church in the World
Mystic Tea Room: tea leaf reading, teacup divination, and a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Satan Service: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including ex-slave narratives & interviews
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective, plus shopping
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
Yronwode Institution: the Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology