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Packer's Pine Tar

By David Lynch

Another "hard to scan" package. The foil-like box looks kind of cool in person.

Note: This review is longer than normal. This is for several reasons, the foremost being the peculiar nature of the soap and the need to free my mind from the burden this soap has laid upon me. I hope you benefit from this as much as I did.

I recently obtained a 3.3 oz bar of Packer's Pine Tar Soap. I picked it up at Taylor Drugs, at the corner of Bardstown and Taylorsville Rd. It came in a laminated cardboard box with a wax coating inside. The box, as with most other boxes reviewed, was slightly smaller than a cassette box, but thicker.

The outside appears to be coated in silver foil. The front of the box has a silver trim, followed by a red trim surrounded with a thin black line. Inside the red trim is a black rectangle. Inside the black rectangle is an oval with red trim, which divides the black rectangle into mainly a large oval with three somewhat triangular shapes in each corner. Inside the red oval is a silver oval, with a black line to differentiate between the silver and the red. Inside the silver oval is the actual Packer's logo, which is

                      PINE TAR

With the latter two lines in an ornate script reminiscent of a barbershop, and the top line curved to fit the red oval. Underneath is a yellow police badge on which is printed

                      TAR SOAP

with the latter three lines in a slightly smaller font than the first two, in basic print. Note the way the fourth line lines up with the third. To the left and the right of the badge are ten flags arranged in a wing-like pattern, five on each side. The upper-left flag has five alternating red and white vertical stripes. At this point it should be noted that it is difficult to distinguish the white color from the background silver, and at least one outside observer considered them to be the same color. The second and third flags are obscured by the first, but the tips of the flag appear to be silver. The fourth flag is completely yellow. The fifth flag has three alternating red and silver vertical stripes. On the right side, the first flag has five red and silver stripes, and a yellow stripe at the right end. Again, the second and third flags are obscured, but at the tips, the second one appears to be silver, while the third appears to be yellow.

The fourth flag has a large red area close to the badge, and beyond that has four silver and white alternating vertical stripes. The fifth flag has six alternating white and silver horizontal stripes. Frankly, I find this pattern confusing and somewhat strange. It's almost as if there was some kind of code represented by the codes; I was made nervous by its apparent randomness. It further made me wonder if whatever was implied by this flags had contributed to Packer's long existence; as we shall soon see, little else could justify it.

Written underneath this in large bold letters is: NET WT. 3.3 OZ. These letters, like the word PACKER'S on the top, is curved to fit the red oval. Two words are printed diagonally in each of the four corners of the rectangle. The upper left corner contains the words PURE AS, the upper right THE PINES, the lower left SHAMPOOING BATH, and the lower right TOILET NURSERY. Frankly, I'm not sure what they mean by "toilet nursery", but it sounds punk as fuck.

|      AS     ----------------------------------------    THE           |
|  PURE      /                 PACKER'S                \       PINES    |
|          /                   PINE TAR                  \              |
|        /    ----               SOAP              ---     \            |
|      /          -----                        -----         \          |
|    /        ----     -------  PACKER'S ------     -----      \        |
|   /             ------        TAR SOAP       -----             \      |
|  /         ----       -----  ORIGINATED -----      -----         \    |
| |              ------------      IN    ------------               |   |
| |                               1869                              |   |
|   \                                                              /    |
|     \                     NET  WT.  3.3  OZ.                  /       |
| SHAMP \                                                    /          |
|  OOING  \                                               /   TOILET    |
|    BATH  ----------------------------------------------       NURSERY |                            

This is a rough ASCII rendering of the soap box. I did not draw in the badge. It may help if you step very far back.

OK, that's it for the front of the box. The sides of the box are very simple, two bearing the PACKER'S TAR SOAP logo in black, one bearing the word PACKER'S in red, and the final one bearing the ubiquitous bar code, thus negating any claim to punkness it may have previously had. For people wanting to special order this soap, the bar code number is: 29936 04433.

The back of the box bears the words: PACKER'S ORIGINAL TAR SOAP. The SILVER FOIL BOX keeps the soap always fresh. This famous soap contains natural PINE TAR. Since 1869 it has been recommended by many doctors as a shampoo and complexion soap helpful in many minor skin and scalp troubles.

I have severe misgivings about most of this paragraph. I don't see how a silver foil box can keep soap any fresher than any other box, and I doubt that this soap was ever fresh. I also find it extremely hard to believe that pine tar is good for your complexion, and I would hypothesize that the doctors who have recommended this soap are quacks. It goes on to say, in thinner letters with an almost subliminal quality to them in comparison to the thick, solid font of the rest of the text:


This strikes me as ominous phrasing, and as it turns out I did not enjoy the odor. This undermines any subliminal qualities the phrase otherwise might be thought to have.

Beneath it, in the same font as the first paragraph, appear:

Ingredients: Soap Base, Pine Tar, Pine Oil, Iron
Oxide and PEG-75.

This is the only satisfactory thing about this soap, as no other bars of soap I have purchased have listed the ingredients. Below that, in letters that grow progressively larger, culminating in the D, and then shrink again is the word GENDERM, followed by a "rights reserved" symbol. Under these is the information "Marketed by GenDerm Corp. Lincolnshire, IL 60069".

Now we get to the heart of the whole horrible ordeal; to the actual soap itself. I suppose the best place to start is how it looks. It looks like shit. A small, rectangular lump of shit. The badge logo is emblazoned onto the soap, but the pattern of the flags does not correspond to the one on the box. For one, there are only four flags on each side. The top flag on each side has a band of two vertical stripes near the outside, and three vertical stripes on the inside. The second flag is obscured. The third flag has a three-stripe vertical band near the middle, and the fourth flag consists of five horizontal stripes. Other than some white used to throw the patterns into relief, all flags are the same color of the soap (that is, the color of feces; a dull, muddy, dark brown color).

Next, to the odor. It is very reminsicent of Murphy's Oil and damp wood. It is quite pungent. It does not, unlike any other soap, smell clean. There is not a detectable iota of cleanliness anywhere to be found in this soap's smell. It is not even a GOOD tar odor, like that of a baseball bat, or fresh cut wood. This is the smell of the sticky, sappy stuff that gets all over your stuff in the fall. If you have ever experienced this, you would know that it is not at all clean. This soap, quite frankly, smells dirty.

The consistency before washing it is, when handling the actual soap, greasy, but when you are finished handling the soap, your hands feel somewhat sticky. While washing my hands, the soap became extremely greasy in my hands. Not sudsy or all that slippery (though it will, like many soaps, slip out of your hands) but greasy. The smell of the soap was intensified when water was brought near it. It worked up a thin, almost syrupy lather, which was very unsatisfactory. It left my hands feeling sticky, and worse, they smell like the soap did. This soap manages to bridge the spectrum of unpleasant tactile sensations.

I used a red Scripto "Super-Stic" med. pt. (whatever that means) pen to write the word "Meatloaf" on the palm of my right hand, and then used the Packer's soap to wipe it off. The results were extremely unsatisfactory. The length of time required to wash the word off was 5:45. As those who have read my previous reviews know, this is almost five times the usual time required for cleaning. So far, I have seen no redeeming value in this soap whatsoever.

Odds and ends: The price was $3.59, much more expensive than even Neutrogena (a soap which, as Zoogz Rift can attest to, is not cheap). A possible reason for its continued existence: I have heard rumors that pine tar soap was popular for washing out the mouths of profane young lads and lasses. (Note: I was later informed by the wise and courteous Mutha Tarla of alt.slack fame that pine tar soap is used to get rid of pimples on the back and forearms. The principle behind using such a noxious soap is that the user's tender flesh will eventually tire of combatting the foul goo that is being slathered upon it and quit secreting its precious oils. This is an atrocity against the pores, and I won't support it. I have not tested the taste of this soap, in part because of the poisonous nature of some of the ingredients, but it is fairly safe to assume that this is not a yummy soap. When I purchased it, one of the inner flaps was actually stuck inside the bar of soap, and I had to pull it out, like Excalibur from the stone. In conclusion, this is, without a doubt, the foulest soap it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. It soured my opinions of my entire cleansing industry and ruined my outlook on life for a long number of weeks. Although I racked my brain, I could not think of any truly redeeming quality that would justify the existence of this soap. It was only at the urging of Joe Newman that I have come to review this soap, in the hopes that it will begin a long healing process for me, and that other can learn from my mistakes. To quote those wiser than me, this soap was a total fucking badass bummer. Just say no.

A response from Luce Gilmore:

15 februari 2010 11:13:05 GMT+01:00


I tried to send the following to David Lynch but the link is broken. Could you forward it?

I have never encountered Packers Pine Tar Soap, but let me tell you a story about Wright's Coal Tar soap (I shall use the abbreviations PPTS & WCTS henceforth):

I suffer occasionally from an eczema-like skin condition, though thankfully not currently. It afflicts my palms and soles. It was quite bad in the 1980s. It was then that I discovered the great benefits of coal tar soap. I guess you would not like WCTS: a strong phenolic and heterocyclic aromatic odour. The colour is a cheerful but not Day-Glo orange.

Fast-forward to 2004, when I decided to renew my supply. Those interfering fools in Brussels had meanwhile decided to ban coal tar products for non-prescription use because "coal tar is a potential carcinogen". Well, so it is, if you work in a coal gas distillery without a break for fifty years. So is smoking, and much more so, but I don't see Brussels banning that. Ditto spirits. WCTS is still sold in the UK, but it is a feeble substitute perfumed with tea tree oil, and lacking the sovereign benefits of coal tar.

The story has a happy ending. Wrights still makes the original product for export to, among other places, the Caribbean. Some makes its way back, illegally, I suppose, to the UK, where it can be found in black localities. Yes, I have been shopping for black-market soap on Hackney's Murder Mile!

Reading your article, I am not sure why you devoted such nitpicking detail to PPTS's wrapping. It seems instantly recognizable from the photo alone. Also I cannot understand why those flags (with a strong Art-Deco influence, I feel) should make you nervous. Are you a vexillophobe? I would feel nervous by neo-Nazi flags fluttering over Cambridge City Hall, but not much less.

Anyway, that's my story about soap.
Felicitations on your new president.

Luce Gilmore
Cambridge UK