Northam Warren (Cutex)

Northam Warren was one of five children born to Leroy Warren and Fannie Louise Warren (nee Wadsworth). He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan but after the family moved to Lawrence, Kansas he attended the University of Kansas where he studied to be a chemist, before graduating from a business course at the University of Chicago.

His first employment was with Parke-Davis – a large pharmaceutical manufacturer, then known as Parke, Davis & Co. – starting as a secretary for William M. Warren and then in various capacities in assorted departments within the organisation. Parke-Davis introduced Northam to the drug business but he furthered this education by taking night courses at the Detroit College of Pharmacy and by clerking part-time in drug stores to learn the retail side of the trade (Kane, 1946, p. 43).

Northam Warren moved to New York in 1907 to work in the drug import and export department of Parke, Davis & Co. but, in 1910, decided to go into business for himself as a drug and chemical broker using finance to start the business provided by his wife, Edna Louise O’Brien [1882-1960]. Then, in 1911, he started a sideline to his brokerage business, a liquid cuticle remover he called Cutex which he initially sold though his Special Products Company operating out of one small room at 9 West Broadway, New York.


Cutex was a liquid which removed dead cuticle tissue – hence the name ‘Cut-ex’ – without the need for cutting or scraping. Northam Warren did not invent this type of product nor was he the first to commercialise it; Miller’s Cutic-Off, for example, – “No knife, pain, infection or acids” – had been on sale from 1909 at the latest.

The cuticle remover was originally produced in samples handed out to professional manicurists and hairdressers. Their feedback allowed Northam Warren to adjust the remover’s strength and keeping qualities before it went on sale at fifty-cents a bottle. The original product was soon followed by the addition of a smaller sized bottle and a kit that contained the cuticle remover, an orange stick and some absorbent cotton (Kavanagh, 1923).

Cutex was analysed by the American Medical Association (AMA) a few years after it appeared on the market. They found that it was made up of a weak solution of potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide – alkalis which have a softening effect on the skin – with glycerine added to reduce irritation and perfumed with rose oil (Street, 1917, p. 68). The use of the harsher sodium hydroxide was later dropped.

Never cut the cuticle. Cutting only thickens it and increases the growth. Simply apply CUTEX with an orange stick, and the ragged surplus cuticle disappears and leaves the nail with that clean, sharp outline so much desired.
Anyone can use CUTEX at home. It saves time and labor for the professional manicure as well. CUTEX CONTAINS NO ACIDS, and so is absolutely harmless.

(Cutex advertisement, 1912)

1922 Cutex Billboard

Above: 1922 A billboard for Cutex Cuticle Remover on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Northam Warren sold Cutex through department stores, drug stores and manicure parlors. After starting with an all male sales force, he also hired women when he realised that trained female manicurists would do a better job of promoting Cutex in beauty parlors, barbers and other places where professional manicures were done.

We used classified ads of “Manicure Girls Wanted” and weeded out the applicants. With a rather careful training in the office, these girls went out and met the operators in the beauty parlors very successfully. Their strong point was the fact that they could talk the girls’ own language—could bring out just the point which the manicure girl wants to know, and which no ordinary salesgirl could ever discover.

(Bliven, 1917, p. 39)

When the cuticle remover proved to be a commercial success, Northam Warren added other products starting with assorted nail polishes and Nail White, building up a complete manicure line all badged under the Cutex name.

Early Cutex products

By 1916, along with manicure implements – like flexible steel files, emery boards, orange sticks and cotton wool – Northam Warren had an extensive range of manicure preparations similar to other products already on the market and all relatively simple to make.


Above: Front and back of an early Cutex Nail Polish Cake showing packaging colours and products available.

Cutex Cuticle Remover: “An ideal cuticle remover. This excellent preparation which is absolutely harmless, removes ragged and surplus cuticle without cutting.”
Cutex Nail White: “A snow white cream for removing stains under the nails and whitening nail tips.”
Cutex Cuticle Comfort: “A Cutex preparation, a salve for the relief of lacerated, dry or irritated cuticle, hang-nails and brittle finger nails, both cooling and healing”
Cutex Nail Polishing Cake: “Gives a brilliant lasting polish with little effort. Free from grit and is absolutely harmless. In Pink and White.”
Cutex Nail Polishing Powder: “Same product as above only in powdered form.”
Cutex Polishing Paste: “Produces a quick, brilliant waterproof polish and leaves no dust around the nail.”
Cutex Liquid Nail Enamel: “For imparting an instantaneous brilliant and lasting polish to the nails. Can be used without fear of injury to the nails.”
Cutex Nail Rouge: “A rouge in concentrated salve form for tinting nails, lips and skin.”
Cutex Nail Bleach: “A white powder for removing stains and discoloration.”

These preparations were sold individually but could also be purchased as part of a manicure kit.

Early Cutex manicure kit

Above: An early Cutex manicure kit.

Northam Warren Corporation

In 1915, Northam Warren secured the financial basis for his growing Cutex business by establishing the Northam Warren Corporation in New York with a capital of US$85,000. He also decided to get professional help to advertise Cutex. He had been placing small advertisements in newspapers since 1912 but his annual advertising budget had been modest, running from US$2,600 in 1912 to US$7000 by 1915. In 1916, he took a gamble and, with a budget of US$40,000, engaged the services of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to run an extensive national campaign.

J. Walter Thompson

J. Walter Thompson was a well-established firm founded in 1864 by William James Carlton. It had advertising accounts with a number of toilet goods companies including Pond’s from 1886, Woodbury from 1910, and Odorono from 1914. Unusually for the time, the campaign developed for Cutex was designed by a woman, Helen Lansdowne Resor [1886-1964], one of J. Walter Thompson’s chief copywriters.

The Cutex campaign followed lines similar to the one Helen Lansdowne Resor developed for Pond’s Cold and Vanishing Creams with most of the early advertisements being educational in tone. The early advertising copy concentrated on explaining how Cutex Cuticle Remover was to be used, why it was preferable to cutting the cuticle with scissors, and how to do a complete manicure with Cutex products.

The new way to manicure.
First, file your nails to the proper length and shape. The best professional manicurists say that it is now considered good form to give the nail an oval shape—that is, to have it conform to the shape of the finger tip, and to have the nail reach just to the top of the finger.
In the Cutex package you will find an orange stick and absorbent cotton. Wrap a little cotton around the end of the stick and dip it into the Cutex bottle. Then work the stick around the base of the nail, gently pushing back the cuticle. Almost at once you will find you can wipe off the dead surplus skin. Rinse the hands in clear water.
Then a touch of Cutex Nail White—a soft, white cream which removes all discolorations from underneath the nails.
Cutex Nail Cake rubbed on the palm of the hand and passed quickly over the nails, gives them a delightful polish. Should you wish an especially brilliant, long-lasting polish, apply Cutex Polishing Paste first, then the Nail Cake.

(Cutex advertisement, 1916)

Results from these early advertisements appear to have been successful and apart from 1923, when the account went to A. J. Ayer & Son, J. Walter Thompson remained the advertising agent for Northam Warren until 1946.

Cutex is a liquid cuticle remover, which makes cutting of the cuticle unnecessary. It is the first product of its kind on the market, and while there are two or three competitors now in the field, they have never been equal to Cutex.
It was put on the market in 1912, and for the first two years, no attention was paid to advertising. In 1914 and 1915, they used small space in Harper’s Bazar, Vogue and Ladies’ Home Journal, also newspapers in New York and Chicago in a small way. By the beginning of 1916, by good sales work, a representative distribution had been secured in cities of 25,000 and up throughout the country.

(J. Walter Thompson Co., 1916)

J. Walter Thompson

Above: 1921 J. Walter Thompson promoting the success of their Cutex campaign.

As customers became more familiar with the product, the tone of Cutex advertising shifted from educational towards messages about the importance of having well manicured hands, followed by advertisements with product endorsements from actresses and society women.

As part of its campaign, J. Walter Thompson developed new designs for the Cutex bottles and packages. The redesign, which was completed by 1917, took its inspiration from European styling and used black with pink to make the line stand out on the shelf.


Above: 1921 Redesigned Cutex packaging in black and pink. 1-2-3: Cutex Cuticle Remover; 4: Cutex Nail White; 5-6: Cutex Cake Polish; 8: Cutex Powder Polish; 9: Cutex Paste Polish; 11: Cutex Liquid Polish; 22: Cutex Stick Polish; 31: Cutex Cold Cream.

A new range of manicure sets was also developed: the Compact Set, the Traveling Set, the Boudoir Set and the De Luxe Set. The composition and naming of these manicure sets changed frequently over the years.

1926 A range of Cutex manicure sets

Above: 1926 A range of Cutex manicure sets.

Cutex Compact Set: Contains a nail file, emery boards, orange stick, cotton and small sizes of Cutex Cuticle Remover, Cake Polish, Paste Polish and Nail White.
Cutex Five Minute Set: Contains emery boards, orange stick, absorbent cotton, Cuticle Remover, Powder Polish and Liquid Polish.
Cutex Marquise Set: Contains Cuticle Remover, Liquid Polish, Cake Polish, Nail White, a buffer, orange stick, cotton, a nail file and emery boards.
Cutex Traveling Set: Contains a nail file, emery boards, orange stick, cotton and full sizes of Cutex Cuticle Remover, Cake Polish, Paste Polish and Nail White.

Smaller sets proved to be particularly popular as they could be carried about and later designs were made so that they could be transported safely.

1932 Cutex Club Kit

Above: 1932 Cutex Club Kit. a complete set of manicure preparations in a leather bag.

Liquid nail polish

Current evidence suggest that Northam Warren introduced first introduced a liquid nail polish into its Cutex line in 1916. The polish was colourless and may have been called Cutex Nail Enamel. In 1917, a rose-tint was added and, by 1921, Cutex Nail Enamel had become Cutex Liquid Polish.

See also: Nail Polish

Northam Warren did not think that the liquid polish would be a major seller and it was not promoted as much as other polishes in the Cutex line, namely cake, paste, powder and stick.

Liquid Polish: “Spread this rosy liquid evenly over the surface of your nails. In a moment it dries, leaving no stickiness and no odor. No rubbing, no buffing—quick, easy and the result a sparkling jewel-like brilliance, that lasts for a week or more.”
Cake Polish: “A compact cake polish—the old favorite. Velvety smooth does not break or crumble—very economical. Rub a little on the palm of one hand, pass the nails of the other hand lightly, swiftly, over the powdered palm. In a moment you have nails that are noticeably lovely. Pink or white.”
Paste Polish: “An especially smooth paste—easily distributed over the nail to give an even polish. Tints the nails and produces a brilliant finish. Waterproof, lasting—washing actually improves the polish. Pink or uncolored.”
Powder Polish: “Instantaneous! Convenient to carry! Easy to use! At last a powder polish without messy spilling. Shake a little onto the palm of one hand, use it as a buffer, brushing it lightly, quickly, over the nails of the hand. A quick gleaming polish that is the most brilliant of all. Pink.”
Stick Polish: “A successful stick polish—one that really gives you the brilliance you demand. Pink.”

However, on a trip to France in 1920, Northam Warren noticed that Parisians preferred liquid nail polish over all other forms and by the time he return to America he had decided to follow this trend.

We have learned, also, to anticipate in a measure the preferences of the public as to the form of our products. As an example, the logical form of nail polish is the cake, and we were, for a time, inclined to manufacture it as our leading polish. It is easy to apply and has several advantages in its favor. But I was in Paris during 1920, and I noticed that there were dozens of different makes of liquid polish and that they were outselling all other forms. So when I returned we decided that the American preference would follow that of France. We increased our advertising on liquid polish, and it has outsold all of our other polishes.

(Warren, 1922, p. 394)

During the 1920s, Northam Warren dramatically increased advertising for the product, added it to the Introductory Manicure Set in 1921, and improved the formulation in 1922. Sales rose steadily. As sold in the early 1920s, Cutex Liquid Polish came in a sealed corked bottle, with a separate brush which, by 1923, was attached to its own cork. It was not complemented by a specialist remover until 1927. Before then, it was removed by using a drop of liquid polish that was wiped off before it dried along with the old polish.

The new Cutex Liquid Polish … is of just the right consistency to flow evenly and pleasantly over the nails from the tiny camel’s-hair brush with which it is applied. It dries instantly, and leaves a charming rose-petal finish that retains its brilliant lustre for at least a week. And, best of all, when you wish to renew it, no special “remover” is required. You simply use another application of the polish, and wipe it off.

(Cutex advertisement, 1922)

As well as the increased promotional budget and the improvements in the formula, the company generated interest in the liquid polish by altering the manicure instructions that came with many of its products in the 1920s so that they included the use of liquid polish.

1926 Cutex filing the nail

Above: “First shape the nails with a steel file holding the file loosely and working upward from the sides to the centre. Then smooth off all remaining roughness with an emery board.”

1926 Cutex cuticle treatment

Above: “With an orange stick dipped in Cutex Cuticle Remover work around the nail groove and underneath to tip of the nail. Then rinse, and wiping push the cuticle gently downwards. The ugly, dead cuticle will simply wipe away leaving the nail rims smoother, more even than you have ever been able to make them by cutting.”

1926 Cutex using polish

Above: “Then the polish—spread it on the soft part of the hand and burnish by brushing the nails lightly across it. To apply the liquid, coat each nail lightly with the little camel’s hair brush that comes in the box.”

In 1928, a ‘plum blossom’ fragrance was added and this new preparation was sold as Perfumed Cutex Liquid Polish even though, only three years later, Cutex advertisements were arguing against the use of scent.

Notice how true this is when you brush a gleaming film of Cutex Polish over your own oval nails. There’s a swift little whiff of the clean distinctive odor you have always associated with an efficient polish. It lasts just long enough to accomplish its task. Then—it’s gone!
No odor of any kind lingers! No alien perfume to contend with … and perhaps destroy … your own exclusive scent. Just a sparking crystal film … sparking and unscented.

(Cutex advertisement, 1931)

Liquid polish colours

The first coloured Cutex nail polish was a Natural (i.e., light pink) shade, coloured with a soluble dye like carmoisine or safranine. A deeper tint called Deep Rose was added in 1926 and a Colourless shade, with a separate bottle of tint to enable colour to be added by personal preference, was produced in 1928. In 1930, following the move to darker nail polishes in Europe, three new shades were included: Coral, a red pink; Cardinal, a flame red; and Garnet, a red-lily red. This bought the total number of Cutex Liquid Polish shades to six, with a seventh shade, Ruby, a red red, added in 1933. All of these shades were created with dyes, so the nail polish was relatively transparent, enabling the half moon and free edge of the nail to be seen.

1934 Cuitex Selector

Above: 1934 Cutex Color Selector counter display. The base was moulded plastic, surmounted by a finger rest. Over the finger rest was a disk which contained transparent nail shaped sections of the six Cutex colours – the Colourless shade not being included. By pushing a button on the rest and rotating the disk, the customer could see how each shade looked on their finger.

When the new colours were added in 1933, Northam Warren began to provide advice about what shade of nail polish would best coordinate with differently coloured clothing. Women could even purchase a Cutex Color Wheel for 10¢ that would give the correct shade of polish for every colour of gown. This vogue was a few years behind Paris fashions which had been recommending colour coordination since 1930 at the latest.

Natural goes with all costumes but best with bright colors—red, blue, bright green, purple, orange, yellow.
Rose is subtle and charming with pastel pinks, lavender blues … with green, black and brown.
Coral nails are bewilderingly lovely with white, pale pink, beige, gray, “the blues,” black and dark brown … daytime or evening frocks.
Cardinal contrasts excitingly with black, white, or any of the very pale shades. Good with gray or beige … the new blue.
Garnet, smart with the new tawny shades, cinnamon brown, black, white, beige, gray or burnt orange.
Ruby is such a real red red, you can wear it with anything when you want to be gay and dashing.

(Cutex advertisement, 1933)

Expansion and acquisitions

In 1918, two years after the J. Walter Thompson advertising campaign had begun, the rising volume of business forced Northam Warren to move from West Broadway to larger quarters at 114-118 West 17th Street, New York and the company eventually bought the six story property there from James N. Jarvie in 1925. Three years later, in 1928, there was another move to even larger quarters at 191 Hudson Street, New York.

As well as growing within the United States, Northam Warren was expanding into other countries. Starting with Canada – distributing Cutex products through MacLean, Benn & Nelson – Northam Warren had established a subsidiary there by 1919. Expansion continued into England, Europe and South America and then in the ensuing years to Asia and Africa giving the company a global reach.

Northam Warren also made a number of acquisitions. He had already acquired shares in Van Dyke & Co., Inc., which presumably manufactured the dyes used in Cutex preparations, and had also bought Dr. J. Parker Pray Products, a well established New York company which made a range of nail and other toilet preparations. Then, in 1926, Northam Warren acquired Elcaya Co. Inc., another New York company most noted for its Crème Elcaya Toilet Cream. This was followed, in 1928, with the purchase of Odorono, which made deodorants, and Glazo, which had a product range similar to Cutex, both were started by Mrs. Edna M. Albert in Cincinnati. In 1930, Northam Warren then acquired a substantial interest in Peggy Sage, New York, which also manufactured hand and manicure preparations sold through a range of outlets both within the United States and overseas including a network of Peggy Sage manicure salons.

The Glazo manicure line and Elcaya cosmetic line were made into a separate company, Glazo Inc. in 1938 – established at 50 Paterson Avenue, East Rutherford, New Jersey headed by Louis W. Halk, who had previously been a vice-president of Northam Warren. Peggy Sage was also a maintained as a separate entity. It was a fairly prestigious brand selling through department stores and Peggy Sage salons.

Glazo occupied a middle position generally selling in drug store chains and in retailers that were just below the prestige establishments. Cutex, the dominant brand in 1930, sold across all sectors of the market but in the United States sales were beginning to come mainly from what were referred to as syndicated, variety or ‘five-and-dime’ stores (Nail enamel, 1959, p. 458). The differentiation between the three brands can be partly seen in their pricing. In 1935, for example, while Cutex’s liquid polish was selling for 35¢, and Glazo’s could be bought in one of two sizes at 35¢ and 50¢, Peggy Sage was retailing for US$1.00. The low margins Cutex were getting were offset by good sales but they would prove to be a problem for Cutex when competition increased during the 1930s.


A second fashion trend that had become evident in Paris by 1930, was to match nail polishes with lipsticks. By 1930, Glazo had already introduced Flame, Geranium and Crimson shades of nail polish to match light, medium and dark red lipsticks and Peggy Sage had done the same with their Palm Beach Coral, Biarritz Red and Lido Crimson polish shades.

Achieving a colour intensity in nail polish that matched a lipstick was difficult to do using dyes alone and the fashion trend to match lipsticks led to greater use of opaque pigments – such as titanium dioxide and iron oxides – in nail polishes. Polishes that used them were opaque rather than transparent and so were often described as creams. The 1930s would be marked by a transition from transparent polishes to creams, a form that dominates the market today.

Although these opaque or cream nail polishes had been made for many years by Glazo, Peggy Sage and others, Cutex did not introduce its version, Cutex Crème Nail Polish, until 1934. The conservative nature of Cutex in the 1930s is probably a reflection of their American customers. Even as late as 1955, colourless nail polish was still the largest selling ‘shade’ in the United States.

1934Cutex Creme Polish

Above: 1934 Cutex Crème Polish. It came in the same shades as the clear Cutex polish.

In 1935, Northam Warren introduced lipsticks into its Cutex line. They were housed in rectangular push-up containers and came in four shades: Natural, Coral, Cardinal and Ruby. Each lipstick was matched with a nail polish of the same name except for Natural which could be matched with either Natural, Rose or the new Mauve shade added in 1935. The matching nail polishes originally came in both clear and cream forms but, by 1940, clear shades seem to have been largely phased out.

1935 Cutex polish and lipstick

Above: 1935 Cutex Liquid Nail Polish (clear) in Cardinal shade and matching lipstick in a push-up case.

The fashion of matching lipsticks and nail polish would prove to be a problem for Northam Warren in the long run. As lipsticks became more important during the 1930s and 1940s it became necessary for any cosmetic company making a line of lipsticks to produce nail polishes in matching colours as well. This, and the greater acceptance of the use of nail polish on both fingers and toes, led to more competitors in the nail polish market, the most aggressive being Revlon.


The arrival of the Revlon Nail Enamel Company in 1932, founded by Charles Revson, Joseph Revson and Charles Lachman, would prove to be the beginning of the end of Cutex as the largest seller of nail polish in American or overseas.

Revlon’s nail polishes were of the cream, opaque type. As part of the company’s sales strategy they targeted manicurist much as Northam Warren had done years before, along with department stores and better drug stores in the prestigious end of the retail market.

See also: Revlon

Although it is true that Northam Warren failed to fully capitalise on its cream nail polishes and matching lipsticks and helped give Revlon an opening, there are some indications that part of the problem for Cutex was an industry-wide antagonism to Northam Warren’s dominance in the market.

As Revlon entered the retail market, a number of forces were operating to make a new competitor and a change in status very welcome to a major part of the retail trade. Certain deep antagonisms existed in the mind of the retail trade and certain basic dissatisfactions with the policy of a predominant supplier. Throughout the retail trade there was an eager expectation for someone vigorous, with a new idea that could be picked up, accepted and promoted as a foil to this other company. Revlon stepped into this fortunate retail situation at the precise psychological moment with a new product and a new sales idea. The result is history in this industry.

(Nail enamel, 1958, p. 458)

By the late 1930s, through its innovative marketing campaigns and by restricting its sales to department stores, better drug stores and manicure establishments, Revlon was rapidly achieving a glamorous and fashionable status. Perhaps in an attempt to counter this, Northam Warren ran an extensive series of advertisements from 1938 that used endorsements from Parisian designers like Schiaparelli, Lelong, Alix and Lanvin to promote Cutex being linked with Paris fashion.

Along with endorsements Northam Warren responded to the increased competition in a number of other ways. Between 1936 and 1939, the year Revlon introduced their first lipstick, Cutex tripled the number of shades in their range including: Robin Red, Rust, Light Rust (soon dropped), Old Rose and Burgundy (1936); Clover and Tulip (1937); Heather and Laurel (1938). Along with Natural, Colorless and Rose this brought the number of Cutex shades to twelve. Although not as extensive as Revlon the range was significant and new shades continued to be introduced after this including: Gadabout, Hijinks and Cameo Pink (1939); Rumpus and Riot (1940); and Sugar Plum, Gingerbread, Black Red and Sheer Natural (1941).

Northam Warren also introduced new manicure preparations. It had already added Cutex Polish Remover, Cutex Cuticle Cream and Cutex Cuticle Oil into the Cutex range in 1927 and these were followed by Cutex Nail White Pencil (1931), which replaced the older tube and orange-stick method; Cutex Hand Cream (1932), which superseded the original Cutex Cold Cream, first introduced in 1919; Cutex Oily Cuticle Remover and Cutex Oily Polish Remover (1934); Cutex Brittle Nail Cream (1936), to help restore natural oils; Cutex Polish Foundation (1938), a clear colorless liquid applied before the nail polish to protect the polish from chipping; Cutex Nail Shampoo (1939), to remove ink stains; Cutex Porous Nail Polish (1940), to help brittle and splitting nails; and Cutex Overcoat (1941), a quick drying finish. For good measure the company also redesigned its packaging in 1941.

The liquid nail polish was reformulated in 1936. The new recipe, which took longer to dry but wore longer, was advertised as Cutex Salon Type Polish, probably to give the impression that the product was used by professionals and to help counter Revlon’s growing domination of manicure salons. Northam Warren also began to introduce dedicated Cutex manicure salons into the United States, starting with Chicago in 1935, something it had only previously done in London and Paris. In 1937, it also built a fully equipped manicure salon in its research and development arm to help test new products.

1937 Cutex research salon

Above: 1937 Part of the fully equipped manicure test salon supervised by Miss Grace Thuma (right).

From 1936, Cutex also began running advertisements directly comparing its polish with other brands using titles like ‘Does your Nail Polish get Thick and Gummy?’ and ‘Does your Nail polish Peel or Chip?’ something it had not done before, a good indication that competition was increasing and its dominance was under threat.

One anomaly in all this change was that Cutex kept promoting the idea that nail polish colour should be applied so that the half moon and free edge were visible. This practice did not stop until 1939 when Cutex moved completely to cream polishes and fully painted nails. Given that Paris fashion had moved to the new style well before this, and Peggy Sage, a Northam Warren company, was doing the same back in 1930, why Northam Warren continued with this practice is unknown to me. One possibility is that they were catering to their more conservative customers who bought nail polish through drug and variety stores. Another is that highlighting the moon made the need for a cuticle treatment, using Cutex Cuticle Remover, more obvious.


Northam Warren’s major contribution to the war effort was to manufacture electrical connectors for aircraft and it was the sole supplier of these parts to the United States Air Force. The company had moved its corporate and manufacturing headquarters to a new plant in Stamford, Connecticut in 1940 and the aircraft parts were made there for the duration of the war.

1960 Northam Warren facilities in Stamford

Above: 1960 Northam Warren facilities in Stamford, Connecticut.

It was at this time that Northam Warren Jr. began with the company.

Northam Warren Junior and Northam Warren Senior

Above: Northam Warren Jr. [1914-2002] and Northam Warren Snr. The younger Northam Warren started working for Northam Warren when the new plant opened in Stamford and then returned to the company after serving in the field artillery during the Second World War. He was the public face of Cutex in the post-war period and promoted the company at cosmetic conventions. He also worked briefly for Chesebrough-Pond’s after they acquired Northam Warren in 1961.

The company also produced materials for the Canadian government, chiefly anodising airplane parts, especially propellors (Kane, 1946, p. 44). Northam Warren also made Sniff Kits designed to train personnel in the smell of dangerous chemicals.

Sniff Kit

Above: Sniff Kits. There were five bottles in each kit each containing an imitation gas that smelled like, and could be used to identify Mustard Gas, Phosgene Gas, Chlorpicrin, Lewisite and Tear Gas.

Along with other cosmetics companies, Northam Warren experienced shortages during the war, as supplies of raw materials like nitrocellulose became difficult to get and manufacturing space was taken up by government contracts. As far as I can tell there were no new products released by the company during the hostilities but Cutex did introduce new shades, many of which had a patriotic name. These included: Alert, Young Red and Saddle Brown (1942); On Duty, Off Duty and At Ease (1943); and Honor Bright (1944).


Cutex continued to lose ground after the war. In 1943, Northam Warren had advertised Cutex as “The world’s favorite nail polish”, by 1956 it was “The world’s largest selling manicure aids”. By then, Cutex had largely relinquished its positions at the prestige end of the market and was becoming mainly sold though drug, grocery and syndicated stores like Woolworths and Kress where price was the primary selling point.

Revlon was not content with being the dominant player in the market; Charles Revson wanted to bury every other competing brand. Revlon’s relentless colour promotions made it difficult for others to compete and when Revlon achieved a massive rating success with the television program ‘The $64,000 Question’ in 1955 their position became almost unassailable.

See also: Revlon and ‘The $64,000 Question’

Revlon’s dominance of the American cosmetic market affected all other players. By 1960, those companies that were primarily selling nail products either folded or – like Dura-Gloss, Helen Neushaefer and Hazel Bishop – were generally left to compete with Cutex in variety stores, a market that was very sensitive to price. In 1958, where Revlon would retail lipsticks for upwards of US$1.35 and their nail enamels for 65¢ and 75¢, Cutex sold lipsticks for 35¢ and 79¢ and their nail polishes for 35¢. Revlon was also making money from its extensive cosmetics range which supported a large advertising budget and was also able to put additional pressure on retailers. Revlon’s prestige, range and margins were all a lot higher.


Above: 1950 Cutex advertisement trying to persuade prestige buyers to switch.

Northam Warren countered as best it could. In 1946, they changed their advertising agency from J. Walter Thompson to Young & Rubicam, Inc. and then over the years went through a series of other agencies. By 1952, they were doing network television advertising and their print advertising became more like Revlon’s. They also responded to most of the cosmetic trends that affected them in the post-war period.

The 1950s were marked by the lipstick wars between Hazel Bishop, Coty and Revlon. In response to the success that Hazel Bishop had with their indelible Lasting Lipstick, Northam Warren, like other lipstick manufacturers of the period, also introduced an indelible lipstick, Cutex Stay-Fast (1952), sometimes using the tag “Never leaves a kissprint”. When ‘creaminess’ became a selling factor Northam Warren added lanolin to their indelible lipsticks and released Cutex Satin Cling Lipstick. They also produced a number of creamy formulations including Cutex Sheer Lanolin Lipstick (1955) and Cutex Delicate Lipstick (1959).

Like Helena Rubinstein, Revlon and others, Northam Warren also produced metal lipstick cases for Cutex lipsticks in the 1950s including: the Jewelled Case (1954), which came in a range of designs using a brass casing studded with imitation rubies, diamonds and/or sapphires; the Gold Mesh Case (1955), in 24 carat gold plate with an overall gold mesh design and a clear plastic base; the Designer Case (1958), with a range of coloured bands that could be matched with clothing or other accessories; and the Nugget Case (1959) in gold, studded with small gold nuggets.

1958 Cutex Designer Case

Above: 1958 Cutex Designer Case. Based loosely on earlier designs by Helena Rubinstein and Revlon, the case did away with the ‘bullet look’ and came in a range of coloured stripes.

Northam Warren also made a number of additions and reformulations in its manicure lines. These included Cutex Oily Quick Dry (1945), applied over the nail polish to speed up the drying time, Cutex Nail-Flex (1951), containing lanolin, cholesterol and white iodine to help prevent nails from splitting and becoming brittle; Cutex Cream Polish Remover (1954), said to dissolve polish in seconds and condition the cuticle as it did so; and Cutex Mira-base (1959), a base coat that did not have to dry before nail polish was applied.

Northam Warren also regularly updated its nail polishes and added new lines. Starting with Cutex Nail Brilliance polish (1947) containing ‘enamelon’ in eight shades, the company then added Cutex Pearl Brilliance (1950) and Cutex Chip-Pruf polish (1953). In 1957, the nail polishes were also reformulated to help reduce sedimentation, create a more uniform colour, give greater lustre to pearl forms and generally improve wear.

The nail polish bottle was not forgotten. The Nail Brilliance line originally came in a rather cylindrical bottle with a flat white lid but the following year it was repackaged in a half circular bottle with an elegant, tall brush handle extending from the top. Although the bottle was said to be more luxurious I should note that Cutex also dropped the price of the line from 29¢ in 1947 to 25¢ in 1948. Then, in 1951, Cutex introduced a new spill-proof bottle, simply called Spillpruf. It could be turned on its side without spilling because of a self-sealing apparatus in its neck.


Above: 1951 Cutex Spillpruf bottle.

The bottle neck design was also said to eliminate the possibility of picking up a large blob of polish which might drop off the brush. Although it started out as a separate line with its own bottle shape, by the end of the year the Spillpruf neck was also being used in the Nail Brilliance and Pearl Brilliance lines although they still kept their tall brush handles.

Like other lipstick and nail polish producers Cutex introduced new colour shades each year including: Apple Cart and Pippin (1947); Look Pink (1948); Here’s Your Cotton and Star Bright (1949); Cotton Candy, Pink Spangle, Prize Posey and White Pearl (1950); Sugar Plum (1951); Strike Me Pink, Pink ’n Sassy, Pink ’n Sweet, and Red Hot ’n Blue (1952); Flaming Pearl (1953); Cuta Tomata, So Tempting, Pink Scepter and Royal Red (1954); Robins and Roses and Slightly Scarlet (1955); Pink T.N.T. (1956); Coral Ice (1957); Hot Strawberry (1958); and Pink from Paris (1959). Many of these shades were pinks designed to appeal to the younger market that had developed after the war.

In an attempt to boost sales Northam Warren even engaged in some cross-promotions. In 1953, as part of its Red Hot ’n Blue campaign, Northam Warren aligned with a range of non-competitive products to set up displays under the slogan ‘That Beautiful American Look’. The upper part of the display was devoted to Cutex, the lower to the other products. It seemed to work, sales did improve after the promotion.

1953 Cutex cross-promotion display

Above: 1953 Counter display for Cutex Red Hot ’n Blue shade promotion with non-competitive product tie-ins: Chlorodent Toothpaste, Lady Esther Four Purpose Cream, Lilt Home Permanent, Maybelline Make-up, Pacquin’s Silk ’n Satin Lotion, and Prell Radiant Shampoo.


Despite their best efforts the position of Northam Warren continued to deteriorate and Northam Warren Snr. and his son, Northam Warren Jr., sold out to Chesebrough-Pond’s on December 30, 1960 with Northam Warren Jr., taking a management role with the new owners. The price was not disclosed but it was believed to have been around US$10m. Northam Warren Snr. died in 1962 and this is where my interest in the company largely ends.

1961 Northam Warren sale to Chesebrough-Ponds

Above: 1961 Northam Warren, Sr (left) with Jerome A. Straka, president of Chesebrough-Pond’s (centre) and Northam Warren, Jr (right) at the announcement of the sale of Northam Warren to Chesebrough-Pond’s.

Although its roots extended back to 1849, Chesebrough-Pond’s was a relatively new entity in 1961, having been formed from the merger of the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company and the Pond’s Extract Company in 1955. They were looking to expand and Northam Warren was not their first acquisition. Like Northam Warren they sold products chiefly through drug and variety stores in the lower end of the cosmetic retail market so the purchase was a good fit.

See also: Chesebrough-Pond’s

Unilever acquired Chesebrough-Pond’s in 1986. In 1994, they licensed Jean Philippe Fragrances to manufacture and market Cutex products in the United States and Puerto Rico. Sales were disappointing and agreed targets were not met so Jean Philippe relinquished their license enabling Unilever to sell their American interests in Cutex to Carson, Inc. in 1997 for US$41m. By 1999, Carson was in financial difficulties and sold Cutex to an investment firm, The Shansby Group, for US$30m. In 2004, The Shansby Group and its joint venture partner Medtech Labs were acquired by the private equity firm GTCR Golder Rauner II, LLC and Cutex then became part of a holding company, Prestige Brands. The personal-care segment of Prestige Brands declined over time resulting in the company reducing its support and then eventually selling Cutex to Arch Equity Partners, in 2010. The new owners put it and Calico Laboratories – which manufactured nail polish removers – under a new business name, Cutex Brands.

In 1996, Unilever granted a license to Joh A. Benckiser GmbH to manufacture and market the Cutex brand in Europe and certain territories elsewhere. Cutex products in these territories are sold through Coty Beauty which Benckiser had previously acquired in 1992. In 2015, Cutex Brands was acquired by Revlon and they followed this up in 2016 by buying Cutex International from Coty. It will be interesting to see what Revlon does with the brand now that Cutex has been globally consolidation.


1911Northam Warren Company founded by Northam Warren.
1911Northam Warren Company introduces Cutex (Cut-Ex) cuticle remover.
1913Cutex Nail Bleach introduced.
Cutex nail powder polishes introduced.
1914Cutex Nail White introduced.
1915Northam Warren incorporates. Northam Warren buys shares in Van Dyke & Co.
1916Northam Warren begins an advertising campaign designed by J. Walter Thompson.
New Products: Cutex Liquid Nail Enamel.
1917Cutex product line repackaged in pink and black.
New Products: Cutex Liquid Nail Enamel in a Natural (pink) shade.
1918Northam Warren moves to 114-118 West 17th Street, New York.
New Products: Cutex Stick Polish.
1919New Products: Cutex Cold Cream.
1922Formulation for Cutex Liquid Polish and Cutex Powder Polish improved.
1925Northam Warren buys the building at 114-118 West 17th Street, New York.
1926Northam Warren acquires Elcaya Co. Inc.
1927Research manicure salon opened.
New Products: Cutex Polish Remover, Cutex Cuticle Cream and Cutex Cuticle Oil.
1928Northam Warren moves to larger quarters at 191 Hudson Street, New York.
Northam Warren purchases Odorono Co. and Glazo Co.
New Products: Perfumed Cutex Liquid Polish.
1930Northam Warren acquires a substantial interest in Peggy Sage.
1931New Products: Cutex Nail White Pencil.
1932Cutex and Glazo sales teams are combined.
New Products: Cutex Hand Cream.
1933Northam Warren begins radio advertising (U.S.).
Cutex manicure sets redesigned.
1934New Products: Cutex Crème Polish, Cutex Oily Polish Remover , and Cutex Oily Cuticle Remover.
1935Northam Warren Sales Company established.
Cutex opens its first dedicated manicure salon in Chicago.
New Products: Cutex Lipsticks, matched to its Crème Nail Polish range.
1936New Products: Cutex Brittle Nail Cream.
1938Glazo Inc. formed from the Glazo manicure line and the Elcaya cosmetic line.
New Products: Cutex Polish Foundation.
1939New Products: Cutex Nail Shampoo.
1940Northam Warren moves its headquarters to Stamford, Connecticut.
New Products: Cutex ‘Porous’ Nail Polish.
1941Cutex packaging redesigned.
New Products: Overcoat, a quick drying finish.
1945New Products: Cutex Oily Quick Dry.
1947Lacquer Plant added at Stamford.
New Products: Cutex Nail Brilliance containing ‘enamelon’.
1950New Products: Cutex Pearl Brilliance.
1951New Products: Spillpruf bottle and Cutex Nail-Flex.
1952New Products: Cutex Stay-Fast indelible lipstick.
1954New Products: Cutex Cream Polish Remover, and Jewelled case added to the Cutex Stay Fast lipstick line.
1955New Products: Cutex Satin Cling Lipstick, Cutex Sheer Lanolin Lipstick, and Gold Mesh lipstick case.
1958New Products: Cutex Designer Case for lipsticks.
1959New Products: Cutex Delicate Lipstick, Cutex Mira-base base coat, and Cutex Nugget Case for lipsticks.
1960Chesebrough-Pond’s buys Northam Warren.
1987Chesebrough-Pond’s acquired by Unilever.
1996Coty Beauty (Benckiser) acquires the rights to manufacture the Cutex brand in Europe and certain territories elsewhere from Unilever.
1997Cutex (American and Puerto-Rican) business acquired by Carson, Inc. from Unilever.
1999Cutex nail polish remover business (American and Puerto-Rican) acquired by the investment firm, The Shansby Group.
2004Cutex (American and Puerto-Rican) sold to GTCR Golder Rauner II, LLC, a private equity investment firm and becomes part of Prestige Brands.
2010Arch Equity Partners, investment group acquired Cutex (American and Puerto-Rican) and placed it under a new business name, Cutex Brands.
2015Cutex Brands acquired by Revlon.
2016Revlon buys by Cutex International from Coty Beauty.

Updated: 8th September 2016


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