posted by Antques du Jour 9-24-2012
It is amazing how much of the advertising we see is related around making people, places and things smell better! From soap, detergent, pet products, deodorants and perfumes, our society is very fixated on the olfactory senses. We even have adages that honor the importance, i.e., "like a breath of fresh air" and so on. I am sure that it will not surprise you to know that this fixation on aromas has been with us for thousands of years. One could write many books on just the topic of the types of scents and aromas and their history and uses. For the purpose of this article I am going to present one aspect of the topic that truly appeals to my womanly soul, perfume bottles and containers. It seems that they have fascinated me from the time I was a small child.
Beautifully made containers were first made around 1000 BC and since that time they have been a mirror of what has been fashionable and favored in society. The Egyptians invented the method for making glass, and these glass containers often held scents for religious purposes as well as for personal use to enhance intimate situations. Although perfume did a downward turn during the Dark Ages, along with learning and so many other "niceties" (they weren't called the Dark Ages for no reason), the making of perfume had a resurgence in the 16th century. Thank heavens. Can you imagine how dismal it must have been living in some musty old castle, if you were one of the privileged who lived in a castle, surrounded by people who rarely bathed and knew nothing about basic hygiene? It was during the 16th century that scented pomanders began to be made. I am positive it was in an attempt to "clear the air." In the 18th and 19th centuries, "vinagerettes" became popular so that a lady could mask the unpleasant odors that were sure to greet her when she forayed out into the streets. These were not applied to the body but rather, the small bottle was held up to the nose and breathed in.
In the 18th century, major perfume manufacturers came into being with Yardley among the most prominent, and they began improving manufacturing techniques and creating lovely decorated bottles. Most of these were created to hold "floral water." Based on natural plant extracts and oils, the perfume business did not change much until advances were made in organic chemistry so that hard to obtain ingredients could be lab created. And along with all of this perfume, the design and creation of bottles and containers soared. French crystal maker Baccarat was an early maker of perfume bottles in the 19th century. Baccarat made the bottle for Shalimar, the blockbuster perfume introduced by Guerlain in 1925. It remains among my personal favorites because of the shape and the beautiful cobalt blue stopper. Among the most sought after are bottles designed by Rene' Lalique, and today, these are the ones that are most often faked, so caution is necessary when purchasing perfume bottles. The Irice company made lovely less expensive containers during the Art Deco era and beyond, as did the DeVillbis company. Estee Lauder made solid perfume compacts highly collectible.
The older Shalimar bottles have a flashed iridescent effect over the cobalt blue stopper.
The style, age, rarity, and as always, condition, play into the value of a perfume bottle. What is especially nice about this area of collecting is that vintage perfume bottles can still be found at yard sales and in thrift stores. They can be found online, but be sure that you well know the marks of a maker before you spend what can be into the thousands of dollars for the more rare pieces. I am going to add a link here, and there are many many sites on the Net where you can go visit and become enraptured looking at the absolutely exquisite perfume bottles that are a part of our history. There are also many books available for the collector. One of my favorites is "Perfume Bottles" by Judith Miller. The photos are stunning and you will see bottles in the book that I have not seen any place else. This is a link to an online "virtual: museum that has some lovely things. http://www.perfumebottles.org/virtual-museum/15