Collecting vintage perfume bottles captures romance

By on December 5, 2012

Perfume, cologne, and other fragrances have been favorite gift selections for many years, even centuries. Through the ages, they ranked among the preferred items bestowed to show love, respect and honor. The biblical account of Jesus’ birth attributes to the significance of fragrances when the traveling wise men presented gifts of frankincense and myrrh, two very expensive fragrances of the era, to the Christ Child.

Actually, the history of perfume is thousands of years old and dates back to the ancient world, years before the birth of Christ. The word "perfume" comes from the Latin per fumum meaning ‘through smoke.’ One of the oldest uses of perfume comes from the burning of incense and aromatic herbs used in religious services, while balms and ointments were used for cosmetic and/or medicinal purposes.

The Egyptians invented glass and utilized it, along with gold, hard stones and other materials, to make perfume bottles and containers. The Persians perfected the art of preserving scents; while the Greeks categorized perfumes according to the part of the plant they came from and kept records of their compositions. History tells us Alexander the Great brought perfume to Greece after invading Egypt, and then the Romans took on the Greek’s perfume culture when they invaded Greece. In the meantime, Islamic, Chinese and Indian cultures had been using perfume as part of their religious rituals and grooming customs.

By the 12th century, Europe started to see perfume, thanks to international trade routes that opened between the East and West. New scents and spices made it to Europe and perfume became a huge addition to personal grooming. The 18th century brought the lighter, cheaper fragrance Eau de Cologne, or ‘water from Cologne,’ so named after a young Italian, Jean-Marie Farina, invented it in Cologne, Germany.

Later, modern chemistry and advanced technology made it possible to create new extraction techniques. The biggest of all technological advances was the ability to create synthetic ingredients to substitute natural perfume ingredients that were hard to find or very expensive, bringing perfume and cologne prices down and making them accessible to the masses. Perfume was no longer a luxury for the wealthy. However, there were still only a few brand names available until the 20th century when mass production of perfumes began.

As long as people have had perfume, they had bottles to keep it in. Often the receptacles were as delectable as the expensive liquids they contained. When the scent itself was long gone, the beautiful alabaster, elegant ceramic, and elaborate blown-glass creations were left to speak of luxury and romance. When perfume started to be enjoyed by a greater proportion of people, the manufacture of perfume bottles was stepped up to match the increased demand.

By the 19th century there was an immense variety of materials and forms for perfume bottles. Bottles were not only make of glass in a myriad of colors, but also of porcelain, silver, enamel and forged metal, with tops or stoppers in ivory, tortoiseshell or silver. Fanciful forms also appeared, with bottles in shapes of figures, fruits, flowers, and practically every creature under the sun, all of which are now popular with collectors.

By the 20th century, perfume was being sold ready-bottled, although most containers were of more somber, classical designs with only the label to identify the perfume. However, all that changed in 1907 with the collaboration between two innovators, the perfumer Francois Coty and glassmaker Rene Lalique. For the first time, a perfume bottle was specially designed to evoke the fragrance it contained. As many iconic perfume bottles of the 20th century testify, the perfume industry has never looked back.

Many people enjoy collecting beautiful antique and vintage perfume bottles. If you have an old bottle or find one at an estate sale or auction, it can be washed in a mild detergent and the inside dried with a hairdryer on cool setting. However, vintage bottles with labels should just be wiped on the outside with a damp cloth. To treat alcohol-based stains, it is recommended filling the bottle with methylated spirits and changing the solution approximately every hour until stains are gone.

As long as you treat vintage bottles with care and keep them in a dry, ventilated room, there is no reason why you cannot fill them with your favorite perfume and continue to enjoy them as was originally intended. However, boxed commercial vintage perfume bottles and those with original perfume inside, should be kept away from direct sunlight, which causes packaging to fade and fragrance to deteriorate.

When you are starting your collection of vintage perfume bottles, the field divides into two main areas: vintage bottles designed for perfume to be decanted into and vintage bottles sold with scent already in them. For these types of bottles, the value is in the name attached to them, whereas the other vintage bottles have an intrinsic value because they make use of luxury materials and exhibit good craftsmanship.

Beautiful antique and vintage perfume bottles would be lovely Christmas gifts for someone special or can be purchased to start or add to an existing collection. A nice assortment can be found among the shops along ‘The Strip,’ especially the shops featuring showcases. A collection of vintage perfume bottles will perfectly capture the romance of perfume. Happy Hunting! More ON THE STRIP, page A10

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