Given the nature of perfume, from the confidence it gives its wearer to the indescribable effect it sometimes has on its very targeted audience, it’s not surprising that perfume has long been kept in bottles whose shapes seem to echo the mysterious properties of the fluids inside them. Whether it’s a slender phial, a tiny tear-shaped lachrymatory, or a round, flat-sided ampullae, perfume bottles are designed to contain magic, which is only unleashed when the bottle is opened and a drop or two of the precious liquid is discreetly applied.
Glassblowers in Britain, Bohemia, Germany, and France made perfume bottles throughout the 19th century. U.S. glass manufacturers such as the New England Glass Company and the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company also made perfume bottles during the 1800s. Some of these were hexagonal and opaque (white, blue, and green were common colors), with knobby, pineapple-shaped stoppers. Others were known gemel bottles, in which two flattened oval bottles were joined in the furnace, their necks pointing in opposite directions. Gemel bottles, especially standing ones in bright colors, are especially sought after.
For collectors, a sweet spot for antique perfume bottles is Art Nouveau. Beginning around 1890, artisans and glass factories alike produced elaborate cut or blown glass perfume bottles with ornate caps, some of which had hinged silver stoppers and collars. Purse-sized conical bottles with very short necks and round stoppers were often decorated with gilt flower-and-leaf patterns; manufacturers included Thomas Webb & Sons and Stevens & Williams Glass Company, both from Staffordshire, England.
The same companies also produced perfume bottles in cameo glass. Again, leaves and flowers were popular motifs, in colors that ranged from pink to purple to green, all of which were encased in white. In the United States, Steuben manufactured bulb-shaped perfume bottles using the company’s Verre de Soie technique, with glass threads wrapping the piece and matching the color of its iridescent base. Tiffany’s bottles included short, stumpy crystal cylinders with hob-nail bottoms and ornately engraved silver caps that covered the bottle’s crystal stopper.
In France, René Lalique was a giant when it came to small perfume bottles, which he produced in a series of ever-larger factories outside of Paris for François Coty and other perfume makers. Lalique brought his jeweler’s eye to perfume bottles—he even used a jewelry-casting process called cire perdue, also known as lost wax.
Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Lalique did not add lead to his crystal. Instead, he preferred a demi-crystal because it was inexpensive, easy to work with, and imbued his perfume bottles with what became his trademark milky opalescence.
During Lalique’s collaboration with Coty, which lasted through the 1930s, he also made perfume bottles for d’Orsay and Roger et Gallet. One such bottle for Roger et Gallet was crowned by an elaborate tiara stopper, one of Lalique’s most copied designs. Another was an opaque green circular bottle with a bird on one side and the words "LE JADE" at the bottom...
Later, as Lalique’s name became as synonymous with perfume bottles as Coty’s, he would make empty vessels so that customers could transfer their perfumes into Lalique’s more elegant containers. Tantot and Amphitrite are just two examples of unfilled Lalique perfume bottles.
During the 1920s and ’30s, glass perfume bottles inspired by the Art Deco movement were all the rage. Natural forms and motifs gave way to geometric shapes and bold, streamlined designs. In Czechoslovakia, perfume bottles from this era are routinely made of blown and meticulously cut crystal. For some of these bottles, the diameters of the stoppers were a great as those of the bottles beneath them, giving these otherwise simple containers the look of a Vegas showgirl wearing an impossibly top-heavy headdress.
But between the wars, Paris was the place for perfume and perfume bottles. Signature shapes for Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar by Guerlain were codified, and beautiful collaborations took place between Baccarat, the legendary maker of fine crystal, and everyone from Guerlain to fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. For Guerlain, Baccarat created the Japanese-influenced Liu bottle, with its square-sided black body adorned gold labels. For Schiaparelli, Baccarat produced a bottle in the shape of a candle in a candlestick, with a gilt-metal flame for a stopper.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Museu Del Perfum
Historic Glass Bottle Identification
Antique Bottle Collector's Haven
Bottle Cap Index
Old Spice Collectibles
Clubs & Associations
- International Perfume Bottle Association
- Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors
- Little Rhody Bottle Club
- Midwest Antique Fruit Jar & Bottle Club
- Findlay Antique Bottle Club
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Local teen builds one-of-a-kind doll housesPost-Chronicle, November 25th
That's when her creativity really kicked into overdrive. A bead proved to be just the right thing to become a tiny perfume bottle. A glue stick, whittled down, became a Poland Spring water bottle. Manufacturer's coupons were repurposed to become boxes...Read more
Family heirlooms reveal their hidden valueWilmslow.co.uk, November 24th
The Coach and Four played host to a team of experts from the Derbyshire based auction house operated by Charles Hanson, a well-known face from several television antiques programmes. Wilmslow resident Lesley Moody ... originally filled with perfume. He...Read more
Surprise family with something new for Thanksgiving: craft ciderThe Seattle Times, November 23rd
Some are made not only with apples but with pear and/or quince, which gives a lovely perfume to the cider. Cider makers are famous for tracking down abandoned orchards and searching out rare and heirloom ... For everyone not into sports, open a bottle...Read more
Janice Schlau: Roasting perfect bird is a creative processBuffalo News, November 21st
Trimmed celery stalks, tart apple slices and robust onions more often than not line the vintage porcelain pan which, covered tightly, helps create a rich pond of au jus. It matters less to me if Thanksgiving ... The waft and weft of a basted bird's...Read more
Going, going, gone: Noble Art Auction has rare pieces, local talentSILive.com, November 13th
Antique offerings include a malachite vanity set with atomizer, perfume bottle, and mirrored tray from the Schlevogt Studios from around 1930. Antique scenes of Staten Island include a reproduction of the original 1868 oil painting "The Narrows from...Read more
In this week's Time Out magazine…Time Out London (blog), November 9th
I don't want my cocktails served in a teapot, a dainty old cup and saucer, a bloody jam jar, a metal "prison" mug or served with a "vintage" perfume atomizer! I certainly don't want it served in a F@&£ing hot water bottle in a slipper! What's wrong...Read more
Hints From Heloise: How to thwart the 'silent killer'Washington Post, November 4th
Violet: If the bronze swan is a real antique, you may not want to clean it yourself before checking with an antiques shop first. They can tell you if it's okay ... Dear Heloise: My friend's daughter dropped a bottle of perfume on her tile floor in the...Read more
Perfume Bottle Auction Brings $533724Maine Antique Digest, September 7th
The 27th annual convention of the International Perfume Bottle Association (IPBA) was held in Spartanburg, South Carolina, April 30 to May 3. A highlight of the convention was a perfume bottle auction with Nicholas Dawes, an appraiser with Antiques ...Read more