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.
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Weekend: 99 bottles of popThe Courier, October 3rd
There will be more than 75 sales tables full of antique bottles of all kinds: milk, beer, soda pop, ink, perfume, medicine, poison, whiskey and more. There will also be fruit jars, insulators, advertising and other antiques. Admission is $2 for adults...Read more
Just in time for teaThe Nation, October 3rd
TEA IS HARDLY new to Thailand, but lounging about with an Earl Grey or Darjeeling and some scones never quite caught on until the recent arrival in Bangkok of trendy tearooms. We already have Twinings tea boutique and Harrods tearoom from Britain as ...Read more
The estate of the late Julian and Agatha Bennett will be sold on-site, Oct ...ArtfixDaily, September 18th
Collectible items will feature ladies' fans (one from 1939, framed), perfume bottles (to include commercial and dresser, plus atomizers and a Shannon crystal bottle with a floral stopper), sculptures and figures (to include a thumbs-up, a stork with...Read more
Prized Possessions: Perfume bottle collection makes scentsRoanoke Times, September 7th
Nobody wanted the perfume bottle that started Helen Farnsworth's collection. It “belonged to my husband's grandmother. My father-in-law gave it to me. Nobody in the family, which were all men, thought very highly of it,” said the 71-year-old retired...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
Vintage view: perfume bottlesIrish Examiner, June 13th
Beyond looks, the most arousing element of a woman's physical arsenal is her scent. Where the mysterious work of natural pheromones end, the subtle addition of a man-made elixir of love takes over. Since ancient times, perfume of quality has always...Read more
Perfume bottle collectors praise Southern hospitalitySpartanburg Herald Journal, May 3rd
Her collection contains many pristine examples of perfume bottles and other vanity items from the Victorian period. Her love of antiques began she when was 7 years old, when she bought a German silver purse for 10 cents. "It was my first antique...Read more
Perfume bottle collectors ready for convention in SpartanburgSpartanburg Herald Journal, April 29th
Jay Kaplan shows off some of his collection of perfume bottles on display at the Spartanburg Art Museum in the Chapman Cultural Center. The display is in conjunction with the International Perfume Bottle Association holding its 27th annual convention...Read more