Small glass bottles made specially for scented oils have been found in the tombs of Egypt's pharaohs and even some of its lesser citizens.
Good quality oils, essences and perfumes were, and still are, highly prized and very expensive. They have always been made to use sparingly, therefore their bottles have always tended to be small and exquisite.
The opening of a perfume bottle should be small, to avoid over-use or, horror of horrors, accidental spillage. Scent spoils if it is exposed to strong light, so bottles tended to be made of coloured or frosted glass.
By the 19th century, scent bottles were considered precious items in themselves. They often had gold or silver tops.
Wealthy women would take their beautiful little bottles to be filled with their favourite fragrance. Parfumiers and chemists would be only too willing to perform this service.
The period between the World Wars was the golden age of scent bottles, which, like other small, personal, decorative items, lent themselves to the simple and elegant designs of the prevailing art deco style.
Perfume spray bottles were still made for women who took them to be refilled with the fragrance of their choice, but couturiers and parfumiers were increasingly marketing their perfumes in glass bottles designed specifically for them.
The really high-class parfumiers, such as Roger & Gallet, Worth, and Guerlain, commissioned famous deco designers such as Lalique and Baccarat to create their bottles, and these are highly valued today.
The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of Hollywood, and glamour was the keynote of style. Fine fragrances were as much a part of the age as fabrics and figurines and were sprayed or dabbed on from glass bottles that also expressed the fashionable concerns of the time.
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PERFUME COLLECTOR'S NOTES
There are three main types of scent bottle to look out for.
The first kind was bought empty so that it could be filled and refilled over and over again with a
favourite fragrance. These bottles were intended to be kept and treasured.
Most of them were meant to be displayed, and so were made of coloured glass to
protect their contents from strong light.
In some cases, the glass was intricately cut so that the light danced over the facets, to dazzling effect. Enamelled glass was another favourite.
Sometimes the bottle would be painted with delicate designs in gold or silver. A further
design feature of these lovely objects were the tops, which were sometimes made
of gold or silver. Look out for hallmarks. Other bottles had beautifully shaped glass stoppers.
RUBBER & SILK
Some atomizer bottles had a snug-fitting top with a tube leading down to a bulb. Pumping the bulb allowed the perfume to waft in a fragrant mist.
These tubes and bulbs were usually made of rubber that was covered in silk and finished off with silken tassels.
The second type of bottle could also be refilled, but came as part of a dressing table set. Complete, undamaged sets are often worth a lot of money.
Often known as 'tabletterie', these sets consisted of bottles for perfumes and lotions, bowls for powder and small trays for clips and brooches.
Some had candlesticks to complete the ensemble. These sets were usually made of Bohemian glass, named for the region in central Europe.
The third type of collectable scent bottles are those produced by the great couturiers and parfumiers of the 1920s and 1930s. Bottles such as those created by the famous glassmaker Lalique for Worth's Dans la Noit are always much sought after, and novelty designs like Guerlain's Coq d'Or bottle, in the shape of a chic bow, are also prized by collectors.
Others to look for are the cute 'golliwog' stoppered bottles of frosted glass. Sadly, all these will be very expensive.
BUYING PERFUME BOTTLES
It is still possible to pick up deco perfume bottles in junk shops and flea markets, but the really desirable ones are more likely to be obtained in salerooms or from specialist dealers. They can command quite high prices, depending on rarity and condition.
When buying, check that any labels are still in good condition. Make sure the stopper really does belong to the bottle; 'marriages' are not uncommon.
Look for chips or cracks in the glass, and check that the silk is in good condition and has not been damaged by spill stains or by tips or tears. Make sure, too, that the tassels haven't got tatty with age.
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