Perfume Bottle Collecting has grown in popularity forming a part of our social and design history. Walk into any cosmetics department and the sweet smell of perfume fills the air. You can choose from designer brand names such as Christian Dior and Chanel to celebrity endorsed scents by pop princesses’ Jennifer Lopez and Brittany Spears. But from a collectors point of view it is not the smell that entices them to the shelves but the collectability of the innovative designed bottles.
The word perfume is taken from the Latin word per fumum, which translated means through smoke and has been used for different reasons throughout the Centuries. The Egyptians used scented bandages when embalming, as it was supposed to be a symbol of eternity, in later centuries perfume was used as a method of hygiene to cover up repulsive smells but today it is purely for cosmetic reasons, to make us smell nice and attract the opposite sex.
Throughout the ages perfume has been packaged in various shaped bottles made of many different materials. The ancient world used blown glass and alabaster whilst the Victorians favoured silver topped glass bottles. One of the most collected Victorian bottle is the dual-purpose double-ended one, two bottles fused together they are usually found in green, ruby or blue coloured glass, one end contained the flowery scent that the Victorian ladies liked to wear and the other for their smelling salts. Prices vary depending on where you buy but expect to pay £200 retail or £100 plus for one at auction (in April 2005 Dreweatt Neate Saleroom sold a collection of three double-ended bottles for £310.)
It was the turn into the 20th Century when the perfume industry began to introduce pre-packaged scents for women to buy directly over the counter. Perfumeries commissioned glass manufacturers like Baccarat and Lalique to produce high quality bottles to house these scents. The Lalique ones have become highly sought after by collectors and some command big money at auction, a rare “Bouchon Mures” Lalique bottle was sold at Bonhams saleroom in 1990 for a staggering hammer price of £38,000, but don’t despair if this is a little harsh for your pocket, as you can purchase Lalique bottles for much more affordable prices. The “Girlandes de Perles” and “Cactus Pattern Globular” bottles each made a hammer price of £240 at Dreweatt Neate’s salerooms, and if you shop around you can buy a small bottle of the well-known scent “L’Air du Temps” by Nina Ricci for about £100. A Lalique perfume bottle of any sort would be a centrepiece for any perfume bottle collection.
Baccarat was other leading glass manufacturer that created amazing innovative bottles to house ladies scents. One of their most recognised designs was for French Perfume h ouse “Guerlain”. The bottle has an inverted heart shaped stopper and displays the “Guerlain Paris” label on the front. “L’Heure Bleue” was the first scent to be launched by Guerlain in this bottle in 1912 and they used the same design for “Fol Arome” and “Mitsouko” in the following years. I managed to buy an example in its original box holding half the scent for £85 but I suspect it is probably worth in the region of £120 – £150.
As with any female fashion collectable such as handbags or jewellery, perfume bottles really came into their own in the 1920’s. Women became more aware of their looks embracing the Jazz Age with vibrant colours, short skirts and even shorter hair. Many designer houses moved with the times and encouraged the women to complement their looks with classy scents in stylish bottles.
Coco Chanel launched its signature scent “No.5” in 1921, the bottle was very stylish and chic epitomising the era that it was launched, very simple in design it oozed class and also enabled women to buy a piece of Chanel at an affordable price, especially appealing to those who could not afford the Chanel clothing ranges. One of these original bottles today, can fetch around £35-£45 if still with box or £20-£25 without the box.
“Schiaparelli” was another leading fashion designer who presented her perfumes in beautiful designs, “Shocking” one of her most famous scents was inspired by the actress Mae West, this bottle is very similar to Jean Paul Gaultier’s designs today as it is in the shape of a shopmaker’s dummy, whilst Jean Paul Gaultier bottles are in the shape of female and male torsos.
A rare piece, the Schiaparelli bottle can cost £250+ on the secondary market. Another of her sought after bottles are those shaped like candles, they housed the scent called “Sleeping” and were designed by Baccarat, these can fetch around £100 – £200 depending on the size and condition.
The fifties continued with imaginative bottles; Max Factor produced the velour covered cat to hold their scents “Electrique”, “Primitif” and “Hypnotique.” These dome covered felines are reasonably common and cost around £10 – £20. The 1960’s saw Avon dominate the novelty perfume bottle industry producing containers for scent in every possible guise, also producing solid perfume containers that could be worn as pins on ladies clothing. Another major fashion designer of the 60s was Barbara Hulanicki founder of the Biba chain. She produced everything from scents to oils in stylised black bottles with the trademark gold logo, and these bottles are highly reminiscent of the Art Deco period in design.
Today there is a huge array of different scents and novelty bottles to choose from in the commercial perfume industry but collectors are also attracted to the studio glass bottles that are skilfully made by various glassmakers. All leading manufacturers of these art glass creations, each bring a different trait to their trade and have their own personalities imprinted into their designs, these bottles are made as decorative pieces rather than functional and are to be displayed and admired. Look to manufacturers such as Isle of Wight, Okra and Glasform for high quality hand created art glass perfume bottles.
Perfume bottles have formed a large part of our social history, the materials used and the designs created reflect centuries and decades long since past; giving us an insight into the development that peaked in the 20th Century. Collectors crave innovative designs especially those produced by well-known fashion houses, and the more outrageous the bottle the better. They encompass everything from fashion trends to modern design, and I am sure the manufacturers will continue to surprise collectors as their ideas grow and each bottle released will become even more desirable than the last.
Lalique Perfume Bottles