As Christian Dior once said, ‘a woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting’. Possibly a touch hyperbolic, however this sentiment does reflect the value- both sentimental and monetary- that is placed on scents and the bottles that contain them. Perfume bottles are the first glimpse into the mysteries a fragrance contains, and as such are a vital part of the industry, so much so that scent bottles of the past are now highly coveted collectables.
History of the Scent / Perfume Bottle
The history of the scent bottle harks back to 1000 BC, where early Egyptians used containers made of wood and clay to store their fragrances- delicious! Other civilizations were a tad less au naturale; the ancient Greeks hand painted animal shaped vases, and the Romans hollowed out precious stones to act as containers. Very extravagant, but they did think that perfumes were aphrodisiacs!
The 18th century saw a dramatic shift towards elaborately decorated scent bottles that were produced in a variety of quirky forms, from cats to clowns. Made from silver, gold, glass, enamel, porcelain- or any combination of these materials- they were certainly a step up from the clay pots of ancient Egypt! The 19th century saw a surge in popularity of the Art Nouveau style of decoration. For scent bottles, this meant a traditionally fashioned structure which was then adorned with floral décor. As the below image demonstrates, the late 19th and early 20th century celebrated the novel, with scent bottles being shaped in the form of flowers, lighthouses, teapots and many other unusual styles.
Collectability of the Scent Bottle?
So, you know about the styles and shapes that fashioned the history of the scent bottle, but just why are they considered to be such a prize? The first of many reasons is simply nostalgia. The lavishly ornamented decoration and elegant curves of scent bottles speak of a more elegant and luxurious time gone by, one that many collectors perhaps wish to recreate in their own lives.
The second, perhaps less sentimental, explanation is that many scent bottles have become synonymous with now iconic brands. Brands such as Chanel have maintained influence throughout the years, and as such, scent bottles which they produced decades ago are as highly coveted as a symbol of luxury as those they release today.
Design also plays an important part in establishing the collectability of a scent bottle. An innovative or eye-catching design is more likely to be coveted than its plainer counterpart, unless of course this counterpart possesses the brand influence mentioned above. Czechoslovakian scent bottles, for example, are highly desired due to their rich colours, finishes, and unusual designs; these elaborate bottles have stoppers as large as the vessel beneath. Probably not the most practical, but definitely stunning!
Exclusivity is also a main factor in establishing the collectability of scent bottles, as with any antique. In early 19th century Europe, amidst the Art Nouveau madness, a wide variety of one-of-a-kind scent bottles were produced. To add to the luxury of these unique items, they were crafted out of materials such as gold, silver, semi-precious stones and even shells. Unsurprisingly, these limited items were enormously popular amongst the elite of society, with some women even wearing their bottles as jewellery on evenings out (talk about getting your money’s worth!).
A case that demonstrates all of these explanations for the collectability of scent bottles is that of the great French glassmaker, René Lalique. At that time, people bought perfume by taking their own empty, generic bottles to be filled with their fragrance of choice. Lalique saw a gap in the luxury market here, and teamed up with parfumier François Coty to launch the concept of selling high-class perfumes in their own stylish, specially-designed bottles. Although many women began to collect these items, some were enamored with the luxury of disposability and threw the bottles away when the perfume was gone. As such, those that remain are incredibly coveted, due to their exclusivity, brand influence, and innovative design.
So what do you think, could you be persuaded to start your own collection of scent bottles? With such a fascinating backstory and a presence that spans the ages, it is difficult not to be enticed (and if that doesn’t work, the stunning decorations certainly will). Scent bottles are clearly here to stay, so maybe hang on to your latest bottle of Chanel, you never know what it could be worth…
Alice Wilson – Digital Assistant (Social Media)
After completing a degree in English Literature in 2018 Alice joined the AC Silver as a Digital Assistant. Alice is responsible for keeping our social media accounts fun and fresh for you all. In addition she will also entertain you on our blog with some creative posts.