Since ancient times, perfume bottles or scent bottles have been used to contain perfume and they have often been considered an art form. Scent containers and vessels have come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, differing between various cultures. Ancient perfume bottles known as ‘unguentarium’ were originally designed in gold and silver, and then replicated in glass.
The ancient Greeks made and used hand painted vases, often modelled in the shape of animals. The Romans used hollowed-out precious stones to hold their perfumes. Early Europeans used a wide variety of vessels including gold, silver, porcelain, shells, glass and semi-precious stones.
The earliest example of a scent bottle is Egyptian, and dates to around 1000 BC. The early Egyptians used scent bottles that were crafted out of clay and wood. The Egyptians used scents quite lavishly, specifically in religious rites. Thus, when they invented glass, it was primarily used for scent vessels.
The fashion for perfumes spread to Greece, where vessels were often crafted out of terracotta or glass. They were also often modelled in the shape of animals.
The Romans used moulded glass and blown glass (after its invention in the 1st Century BC by Syrian glassmakers).
Unfortunately, the fashion for perfume declined somewhat with the beginning of Christianity, coinciding with the deterioration of glassmaking.
In the 12th Century Philippe-Auguste of France passed a decree forming the first guild of parfumeurs. Then, by the 13th Century Venetian glassmaking had become well and truly established; traditionally based on the island of Murano- Glass blowing is still conducted there today.
From the 16th Century to the 18th Century, the scent bottle assumed different,detailed forms: they were crafted out of copper, glass, silver, enamel, porcelain, and sometimes a combination of those materials. 18th Century scent bottles became even more elaborate. They were often shaped like clowns, cats, birds, barrels, cases, etc. The 18th Century painted enamel scent bottles included fruits, erotica, flowers, pastoral scenes, and chinoiseries.
The 1920s saw the expansion of the perfume market in America, and with it the expansion of scent bottle production. During the depression, scent bottles tended to be more conservative and less fancy. After World War II, however, scent bottles became more luxurious, especially once Christian Dior and Nina Ricci started crafting perfume.
In modern times, the scent bottle still comes in many different forms and materials and is still considered a luxury item that would serve as an excellent gift.