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History of the Scent Bottle

History of the Scent Bottle

Scent has long been considered an acceptable way for both men and women to mask themselves from foul odours. It was even believed for centuries that scents could protect against contagious diseases. Using scent was easier and quicker than regular bathing, which was considered somewhat detrimental to one’s health.

Since ancient times, perfume bottles or scent bottles have been used to contain perfume. 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).

Silver scent bottles in their earlier forms were flask-shaped, with fine chains that allowed them to be suspended from a chatelaine.

Early scent bottles were made to be quite flimsy, cheap items. Their value increased when they began to be produced in cut glass patterns in the Georgian period, whereupon they were sold in fitted plush-lined cases.

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.

In a time where regular bathing was not only seen as unnecessary, but actually damaging to one's health, strong perfumes were seen as a protector against illness as well as a cover-all for foul smells. Generally, they contained scents such as lavender water, cinnamon, or mint.Typically, scent bottles in the 19th century were crafted out of cut glass and then topped off with silver lids. These early glass examples were often made in a flask-shape, and featured a fine chain for suspending them on a chatelaine.

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.

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.

Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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