|Whether you like delicate 18th or 19th century objects or prefer the more geometric forms of Art Deco, there are perfume bottles for you.
The urge to anoint our bodies with perfume goes back thousands of years. The Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and Romans all used perfume and so made containers to hold it. Because perfume is volatile, the best perfume bottles have very tight fitting lids or stoppers to prevent evaporation and are in coloured or faceted glass or other opaque containers to prevent damage to perfume from
In Renaissance Venice, small highly decorated glass scent bottles were made, although few survive. By the 16th and 17th centuries manufacture had extended to England, France, Bohemia and Silesia. Production continued in Italy - for example, the famous Murano glassmakers produced bottles in coloured glass
decorated with millefiori and latticino (strands of contrasting coloured glass
used as a trellis work effect) while in Germany they were using white glass,
decorated with gilding and enamels.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, perfume containers of great value and beauty were being made in England using a wide variety of materials including enamel, porcelain and silver. One example, made in silver in 1810, is in the shape of a heart and is engraved with an initial. It is for sale for just £90.The same dealer has another bottle made about fifteen years earlier in clear, faceted
glass with a central silver mounted enamel plaque containing two lovebirds and
is priced at £600. Both were probably given as love tokens, perhaps by a man to
his betrothed or wife.
Enamel perfume bottles were popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. They were made by the Battersea, Bilston and Wednesbury factories, amongst others. The enamel bottles contained glass phials with stoppers to hold the perfume and were decorated with delicately painted flowers, landscapes and classical scenes.
Bilston was the biggest and most famous of the factories and Dovey Hawksford
probably its best known artist.
Porcelain was another widely used material and many of the famous factories, like Chelsea, Derby and Wedgwood, produced perfume bottles. Collectors can find many traditional shapes and styles but there were novelty items made too. They were made to look like nuts, golf balls and shells. Both porcelain and enamel bottles were faked by Samsom in the late 19th century which, ironically, are now very collectable too.
English glass making is particularly associated with Stourbridge and Nailsea in Bristol, the latter being known for its famous Bristol blue glass. A dealer in Bath has an example in Bristol blue glass dating from the 1870s that is made in the shape of a cornucopia. It has a silver gilt flip top with embossed
decoration and an inner stopper.
As traditional Victorian style gave way to Art Nouveau and Art Deco, perfume bottles reflected the change. Art Deco bottles were geometric in form, many with elaborate stoppers so moving away from the earlier more feminine and delicate designs.
René Lalique is the best-known of the Art Deco glass designers and, of course, his perfume bottles are very collectable but other makers are also
popular. The French glassmaking company Baccarat produced perfume bottles for
parfumiers like Jean Patou, Elizabeth Arden, Guerlain and Lenthéric. Of the
other French designers of the period, Marius-Ernest Sabino is amongst the
best-known. Much of his work was an imitation of the great Lalique but of
inferior quality. However, some of his work stands the test of time and is
collectable. The poorer work tends to be ill-proportioned and clumsy so, if
buying a piece by Sabino, look for elegance of design. Other notable designers
of the period include Maurice Marinot, André Thuret and Gabriel Argy Rousseau.
Czech glass-making factories also made perfume bottles. These are increasingly
collectable and, whilst not as expensive as many French makers, prices are
New collectors can find perfume bottles for as little as $5 at car boot sales or on eBay but, unless you are very lucky, these are unlikely to appreciate greatly in value. The more collectable ones are probably going to start at
around $50 and may cost many hundreds of dollars for particularly fine