Hunting for antiques is a fascinating hobby. Collectors spend hours scouring flea markets, antique shops, and auctions for new finds. Some collectors hunt for antique coins or rare books, while others seek old musical instruments or vintage umbrella stands. One niche of antique collecting is antique perfume bottles. They come in many colors and shapes, and their history spans many centuries and countries all over the world. These qualities make antique perfume bottles appealing to collectors.
History of Perfume Bottles
In 599-400 B.C., eastern Mediterranean artisans produced core-formed glass perfume bottles. The art of glass-blowing dates back to 100 B.C., starting out in the eastern Roman Empire, where Roman glass-makers produced luxury perfume bottles for wealthy citizens. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., the production of glass perfume bottles abated for about 1,000 years. During the Renaissance, Venetian glass-makers brought back and elevated this art, dominating the perfume bottle industry, with artisans throughout Europe attempting to imitate their level of skill.
In the late 19th century, art nouveau styling became popular, and perfume bottle-makers began to create labels and packaging with floral designs. Early 20th century bottles featured fanciful shapes such as flowers or teapots. Starting around 1910, famed designer Ren Lalique created elegant perfume bottles for Coty. In the 1920s, Baccarat and Steuben became known for producing beautiful crystal perfume bottles. While high-end perfumers used elegant creations such as these, some 20th century cosmetic companies marketed perfume in cheaper, pressed glass bottles. These companies, including Avon and Max Factor, targeted middle-class customers.
Collecting Antique Perfume Bottles
Women throughout Western history purchased perfume at an apothecary shop, and they might either bring their own decorative perfume bottles to the shop for filling or bring the perfume home to pour into their own dispensing bottle themselves. However, the rise of modern perfume manufacturing dispensed with this practice, replacing refillable atomizers and the like with commercial bottles that are prefilled and labeled. Collectors today seek out both decorative and commercial bottles that are either antique or vintage. Antique perfume bottles are more than 100 years old, while vintage perfume bottles are between 20 and 100 years old.
Antiques enthusiasts often collect perfume bottles from specific countries or time periods. One collector might focus on 18th century French porcelain bottles, while another seeks out floral-shaped bottles from the art nouveau period. Some collectors seek only bottles created by specific designers, such as Lalique, Baccarat, Moser, or Steuben.
Collectors can find antique perfume bottles in antique shops and thrift stores. Estate sales, auctions, and flea markets often yield excellent finds. Online bidding sites offer antique perfume bottles, too. If you are a collector, be sure to look closely for chips, cracks, or discoloration in the bottles, as the condition of the bottle affects its value. Commercial bottles with their original labels and packaging intact are particularly prized.
How to Display Antique Perfume Bottles
There are many different ways to display and enjoy the beauty of an antique perfume bottle collection. A powder room or guest bathroom is an ideal place to feature a collection. Cluster your bottles on a countertop on a gilt tray for a lovely display, or place a mirrored tray full of antique perfume bottles on the bedside table in a guest room. Display these treasures in a well-lit location. You might choose to place antique perfume bottles on a shelf or tabletop that's illuminated from above, or you might choose to display them in a window sill, which will allow sunlight to reflect and refract in your beautiful glass bottles. If you're short on display space, you can also give antique perfume bottles as thoughtful gifts: Fill one with the signature fragrance of a friend or loved one and it's sure to become a prized possession.
How to Clean and Care for Antique Perfume Bottles
The main thing to remember about cleaning antique perfume bottles is to be gentle. Don't put them in the dishwasher or use harsh detergents, and don't use abrasive scrubbing pads. If the bottle is particularly dirty, empty any residual perfume from the bottle, then fill the bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water. Cover the opening and give it a gentle shake. Then, let the vinegar and water mixture sit in the bottle for a couple of hours. Empty the bottle and refill it with warm water plus a small amount of mild dishwashing liquid. Add a few grains of uncooked rice, close the bottle, and shake it again. The rice and dishwashing soap will loosen any residual gunk in the bottle. Let it sit for a couple of hours, then empty the bottle, rinse thoroughly, and let it completely air-dry.