With their elegant shapes, brilliant facets, and creative presentations, antique and collectible perfume bottles evoke the luxury and glamor of a bygone age. It is only within the last few decades that they have become objects of desire for collectors around the world. Once items of only practical or sentimental value, now they are being recognized as fine antiques and as items of both artistry and cultural importance. From hand-painted decorative flowers to ornate glasswork, antique perfume bottles come in a variety of shapes and designs for all collectors to enjoy. The value of antique perfume bottles continues to increase among collectors everywhere, especially if they’re in good condition. To learn more about crystal bottle collector's items, keep reading below.
The History of Decorative Perfume Bottles
First developed during the late 19th century and early 20th century for both advertising and merchandising purposes, antique perfume bottles served as containers to hold a woman's perfume. The perfume making process intended to make each antique perfume bottle exude fine elegance, helping to serve as both a fragrance container and a decorative piece.
Originally, they were developed to successfully market a fragrance in a very competitive field. In order to do so, highly imaginative elements and shapes were used to decorate the antique glass bottles and their wrappings. The intention of displaying a pretty bottle was to catch a prospective buyer's eye before they even smelled the scent. From vanilla to sandalwood to rose-scented perfumes, these glass and porcelain bottles were just as beautiful as they were practical. Now, they are deserving of their second life as collectible objects of both beauty and historical significance. There is a massive market for collectible, rare antique glassware among perfume bottle collectors everywhere. Not only can they be found in private collections, but the rarest and most important antique glass bottles have also taken their honored place in museum collections among the great turn-of-the-century objets d'art.
Just as with perfume bottles today, many of these pieces were mass-produced, and generally meant to be discarded once empty. Therefore, these antique bottle collectibles are not always easy to find. What few porcelain and glass bottles remain, however, vary in both value and rarity, allowing for every personal taste and budget. This makes perfume bottles an ideal choice for novice collectors who may not wish to make a large initial purchase - it is easy to start small with perfume bottles. If you are a more experienced antique bottle collector, M.S. Rau makes it easy for you to find the perfect bottle in good condition. Every glass bottle collection is special in its own way for the collectors' tastes. Whether you prefer hand-painted scent bottles , silver-wrapped bottles, or you go for ornate miniature containers, these gorgeous pieces can create a stunning antique collection for any novice or pro.
Areas of Collecting
Perfume bottles offer a range of collecting possibilities. Some collectors choose to base their collections on specific designers, while others prefer a specific type or color of glass. Collections can also be based on decades of creation, certain styles, or even particular shapes. Read on to learn more about these areas of collecting and discover which most appeals to you.
Renowned for his impeccable artistry in glass design, René Lalique is perhaps the most legendary of the antique perfume bottle makers. His illustrious career began in 1881 as a designer of jewelry , and he eventually took over the workshop of jeweler Jules Destape in Paris. For nearly a decade, Lalique concentrated exclusively on fine jewelry design, but by 1890 the artisan began his first experiments in designs using glass.
Lalique's glass items mimicked the natural forms, curvilinear designs, and stylized women of his Art Nouveau jewelry creations. His perfume bottles in particular propelled his reputation as a talented glass designer into an international sensation. He first began designing them at the request of his neighbor, legendary parfumier François Coty, who greatly admired Lalique's designs. In 1907, Coty commissioned Lalique to first design labels, and then bottles and flasks. These were among the first forays that Lalique made into glassmaking. That said, antique Lalilque perfume bottles are extremely rare.
There’s a lot to learn about René Lalique’s legendary perfume bottles as a famous art nouveau glass artist.
The English glassmaking company, Thomas Webb & Sons, was originally known as the "Crystal King of England." They are particularly renowned for their high-quality cameo glass creations, inspired by the ancient relic, the Portland Vase. Cameo glass is created by layering opaque white glass over a dark-colored body, and etching or carving through the white glass to create a white relief design. Webb utilized this technique on a number of glassworks like jugs, bowls, and vases. However, it is the firm's perfume bottles that are perhaps their most charming cameo creations.
For many collectors, the Art Nouveau period (1890-1914) represents the height of perfume bottle creation. The forms, designs, and women that dominate the Art Nouveau style were the perfect fit for the romantic femininity of the world of perfume. Popular Art Nouveau-era techniques such as pliqué-à-jour enameling particularly set these pieces apart from bottles of any other style or period.
The inclusion of a silver overlay is particularly appealing among collectors. The graceful, undulating curves that are typical of the Art Nouveau style were particularly well suited to this medium. Most of the bottles with silver overlay were crafted from clear glass, so those examples that feature color glass are among the most sought after of this genre.
Click here to learn more about the history of Art Nouveau glass.
While the Art Nouveau style implied sensuality and femininity, the Art Deco style (1920-1939) burst on the scene with bold and glamorous modernity. Perfume bottles from this period represent the epitome of Art Deco design - simple, sleek, and sexy. Collectors gravitate towards this category because the Art Deco-style bottles represent a microcosm of the culture as a whole. Streamlined with an emphasis on structure, Art Deco design was a celebration of technology, modernity, and the return to normalcy after the chaos of war.
The most popular bottles from this age were crafted by René Lalique for Coty, usually incorporating geometric motifs and stylized figures. Between their Art Nouveau and Art Deco creations, this duo forever changed the face of commercial perfume presentation.
During the period of American Brilliant cut glass, from approximately 1885 to 1910, elaborately cut perfume bottles with a facet cut stopper became particularly stylish. These pieces, created in both America and England, were by far among the most elaborate perfume bottles ever made. Many were cut in geometric patterns such as hobstars and crosshatching, while others featured intaglios of motifs such as flowers, birds, and butterflies. Remarkably intricate, American cut glass bottles required the utmost expertise to create, as popular patterns were cut on the most miniature of scales.
Bohemia has been an important center for glassmaking for centuries. In the 19th century, Bohemian glassmakers set the standard for quality and artistry in the Western world. They used a technique known as flashing to coat their glass creations in a thin layer of color, from rubies to ambers to cobalt blues. The unparalleled beauty and richness of glass from this region have attracted collectors from novices to royalty, including France's King Louis XV and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
Where to Start?
Beautiful bottles of perfume are the perfect pieces of rare art for the novice collector. - Not only do they appeal to a wide variety of tastes, but they are often easy to find. Antique dealers such as M.S. Rau are perhaps the best source for these pieces. Purchasing from a reputable dealer means you can trust the quality, excellent condition, and authenticity of your new purchase. If you wish to add a beautiful glass bottle to your antique perfume bottle collection, M.S. Rau has a stunning array of collectible perfume bottles from which to choose. Each piece is superbly decorated and reflects its own special design, illustrating a high level of artistry from each maker.
Sloan, Jean. Perfume and Scent Bottle Collecting. Greensboro: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1986.
Leach, Ken. Perfume Presentation: 100 Years of Artistry. Toronto: KRES Publishing Inc., 1997.