Perfume bottles, with their elegant curves and light-refracting facets, are subtle reminders of more elegant and luxurious eras. From ancient Egypt to recent history, perfume bottles have played a role in documenting beauty throughout the ages.
Today perfume bottles serve as artifacts of luxury, a reminder that in bygone eras the powder room was a place of bespoke beauty where form met function in refined style. Antique perfume bottles are also highly coveted collectibles.
Here we explore several popular styles, how to find the perfect accent for your own vanity table or powder room, and how to source these objects as thoughtful gifts for a loved one.
Perfume bottles are typically constructed of glass (but can also be metal or plastic) and feature a rounded base with a stopper that are most often constructed of the same materials. The bottle is filled with a fragrant liquid (perfume), then tipped to deposit the perfume onto the stopper, the stopper is then removed and dabbed on the skin to apply the fragrance. Later perfume bottles employed atomizers, allowing the liquid contents to be sprayed onto the skin.
Starting in the 19th century, perfume bottles were largely commissioned by perfume manufacturers to house their olfactory wares, the bottles themselves have become as sought after as the fragrances they were designed to hold. Eventually, perfume bottles were sold empty, allowing those who purchased them to fill them with the scent of their choosing.
Antique and vintage perfume bottles come in many sizes, shapes, designs, and finishes, but there are several varietals that are considered more desirable than others. Czechoslovakian perfume bottles, for example, are among the most collectible with rich colors, finishes, and ornate designs. The stoppers on these elaborate, often crystal, bottles are often as large as the vessel beneath.
Perfume bottles weren’t only intended to be set on powder room table, some were also designed to be worn. Perfume bottle necklaces were popular in the early 20th century with well-known perfume manufacturers, like Chanel, getting in on the game and designing decorative jewelry pieces that also held their signature scents.
While historically perfume bottles were bespoke items handcrafted individually in small quantities, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution gave way to the manufacturing of perfume bottles by established glass makers. In England, both Thomas Webb & Sons and Stevens & Williams Glass Company were known for cameo perfume bottles as well as smaller purse-sized bottles meant to discretely fit in a lady’s bag.
In the United States, the Steuben glass company employed its trademark Verre de Soie technique, wrapping glass threads around the perfume bottles it produced to and match the color of its iridescent base. Tiffany also got in on the perfume bottle manufacturing action, adorning their glass bottles with silver caps that often covered the bottle’s crystal stopper. René Lalique was perhaps the most well-known manufacturer of French perfume bottles. Lalique was a jeweler and he used a jewelry-casting process called cire perdue, to create a jewel-like finish on his bottles.
Rare Antique Perfume Bottles
Perfume bottles are a tradition that can be traced back all the way to the Golden Age of the Roman and Egyptian Empires. With such a long and rich history there are many antique perfume bottle varietals to collect. Perfume bottles, made from a range of ceramic, glass and metal materials, remained popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Later Edwardian perfume bottles were often constructed entirely of metal, often silver or gold, and featured ornate engravings. Later still, Victorian perfume bottles employed even simpler glass designs and predominantly silver caps.
The oldest of these antiquities are very rare and are not only collected by individuals, but by museums and anthropologists alike. That doesn’t mean you can’t set your sights on making one of these relics your very own.
Atomizers are a fun addition to any perfume bottle collection. You may remember playing with these in your grandmother’s powder room, as they were popular from the late 19th century through the 1960s. Atomizers come in a variety of shapes, colors and materials. Bakelite was a popular material in the 60s and atomizers in this material are somewhat common. Although the bulbs(used to atomize the perfume into a fine mist) may have hardened with age, they are still beautiful pieces to display. Want to use your vintage perfume atomizer? You can find replacement bulbs available online, and although not historically accurate, they will allow you to use the atomizer for your favorite perfume today.
Cameo Perfume Bottles
Similar to a Wedgwood ceramic design, these bottles boast a chalky matte finish, colored porcelain construction and feature raised relief details in white. Cameo perfume bottles often depict human forms in silhouette or natural elements such as floral motifs. Cherub-like floating figures and symmetric floral designs are also often featured on these bottles.
Much like their Tiffany glass lamp cousins, Art Nouveau perfume bottles – popular in the late 19th and early 20th century – feature naturalistic elements like flora and fauna and gentle organic shapes and curves. In fact, Tiffany produced a series of perfume bottles featuring rotund glass bottoms and ornately decorated silver caps that covered a crystal stopper. Art Nouveau perfume bottles are unique and striking in their detailed designs.
Art Deco perfume bottles gave way to more architectural elements, with clean lines and geometric shapes. They were more streamlined in shape and while still made primarily of glass, used more metal than the designs of previous eras.
Displaying Your Collection
As a powder room accent: display a collection of perfume bottles on a powder-room counter atop a vintage silver tray to make a lovely accent. Perfume bottles arranged on a windowsill will catch and refract the light, showing off a particularly colorful collection.
In a guest bedroom: why not set a perfume bottle on the bedside stand with a welcoming fragrance to be spritzed on the sheets before bedtime?
As a bridal shower gift: a vintage or antique perfume bottle is a lovely and unexpected gift for a bride-to-be. Fill it with her signature fragrance, or let her choose the scent herself. Are you the lucky bride to be? Why not pick out vintage perfume bottles for each bridesmaid as a thank you gift.
Vintage and antique perfume bottles are the perfect way to bring vintage glamour back into your home. Whether you intend to use them, or simply display them along with other glass collectibles, they make for a stunning addition to any home.