About Perfume Bottles

Antique Perfume Bottle Collecting

Perfume Bottles and Vanity Vessels

Glass vessels that held perfumes have adorned vanities in American bedrooms for more than two hundred years. Early examples made in the late 1700's, were small crude containers that could be carried in pockets or in ladies' reticules. As fashions changed and glass technology improved, the perfume bottles also evolved. Larger, decorative examples with ground stoppers and pewter screw caps became popular. By the Victorian era, rich cut glass cologne bottles with sterling silver mounts and vibrant, multicolored designs bedecked the proper lady's dressing table. Iridescent colored bottles and atomizers were in vogue in the early 1900's.

The earliest containers for perfume in America were called smelling bottles. These tiny vessels served a dual purpose. They were not only for perfume, but also for smelling salts that helped revive ladies from "the vapors" and fainting spells.

The first American glass company to produce smelling bottles was the Manheim, Pennsylvania glass factory of William Henry Stiegel between 1769 and 1774. By the late 1700's, the word "pungent" was also being used to describe smelling bottles.
Pattern-molded smelling bottles blown into small carved molds were available from several factories, mostly in New England, between 1815 and 1830. Free-blown pungents called Dolphin or Dolphin tail pungents were also available and are referred to as "seahorse" bottles by collectors today, because of their hollow bodies and spiral tails. Small blown smelling bottles with applied rigaree and trailed embellishments were also popular at this time. Many examples were made in South Jersey glass factories.

Small pattern-molded smelling bottles with metal screw caps which were first produced in the 1820's continued to be made well into the 1880's at factories such as the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company. While pungents and smelling bottles were still available, larger cologne and perfume bottles were in demand as early as 1820. Fancy or figured cologne bottles were manufactured in the United States and France.

Druggists and merchants were selling perfume and cologne in the larger American cities, while many housewives made their own cologne using recipes published in helpful books.

Thin-walled decorative bottles were produced at several factories, including the Williamstown Glass Works of Williamstown New Jersey.

The Williamstown price list dating from about 1853 lists thirty-one different figured colognes ranging in price from 37 1/2 cents to $1.50 per dozen
Paper labels are seldom found still applied to late 18th and early 19th century cologne bottles. Those that retain their labels often just identify the contents as "cologne," "eau de cologne" or "rose oil." Rarer still are bottles from this time period with paper labels containing a perfumer's name.

Beginning during the Civil War and continuing for some time thereafter, the United States levied a tax on nonessential items, including perfume and cologne. U.S. Internal Revenue Proprietary Stamps, ranging from one cent to four cents, can still be found on early commercial bottles.

By the last half of the 19th century and early 20th century, the number of perfume companies increased, and names such as C.B. Woodworth & Sons, Tappan Perfume Co., Solon Palmer, Colgate Co., Eastman (a division of Andrew Jergens Company), B.D. Baldwin, and Richard Hadnut became recognized for their perfumes.

The bottles from these companies were simple in shape, with colorful paper labels and packaging

During the Victorian period in America in the late 19th century, glass reflected this era of prosperity with elaborate designs and colorful innovations. Rich gut glass perfumes and colognes, brilliantly illustrate the ornate fashions designed by Victorians.

A wide range of sizes, from small lay-down pungents to larger carved colognes, decorated dressing tables. Bottles with all-over cutting, combined with sterling silver mounts, were available from many cutting houses. Only a few firms manufactured their own silver fittings and cut glass. One of these companies was the Unger Brothers firm of Newark, New Jersey, which offered eight colognes with three different silver tops in their 1904 catalog. Only a small fraction of all cut colognes produced were color-cut overlay
Vibrant, multicolored glass was popular during the Victorian era. Exotic shades, such as amberina, and the striking contrast of silver overlay and colored glass appealed to Victorian tastes.
The Art Nouveau style in glass in America was introduced by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1892. His naturalistic themes, shimmering iridescent colors, and organic forms, lent themselves perfectly to perfume bottles.

Other factories, such as the Steuben Glass Works, Durand Art Glass division of the Vineland Flint Glass Works, Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company, and the Imperial Glass Company, all produced stunning iridescent perfume bottles or sold glass to perfume atomizer makers.

Atomizers, which vaporized liquid into fine droplets using air, were first used in the medical field about 1859. By the late 1870's, French perfume makers were using vaporizers to scent the air in their sales booths.

The DeVilbiss Company of Toledo, Ohio, recognized as the largest producer of atomizers in the United States, introduced their line of perfumizers in 1907.
In 1924, DeVilbiss expanded their line, and purchased art glass from Steuben, Durand, Quezal, Imperial, Cambridge and others.

Several additional American firms also purchased glass and combined it with their atomizers. They included the Mignon Corporation, Gironde Atomizer Company, Volute' Superior Products Corporation, and the S. Langsdorf & Company.
During the 1920's through the 1940's, glass factories continued to manufacture perfume and cologne bottles. The A.H. Heisey & Company of Newark, Ohio, had been producing cologne bottles since 1906. Many pieces of the fine quality colorless glass, produced by Heisey, were purchased by silver-overlay firms to form the armature for the silver.

The Cambridge Glass Company of Cambridge, Ohio, made superb opaque colored glass, which was blown into delicate perfume bottles. Cambridge also produced iridescent colored pressed wares, called "carnival" today.

Design changes in perfumes emerged as Americans slowly rejected the overdone Art Nouveau motifs for the new clean, modern angular style of Art Deco.

Figural perfume bottles in the shape of objects, people, buildings, monuments, and much more, were also popular in the late 19th century. A perfume bottle in the shape of the Liberty bell was patented by Samuel C. Upham in 1874, and was sold at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.

In 1888, the Bryce Brothers glass company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, manufactured a colored pressed glass slipper, that held a clear glass perfume bottle.

The Tappan Perfume Company of New York City marketed many of their perfumes in figural bottles.

In 1892, Tappan took out patents on two of their most famous designs, Man on a Tricycle, and the Street Lamp.

Figural bottles continued in popularity and were produced in large quantities by the Avon Company in the 1960's and 1970's.
After World War II, the number of glass companies manufacturing hand-blown glassware diminished, limiting the production of individually made cologne bottles. Commercial perfume companies had to purchase decorative bottles made by automatic bottle blowing machines.

To compensate for the uniformity of the bottles, designers created meal and plastic attachments, enameled colors, and ornate packing. In fact the boxes became so elaborate, they often overpowered the bottle.

The T.C. Wheaton Company of Millville, New Jersey, made the majority of commercial perfume bottles in America just after the war. Wheaton also had the capacity to press stoppers, and became the largest stopper pressing firm in the world. Very often, a company would only order the press stopper from Wheaton, and would have the bottle made elsewhere.

Other companies, such as Carr-Lowery Glass Company of Baltimore, also made commercial bottles for many perfumers.
In the early 1960's, artists began to utilize new technology and built small glass studios to create glass art. From these small beginnings, the contemporary studio glass movement was born.

During the early years, artists rediscovered the techniques of Tiffany and Steuben which lent themselves to perfume bottles. One-of-a-kind, highly decorative bottle designs were created. The wide range of vessels is illustrated by the delicately carved cameo images by Barry Sautner, or fragile flame-worked forms by Milon Townsend, to the bold cut glass bottles made by William Carlson. Not restricted to the necessary identical form of commercial bottles, glass artists have the freedom to make the most decorative perfume bottles created today.

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