Atomizers: Vanity Items From the Past
Perfume atomizers, or perfumers as they
are sometimes called, are those graceful scent containers
to which is added the atomizer, usually a top attached
to a rubber bulb which is squeezed to spray the scent.
Hundreds of these beautifully crafted perfumers were
manufactured around the world, but when I think of atomizers,
I think of the giant in the business, the DeVilbiss
Company, then of Toledo, Ohio.
The DeVilbiss Co. was a mass producer
of atomizers, daubers and vanity sets for more than
sixty years. The company founder, Dr. Allen De Vilbiss,
invented the medical atomizer in 1887, never dreaming
the ugly thing would in time foster a lovely tall, slender
perfumer, the pride of the flapper.
DeVilbiss's son Tom, who took over the
business in 1905, diversified the company to include
perfume atomizers as well as medical ones. After WWI,
soldiers came home from France bearing gifts of perfume
with ornate dispensers and the atomizer craze took hold.
In their heyday in the mid twenties, DeVilbiss sold
as many as a million perfumers per year in America alone,
not including outlets in Europe, Canada, and Cuba.
They had several hundred employees, plus a few hundred
part time local ladies who crocheted the bulb nettings-
but the good times didn't last. After fighting a depressed
market for many years, the company gave up manufacturing
atomizers. The DeVilbiss company is still very much
alive in Somerset, Pennsylvania, but now they concentrate
on medical equipment- heavy duty compressors and huge
DeVilbiss did not make the glass for their
perfumers, only the hardware, cords, and bulbs for the
atomizers. They would design a bottle and send the model
to Steuben, Cambridge or Fenton glass factories, where
they were produced in the types of glass specified and
sent back to DeVilbiss. You've probably seen the Steuben
blue and gold Aurene atomizers that are signed DeVilbiss,
the Cambridge draped ladies and Fenton's lovely hobnail
When the hardware was assembled, the bottles
were either script signed, stamped, or a gummed label
was attached. Regardless of the glass maker, only the
name DeVilbiss was used. The quality and wide variety
of style and oclor make these atomizers highly prized
today, whether signed or not.
When DeVilbiss started making perfume
atomizers, there were many well established glass
companies in the US; but the only available glass ware
produced in suitable quantities for perfumers was clear
glass salt shakers. They came in a variety of sizes,
some being acid etched, others pressed. The collars
on these were plain metal. I have one of the earliest
of tehse atomizers stamped DeVilbiss Pat Sept 15, 1908.
Another of my early salt shaker atomizers has the sale
ticket intackt. The price, c.1909, was $1.25. It's hard
to believe these quaint little salt shakers were the
start of the great DeVilbiss empire.
Many other companies manufactured perfumers,
and it takes a lot of study to be able to identify unmarked
examples. Both DeVilbiss and Volupti, a French producer
of equally lovely examples, used round heads, although
the Volupti is slightly flatter on top. Books such as
J. North's Perfume, Cologne and Bottles are helpful
in illustrating atomizer heads and when they were patented.
Rarely will you find a Volupti that fits a DeVilbiss
or even a Marfranc, another lovely French bottle, and
none seem compatible with the English, Bohemian, or
Czechoslovakian bottles unless the threads have been
DeVilbiss in 1928 patented a head that
is unmistakably theirs, a new type of atomizer they
called 'Air Cushion'. This consisted of a large
metal disc standing perpendicular and attached to the
back of the head at a slight angle. To emit perfume
one pushed the center of the cushion rather than squeezing
a bulb, and like the bulbs, these cushions hardened
Another recognizable DeVilbiss creation
is the music box atomizer. The company imported some
rather ornate round music boxes that did not turn. Various
types of atomizers were mounted on the tops of these
boxes. I have two that are stemmed, one amber and one
green; the amber one plays 'Ramona,' the top hit song
of 1889 and the other plays Yale and Harvard fight songs.
The Volupti Co. of France specialized
in feminine items such as elaborate metal mesh evening
bags, compacts, and even jewelry. They also made a few
perfume atomizers in different price ranges that equaled
DeVilbiss in design, craftsmanship, and beauty. One
is a gold metal nude standing on a platform, holding
a slender green and gold bowl in her upstretched hands.
A similar draped lady holding a bowl was made by Cambridge
Although they are increasingly rare, it
is still possible to find lovely examples of DeVilbiss,
Volupti, Czech, and Bohemian atomizers. Be sure to examine
the hardware; make sure the threads are intact on both
collar and head. New heads are available in several
styles but I prefer stealing an original head from a
lesser valued bottle if a replacement is necessary.
It is wonderful to find an all original
atomizer, regardless of the condition of the bulb and
cord, but it is not imperative to me. If they are American
made, they can be replaced; however, most European bottles
require a larger cord to fit their bigger cord holders
and these are not available.
There are as many varieties of atomizers
as there are collectors. Some collect only a certain brand
or type; others look for the glass alone; still others
want them all. I startedout in the latter category, but
now am a selective collector. DeVilbiss, Volupti, Moser,
Marfranc, Galle and Richard, manufacturers who made the
loveliest bottles, are my preference. I wish all you collectors
good hunting-but leave a few for me.