“These bottles have come to me from many places. Some I have purchased in stores or antiques shops, many have been the gifts of my family and friends.
To me they are both interesting and pretty to look at and I am sure that the fragrance of their contents has pleased many people.
There must be countless interesting stories connected with my little perfume bottles. I look at them and wonder who made this one and whose careful and artistic touch painted the dainty flowers and designs on others. How many of them were thoughtfully and carefully selected as gifts for someone much beloved? I suppose some of them were hurriedly purchased for the sole reason that their sweet contents could add attraction to the wearer, then the lovely bottle thrown away. Ones thoughts could ramble on at great length when looking at my collection of perfume bottles.” – Edith Paton
I remember my Nana’s perfume bottle collection well. Shelving on her bedroom wall neatly and carefully housed them. When I would visit I couldn’t help but marvel at the variety and uniqueness of the collection. A few months ago my Cousin mentioned a Notebook – yet another Notebook – this one about Nana’s perfume bottles. On one page are her drawings, depicting each in great detail, while the opposing page provides a brief description in addition to the gifter.
The bottle that started Nana’s collection was actually a gift to her daughter, Doris. A gift from Mary Atkinson of Amherst, New Hampshire, it was a Kewpie Doll bottle © 1926. There are some 243 bottles listed in the Notebook, dating from 1926-1976.
Perfume Bottle No 1 was a Kewpie Doll – circa 1926
Kewpie dolls evolved from a cartoon character created by Rose O’Neil, a New York illustrator. First published in Ladies Home Journal in 1907, the cartoon character became internationally known and loved and led to Ms. O’Neil developing paper cutouts of Kewpie dolls. In 1912 the first line of real dolls and figurines were manufactured by a toy company in Germany. Eventually the Kewpie doll would be used in manufacturing many household items like dishware, salt and pepper shakers and even perfume bottles like the one in my Nana’s collection.
Antique Kewpie Doll Perfume bottle – porcelain – considered rare and highly collectible today.
The history of perfume goes back centuries beginning in Egypt and later Persia and Rome. It is believed that a woman chemist named Tapputi made the 1st perfume in the second millennium BC. Perfume making spread throughout Europe with the Grasse region of France becoming the center of the European perfume industry. The vessels that housed the precious scents have been considered an art form since ancient times. Under Roman rule glassblowing was developed thus leading to perfume being stored in glass. Before glass, materials used to store perfume were porcelain, gold, silver, shells, and semi-precious stones. In the late 1800’s the Art Nouveau style became popular and perfume bottles were traditionally styled, some having floral labels. Later the use of decorative gift boxes became popular.
Before the 20th century, perfume was used only by the wealthy. But throughout the 20th century perfume became increasingly affordable. Companies such as Avon appealed to an ever growing consumer base. David H. McConnell, the founder of Avon, developed a unique business plan giving women a chance to earn their own incomes by selling his products themselves door to door.
Around 1910 perfume bottles began to take on familiar shapes like flowers, lighthouses, lanterns, watches – Nana’s collection has many of those.
Some of the many shapes of Nana’s Perfume Bottles
In the 1920’s, the perfume industry expanded in the United States with many new companies hiring chemists to create their own fragrances. The bottle itself became as important as the fragrance inside with companies collaborating with artists to design the bottles as well as the packaging. Depression era bottles were less fancy, but following World War II the bottles returned to elaborate works of art led by such companies as Christian Dior and Nina Ricci.
Few of the bottles in my Nana’s Notebook reveal the manufacturer, but one of my favorite bottles does. Gifted by my parents, Wally and Marion Paton in 1946, it is # 83 and labeled, Gemey.
White glass Gemey Perfume bottle #83 given by Wally & Marion Paton – 1946
Gemey, developed by perfumer Richard Hudnut in 1922 (1855-1928) was one of his most popular scents. Richard Hudnet created over 70 different scents not only available as perfume, but cologne, soaps, lotions and bath oils. This particular bottle that my parents gifted to Nana in 1946 would have most likely come in a decorative designed floral box. Today Hudnut’s bottles and presentation boxes are prized by collectors.
Richard Hudnet’s Gemey perfume box set
It is true, as Nana states in her introduction, one’s thoughts could ramble on at great length when looking at her collection of perfume bottles. Though some may not have been as valuable as others, still they are all unique and interesting.
The bottles are gone now – sold upon Nana’s passing, but I feel certain that they still exist on someone’s shelf – still treasured and admired. The real treasure for me, however, is the Notebook which offers an insight into a woman who growing up I only knew as Nana, but have since come to know as a highly skilled and talented woman of great depth of knowledge and interest.
“A perfume bottle is a work of art and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece.” – Robert Ricci, The House of Nina Ricci