Between hundred-dollar Pokémon cards, thousand-dollar cookie jars and million-dollar home run baseballs, the world of antiques and collectibles can be confusing and confounding. But there is one group who is making sense of it all — or making “scents” of it all.
Commercial perfume bottles are drawing collectors together at conventions and in collector clubs. The delicate creations produced for the world’s perfume houses are as much a pleasure to behold as their contents are a joy to inhale.
“The greatest appreciation has been in those bottles which held perfume, not cologne or toilet water,” Penny Dolnick, past president of the International Perfume Bottle Association, told Collector Magazine & Price Guide. “Perfume bottles were usually of higher quality with fancier stoppers, labels and packaging.”
Bottles with all-glass stoppers are preferred. Until the introduction of plastic liners in 1963, each stopper was ground to fit exactly into the neck of its bottle.
Figural bottles attract many collectors. They run the gamut of cost, age and quality. They can be exquisite works by Lalique or adorable dime store novelties.
Elizabeth Arden’s Memoire Cherie was sold in a frosted glass bottle in the shape of a nude woman. An empty 1950s example sold at auction for $357. The 1970s Jovan Sculptura frosted glass nude with its box recently sold for $44.
A single perfumer can also inspire a collection. Dolnick points out the Bourjois products sought after by those who recall buying the blue bottles for their mothers or grandmothers at a dime store in the 1940s or 1950s. Simple bottles can be found at flea markets for under $25, and gift sets can sell for up to $350.
French glass designers of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras created perfume bottles that are the cream of the collectible crop.
Baccarat produced more than 800 commercial bottles, from simple flacons to impressive statements of style. The circa 1913 Bichara Syriana bottle by Baccarat, a heavy crystal pyramid topped by a Pharaoh’s head, sold at auction for $4,125.
Designer Rene Lalique’s work with commercial perfume bottles began in the early 20th century and was continued by his son, Marc, and his granddaughter, Marie Claude.
Lalique prices range from a few dollars for modern production bottles signed “Creation Lalique” to $3,080 for a Lengyel Parfum Imperial bottle signed R. Lalique. A 1959 design by Marc Lalique for Sketch by Molinard recently brought $2,420 at auction.
What is Dolnick’s sense of the future market? She looks for appreciation in figural men’s bottles.
“Men are the fastest growing segment of the perfume collecting market,” she said. “Older American bottles are still affordable. A simple Colgate bottle for Caprice from the late 19th Century sells for only $22.”
According to the International Perfume Bottle Association, a continuing problem for collectors is the fraudulent application of labels to bottles. In some cases, a seller has a plain bottle to which a label is applied with the intent to increase the bottles value.
In France, many perfume companies went bankrupt at the start of the depression. Huge supplies of paper labels and other items were left on-hand. The labels are still available in the thousands and are genuine.
The IPBA offers these tips on recognizing a mismatched bottle and label.
The label should coordinate with the shape of the space on the bottle which it occupies. It helps to know your bottle silhouette and also to know that most 20th century perfume bottles do not have lapping labels, meaning that the labels don’t go around the bottle edges. Lapping labels were used in the 19th century however.
Also, the label should be proportional to the bottle and should match the style of the bottle.
Be alert for a label on a brown glass bottle. This is more than likely an applied label on a medicine bottle.
If you can handle the bottle look for rubber cement oozing around the label as that is a strong clue.
When entering the field of collectible perfume bottles, an excellent place to start is by contacting the association. Online, the group’s address is http://www.perfumebottles.org.
All photographs courtesy Monsen and Baer Inc. auctioneers.
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