There's something incredibly compelling about antique perfume bottles with their refined elegance and intricate designs. While there may be a ton of them out there for the taking, it's the special ones with their breathtaking appearances and rare connections that keep collectors coming back every year for more.
Antique Perfume Bottle Styles to Arouse the Senses
While humans have been mixing and creating perfumes for thousands of years, it wasn't until the late-19th century that the packaging in which perfumes were marketed became just as important as the scents themselves. This shift was directly caused by the rise of mass-market manufacturing, department store culture, and the 'new woman' ideal that arose in the late-19th century. Interestingly, objets d'arts artisans of the period took an interest in the growing glassware trade and began using their talents to create insane works of art out of perfume bottles. Although not every bottle created during this late 19th and early 20th century period is as exquisitely designed as others, they all share a sense of high art within them.
Yet, if you're unsure about whether the bottle you've got even is a perfume bottle at all, or if it could be worth a ton of money, then do a quick perusal using these guiding characteristics and see what you can uncover about the perfume bottles in your care:
- Cut Glass - Cut glass is a type of glassware that creates patterns and motifs into the glass itself through literally making cuts and then polishing them out. These usually appear in either fluid or strict geometric shapes across the bottles themselves, and it was a really common technique used on the perfume bottles of this period.
- Bold Colors - Not limited to, but typical of, Bohemian perfume bottles, antique perfume bottles from this era were made out of a beautiful array of rich colors from bright teals, deep reds, and vivid greens. Similarly, there was also a concurrent trend towards softer tones like pastel yellows and pinks towards the end of the Art Nouveau period.
- Stoppers and Atomizers - Since liquid perfumes need to be contained to retain their potency, every old perfume bottle that you find is going to be made with either an atomizer or a stopper. Atomizers are more associated with mid-century perfume styles and describe the little detached puffs that, when squeezed, would convert the liquid perfume into an aerosol. Stoppers were by-far the preferred style of sealer at the time, but were no less carefully designed than the bottles themselves.
- Sculptural Figurines - The premiere glassware designers of the period often created whimsical figures out of glass and converted them into perfume bottles. In fact, you can find full ballet dancers, elephants, and carriage perfume bottles from this era.
Prominent Antique Perfume Bottle Designers
During the 19th and 20th century, there was a plethora of glass designers who were competing with each other to be make the most visually compelling, innovative, and beautiful products in the space. While fashion houses like Chanel and Schiaparelli launched their own perfume designs, these glass artists took the market by storm.
Perhaps the most renowned glass artisan and contributor to the perfume industry is Rene Lalique. Born in 1860 in a small French village and spending most of his youth in a Parisian suburb, Lalique gained experience in handcraftsmanship with a local jewelry apprenticeship. Quickly, he became a prominent Art Nouveau jewelry designer and transitioned that success into the glassware industry, launching his first perfume bottle design under Francois Coty's line in 1908.
However, it was his impressive glass sculptures that incorporated strong lines and proportions without sacrificing their sense of delicacy that led to him becoming one of the most sought after perfume bottle designers in the world throughout the early 20th century.
Thomas Webb & Sons
Thomas Webb & Sons was a team of talented glass artists and engravers of the 19th and early 20th century, led by Thomas Webb himself, that dominated the perfume glass industry. Although it wasn't the only type of glassware the company created, their perfume bottles became a distinct feature of the era. Notable characteristics associated with their perfume bottles include elongated scent bottles, many of which feature animal-inspired motifs, and the express use of bright colors. Their full-sized perfume bottles were often quaintly round with stoppers and came in an array of colors ranging from yellows to blues to reds, and everything in between.
Heinrich Hoffman was a Bohemian glass artist working in the early 20th century and was well-known for his contributions to vanity glassware. Focusing on creating works meant to be put on display in one's boudoir, Hoffman embraced the tenants of Art Deco design and created strong perfume bottles with interesting geometric shapes. Typically, Hoffman's perfume bottles tended to be created with stoppers and weren't as colorful as other Bohemian contemporaries' bottles were.
The list of prolific glassware designers from this period goes on and on, but here are a few additional designers whose work is still uplifted today:
- Emile Galle
- Vogel & Zappe
- Henry Funther Schelvogt
Antique Perfume Values at Auction
It might come as a surprise, but antique perfume bottles are a bit of a unique antique on the auctions market. You can find lovely old crystal perfume bottles for sale in your local antique store for $10, but you can also find specialty auctions filled with antique perfume bottles that have value estimates in the tens of thousands of dollars range.
What seems to the deciding factors between these elite prices and your everyday bottle is the level of design, the glass maker or manufacturer that designed it, and the quality of the materials used to create it. Simply, the most extravagant antique perfume bottles molded from the hands of one of the world's most famous glass designers is going to be worth far more than a department store perfume bottle, no matter its age.
Yet, once you start perusing the market yourself, you'll notice that the majority of antique perfume bottles aren't worth more than $25-$100. That's because 95% of antique perfume bottles are mass-manufactured, unlabeled bottles with a quirky, but not-too-spectacular, design.
Here are a few of these types of bottles that've recently sold at auction to give you an idea:
- Antique L'Origan de Coty perfume bottle - Sold for $30
- Pair of antique Czech cut glass perfume bottles - Listed for $119
- Antique cranberry perfume bottle with silver overlay - Sold for $325
Expensive Antique Perfume Bottle Sales That'll Shock You
At its most elite, antique perfume bottle collectors are consistently willing to shell out thousands of dollars for individual bottles depending on what's for sale and what they're in the market for. That being said, these are some of the most insane prices that've popped up in the past few years:
- 1914 Osiris by Vinolia - Sold for $85,000
- Late 19th century Thomas Webb & Sons Albatross cameo glass bottle - Listed for $24,500
- Rene Lalique Fougeres perfume bottle - Sold for $33,600
- Hoffmann Art Deco Buddha bottle - Sold for $32,500
Happiness Is Just a Spritz Away
Art and the mundane collide when it comes to antique perfume bottles; their fine craftsmanship and eye-catching beauty makes them a highly desirable collectible. From the moment they stepped foot onto the scene, these bottles have been taking the world by storm, and they'll continue to do so for many more years to come. If you're intrigued by perfume bottles, you might want to learn more about old bottle identification to see if there are other bottle styles that pique your interest.