Perfume bottles were some of the earliest vessels made of glass. For thousands of years, people have used essential oils, naturally fragrant substances or complex aromatic mixtures to enhance their own person or environment. The glass containers have various names that are sometimes used interchangeably – perfumes, scent bottles, colognes and toilet bottles. Historically they have been produced with varying degrees of complexity—making them either common or rare, disposable or treasured, mass produced or objects of art. The Museum has a huge assortment; these are some of the rarest, most beautiful and distinctive examples in our collection.
- ArtworkThis Roman bird-shaped vessel dates to the first century and was made by glassblowing. Although we take it for granted today, glassblowing was relatively new at the time. It was “invented” around 50 B.C. Scholars have debated the purpose of bird-shaped vessels like this one, but some are believed to have been for perfume. Indeed, one that is currently in an Italian museum still holds a liquid identified as “essence of roses.”
- VideoWilliam Gudenrath, resident adviser at The Studio and expert in historical glassworking techniques, demonstrates how Roman bottles were made. Roman glassblowers created thousand of bottles like this and many were used as toilet bottles.
- ArtworkThis small facet-cut bottle belongs to a group of objects known as molar flasks because their feet resemble the roots of a molar tooth. The form was widely used in the central Islamic lands as containers for perfumes and scented oils. This example dates from 800-1099 A.D.
- ArtworkThis small box, dating from about 1675-1725 and measuring only 4 centimeters high, holds two tiny perfume bottles and a gold funnel. Amazingly, the gold and enameled box is in the shape of a glass furnace. Details include enameled figures engaged in all stages of glassblowing, from forming the melting pots to removing the finished product.
- ArtworkAlthough beautifully engraved, the most outstanding aspect of this scent bottle is its stunning ruby color. Johann Kunckel first succeeded in creating this rich red glass in Potsdam in the mid-1680s. The secret was adding gold to the batch, but the process was not as simple as it sounds. The gilded silver mounts have the mark of Elias Adam of Augsberg and help establish the date of 1708-1710. The glass may have been made slightly earlier.
- CMOG ExhibitionA previous exhibition, Glass of the Alchemists: Lead Crystal – Gold Ruby, 1650-1750, explores Northern European glass of the Baroque period and examines the technical advances in glassmaking made by alchemists during that time.
Outstanding examples of gilded and enameled glass were being produced in England in the mid 18th century. Often, as in this case, the decoration was applied to opaque white glass which closely resembled porcelain. This tiny scent bottle, measuring only 4.4 centimeters high, is exquisitely decorated in the chinoiserie style that was so popular in decorative arts at the time.
Explore: East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Influences in Glassmaking in the 18th and 19th Centuries
The allure of the "exotic" and the appeal of materials unknown to the West—such as hard-paste porcelain and lacquer—stimulated the production of glass objects imitating the treasured Eastern imports.
- ArtworkThis lead glass English scent bottle was made at the Falcon Glassworks of Apsley Pellatt & Co., a producer of extremely high quality glass in London in the first half of the 19th century. Shaped like a crown, the outer portion has 4 panels entirely cut away. The small inner bottle would hold the perfume. The stopper is cut in the shape of the cross pattée, which is found on crowns of British monarchs.
- VideoEnglish lead glass, such as the crown-shaped perfume bottle, is well suited for cutting. Lead glass has a high refractive index; by cutting more facets into the glass, you increase its brilliant or rainbow-like appearance. Here the cutter is using an electric lathe, but in the early 19th century, most of the cutting mechanisms would have been steam-powered.
- ArtworkThese large cologne bottles were cut and engraved in Corning, NY. It was not unusual for T. G. Hawkes & Co. , as well as other cutting firms, to receive special orders from wealthy customers. Each bottle in this set is copper-wheel engraved with the initial “R,” a galloping horse, and landscapes. The colognes, which were probably purely decorative, were made as a wedding gift for Ellen Rogers of New York in 1883.
- VideoThe intricate designs on the surface of the colognes were created using a technique called copper-wheel engraving. Engravers used small wheels of different sizes to create intricate details and contours of different depths. This abrasive technique leaves the design matte, or grayish-white.
- ArtworkThis set of engraving tools was used at T. G. Hawkes and Co. in the early 20th century. Note the many sizes of copper wheels. The drawer contains additional tools, including 42 stones for engraving.
- ArtworkIn 1903, Frederick Carder moved from England to Corning, New York, to help start a new company, Steuben Glass Works. Carder designed thousands of different shapes of glass, often inspired by historical styles. This perfume, made between 1927 and 1931, with its contrasting colors, tapering shoulders and short cylindrical neck, demonstrates the influence of the Art Deco style on Carder’s designs.
- ArtworkBritish glass artist, Colin Reid, has taken the concept of a simple utilitarian perfume bottle into the realm of sculptural art. The form appears to rise from the earth, while creating illusions of depth and motion. Reid is known for his kiln cast glass and contrasting rough and polished surfaces.