Visiting Graham Leonard from Green Parrot Collectables and Vintage Perfumes was like ‘walking into the past.’ I was keen to explore his vast collection of over 2764 bottles of perfume and to hear his enthralling story. Before even entering his house I was standing in his garden and could smell the scent, but not from the flowers, this was all the lovely perfume smells emanating from inside his home.
Warmly welcomed inside I could clearly see his passion for the Art Deco era – he collects Art Deco watches as well, and his wife, also a great collector has a collection of over 770 miniature perfumes! Not to mention her collection of brooches (especially bugs), delft china and vintage jewellery. For the sake of preserving the perfume the house is kept at a temperature between 19-21° and the lights are kept dimmed. Graham has two rooms devoted to his collection and more bottles creeping their way into other rooms in the house, along with storage off the premises.
I was intrigued by what made him start collecting perfumes and he said is was his ‘love of skilled craftsmanship and the design features of the bottles and packaging’. For four generations his family were gun makers and he has always worked with his hands – he loved the fact that he can put something of himself into a product. He now works as a stonemason, does French polishing and of course is a collector and dealer of vintage perfume bottles.
Some of his first purchases were the early Russian designers who went to the USA. Prince Georges V Matchabelli (an amateur chemist) established the Matchabelli Perfume company and the early perfumes were personally blended for their clients. Norina, his wife designed the crown shaped perfume along the lines of the Matchabelli Crown
Another was Prince Obolenski who in New York began his career as a perfume salesman before setting up his own perfume business. He designed some very rare bottles.
I found the matching vintage perfume advertisement for sale on ebay and Greg from the Ad Store has kindly allowed me to share it with you.
Graham’s oldest bottle is 111 years old (Russian) but his main collection spans from 1920 – 1950s when, he says, there were some exceptional perfume designers. He collects unopened, original first series perfumes. The earlier perfumes, especially pre 1920’s were more oil based, intense with heavier base notes.
He also likes the bottles with hand ground stoppers (plastic stoppers appeared around 1970) which you don’t throw away when you finish the original perfume but can re-use by decanting new perfumes into the old bottles (modern spray atomisers are not refillable). This is acceptable only if you are using the perfume to wear rather than collect.
He buys in antique shops, vintage fairs, on-line and at auction. In auction, perfume bottles tend to be listed in sales of glassware, specialist sales or decorative arts. At auction you are more likely to find the factice perfumes.
A factice is a bottle made for the purpose of display and is not for sale – it is purely for advertising. They can be made in a variety of sizes but it is usually the larger ones which are more collectable. They are not filled with perfume but a solution which resembles perfume or sometimes even coloured water.
Graham’s quest is for the Lalique Nina Ricci double dove factice standing at 4ft 8″ high – he says only around 45 were made in the world (I have seen the 13″ one offered through Factice World at $1950.00) but he says the collector’s Holy Grail is Guerlain’s Baccarat factice and he believes only one collector in the country has this. He has over 1,400 Lalique bottles in his collection, all signed, sealed and unopened.
Graham is a member of the International Perfume Bottle Association (IPBA) formed in 1988 for enthusiasts dedicated to collecting scent containers and to researching and preserving the history of perfume bottles and related items, the fragrance industry, bottle designers and artists and manufacturers. The UK chapter was formed in 2001 and apart from holding conventions, they organise auctions, lectures, fairs and talks.
People collect perfume and perfume bottles for all sorts of reasons. Some want to collect interesting bottles or those that are rare or limited editions. Some just want the perfumes that funnily enough were a complete disaster! Graham says he is meeting ladies in their 20s or 30s who, for nostalgic reasons, want to collect the perfumes their mothers wore. They remember their mother’s lovely dressing tables decorated with ornaments, vanity sets and perfume bottles and want to create one just like it, filled with vintage perfume bottles.
I had seen this wonderful Shocking perfume by Schiaparelli on Graham’s stall at another fair and hadn’t stopped thinking about it so asked if he still had it for sale – cue SCREAM – no, he had sold it and said he was very sad to see it go – as was I.
Here are some other beauties in his collection
4711 a brand of Eau de Cologne (1920s) by Mäurer & Wirtz and a well-known favourite. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly dabbed her neck with this cologne!
Joy was originally made in an emerald cut bottle designed by Architect Louis Süe and then a crystal flacon by Baccarat. It was voted “Scent of the Century” by the public at the FiFi Awards in 2000.
Marilyn Munroe’s favourite scent and the world’s bestselling perfume Chanel No 5 is a must for any perfume collector. The first bottle created in 1919 was different from the bottle we know today and was created only for ‘select’ clients. You can date a Chanel bottle in a number of ways. The bottle has stayed relatively the same since 1924 but the stopper has gone through several changes and can help to date the perfume. You will also see from this 1956 advertisement the label has a dot underneath the N°. This was on bottles from the 1920s until the 1950s, after which it disappears.
Graham’s Top Tips
♥ Vintage perfumes evaporate over time, especially if opened or exposed to harsh light. If displaying your perfume try to keep them out of direct sunlight and do not store above 24°
♥ When buying perfume bottles look out for chips, scratches or cracks in the bottle and check the condition of the label (which adds to the value) – try to buy it as perfect as you can.
♥ Check the stopper is not rammed in and can’t be opened. Sometimes a little warm water can loosen this but be very careful not to damage the label.
♥ If you want to clean a vintage perfume bottle rinse out with mild detergent and lukewarm water or use stone soap, turn upside down and leave to dry. Or clean with lead shot if the bottle is lead crystal. If the bottle is milky try distilled water or rubbing alcohol or pour in old unwanted perfume which should clear it.
Suggestions on what to buy
♥ Signed Barrarat numbered perfume bottles
♥ Paloma Picasso large factice (tip: look for closing down sales from old chemists) A 1960 Salvador Dali nose-lip factice sold for nearly £900 in 2006.
♥ Any Dali signed bottles – the most sought after on every perfume collectors wish list (and huge budget) is Salvador Dali’s Baccarat Le Roy Du Soleil for Elsa Schiaparelli. According to Baccarat, just over 3,000 were made in 1945/46.
♥ Limited edition post-war artists like Cocteau
♥ If starting a vintage collection – 1000 and Joy by Jean Patou, Je Revien by Worth, Soir de Paris (Evening in Paris) by Bourjois, vintage Chanel and Christian Dior would all be worthwhile
What you buy now are antiques of the future
♥ Christies sold an empty perfume bottle, designed by Marcel Duchamp in 1921 (Belle Haleine – Eau de voilette) that belonged to Yves Saint Laurent for €8.9m
♥ The remains of a woman were found with a silver bottle attached to a chain at her waist. When the tiny stopper was eased free a mere wisp of scent, which had been imprisoned for over 650 years was released. Scientists at L’Oreal perfume institute in Paris tried to analyse the ingredients which had survived the Black Death. The perfume bottle is part of the only surviving medieval cosmetic set and was shown at the Wallace Collection. (source: The Guardian)
♥ In 2006 a bottle of Trésor de la Mer, designed for Saks Fifth Avenue by René Lalique in 1936 (a shell shaped frosted glass box containing a pearl-shaped bottle) sold for $216,000 at auction
♥ According to worlds most expensive Clive Christian No. 1 Perfume is worth $12,721.89 per ounce and is therefore the most expensive perfume bottle. The baccarat crystal bottle contains 16.9 ounces of Clive Christian signature number one imperial perfume and has a 5k white diamond with an 18k white gold cap. It had a limited edition run of only ten bottles in total. The price included delivery in a Bentley!
The bottle is the last physical souvenir of a sometimes long forgotten scent, often reflecting society’s attitudes like a snapshot, or as Coco Chanel said about all the empty bottles she owned, ‘The bottles are my memories of surrender and conquest – my crown jewels of love.”
The Essence of Perfume – Roja Dove
♥ Masterpieces of the Perfume Industry – Christie Mayer Lefkowith
♥ Commercial Perfume Bottles – A Schiffer book for collectors – Jacquelyne Y. Jones-North
♥ Commercial Fragrance Bottles – Joanne Dubbs Ball & Dorothy Hehl Torem
♥ The Essence of Perfume – Roja Dove
♥ Antique Trader Perfume Bottles Price Guide – Kyle Husfloen
Claire Wrathall wrote a great article on-line for How to Spend It – titled Perfume Bottles
And hats off to Grace Hummel, a ‘self proclaimed perfume historian and detective’ who has created an amazing perfume blog and information pages on the web and ebay which offers an appraisal service, consignment sales, glossary, resources and useful tips on buying and selling.
“Where should one use perfume?” a young woman asked. “Wherever one wants to be kissed.” Coco Chanel