Follow the Stories | Miami, Florida (2002)
The Case of the Missing Perfume
Today, most perfume-lovers assume perfume bottles will be carefully designed, attractively packaged and sold brimming full with perfume.
But the René Lalique bouchon mures (French for "blackberry stopper") perfume bottle made in 1920 and featured at the Miami ANTIQUES ROADSHOW was originally sold empty. Skinner's Louise Luther, who appraised the blackberry tiara-topped bottle in Miami, valued it at between $20,000 and $25,000 because of its rare blue tint.
Find out if this fancy French bouteille came with a fragrance — and what that question means for the value of other antique Laliques.
Nicholas Dawes, a Lalique expert based in New York City, explains that when Lalique, that most renowned of French glassmakers, started creating his perfume bottles in 1909, retailers typically sold the bottles sans perfume. A person in need of perfume would usually go to an apothecary or a perfume wholesaler to buy a fragrance in bulk, then transfer the potion to a smaller, and for that matter usually unadorned, bottle at home. "Back then, perfume bottles were not even decorative," Nicholas explains.
But Lalique's collaboration in 1908 with François Coty, a commercial perfumer, launched the practice of selling a specific and attractive bottle with a particular perfume. While Lalique did sell some of his perfume bottles empty, he partnered with these perfume makers to sell most of his bottles filled with perfume.
For today's curious collector, it's relatively easy to trace what perfumes were sold with which particular Lalique bottles. "Many collectors want to know everything there is to know in their area of expertise," says Louise. "And Lalique perfume bottle collectors are no exception." In fact, many Lalique bottles have the name of the perfume molded into the bottle or printed on an accompanying label. To help identify what Lalique bottles held which perfumes Nicholas recommends the comprehensive book Lalique Perfume, by Glenn and Mary Lou Utt.
But while knowing which perfume once filled a cherished Lalique bottle might make for lively dinner conversation, Nicholas says that it does not ordinarily sway a perfume bottle's worth in the marketplace. "The value of a perfume bottle is a function of the rarity and beauty of the bottle itself," Nicholas says. "If a Lalique bottle once held a rare perfume it doesn't mean it's worth more than a bottle that once held a common perfume." Many collectors do hunt down unopened and sealed perfume bottles that have their original packaging — a prized condition that can easily double the value of the same empty bottle. Once that seal has been broken, though, the perfume deteriorates and becomes irrelevant to value.
"If a valuable bottle is bought that has some remaining old perfume," Nicholas explains, "the first thing most antiques dealers and collectors do is pour it down the drain."
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.