There was a change in emphasis with regard to scents and perfumes in the 19th century, with a shift away from such things being regarded as necessities needed to mask the variety of noxious stenches that suffused everyday life towards something more elevated and seemly.
Although it was a slow process, urban living became progressively less of an assault on the senses as sanitation, drainage and sewerage systems were developed – even if early solutions were more of a case of removing the source of the problem to a different location, by simply piping effluent to the fringes of populated areas rather than having it running alongside the streets in open ditches.
Nevertheless, the absolute requirement to furnish oneself with a vinaigrette steadily evolved from an imperative to a preference, and this was given a further – very significant – shove with the development of synthetic scents in the latter part of the 19th century. The creation of perfumes was no longer an arcane process of hand-blending, distillation, refraction and alchemy and, naturally, the products became more widely available.
However, this removed the degree of finery which had once been a hallmark of those who had the wherewithal to avail themselves of hand-crafted scents, and there was a sudden imperative for the great and the good to reinforce this delineation between themselves and the great unwashed (even though the latter no longer smelled quite so, well, unwashed).
Cue the sudden proliferation of very finely made Victorian glass scent bottles from around the 1860’s onwards, with the established purveyors of finery to the h’upper classes all clambering aboard the latest bandwagon. Moser, Saint Louis, Galle and Lalique were amongst the foremost practitioners, with their artistry going a long way to reinforce the ‘new exclusivity’ of premium perfumes. This, however, was an era of genuine class when it came to scents – unlike the modern-day imbecility of deliberately impenetrable and gauche advertising which afflict the run up to Christmas every year ! The cache of having varieties of cologne, presented in cut crystal or sterling silver enhanced bottles was soon established, and there were no limits to the intricacy of enamelled or gilt decoration or ormolu mounts and bases – a new art form had been born – and the allure of an antique Victorian perfume bottle remains undiminished.
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