The perfume bottle is the real treasure

Barbara Collins.

The mind altering sensation of the scent might be the main reason why most people would buy perfume, but for ardent collectors it is the humble bottle that is the real treasure. Antiques trader BARBARA COLLINS gives some tips on how to sniff out the top prize.

For many years I had an antique shop, The Georgian, specialising in jewellery, silver, collectables and perfume bottles but more especially miniature ones.

The tiny creations of rare and delicate beauty by European masters of the genre.

Manufacturers produce miniatures each time they launch a new fragrance.

Over the years they have become acutely aware of the miniature collectable value and will sometimes turn them out in very limited numbers.

These are the real treasures. They are big business in Europe where collectors come from all over the world to gather at quarterly fairs to buy, swop and simply browse and enjoy.

I have travelled to London, Bath, Paris and Berlin to participate in these fairs and am invariably stunned by the sheer volume of bottles on display.

My collection is vast and includes some rare gems. A tiny silver urn with pursed lips designed by the surrealist Salvador Dali – a blue glass bottle Bourjois called Evening in Paris and a bottle of Worth, also blue glass by Lalique.

One of the nicest things about collecting mini perfume bottles is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get going and you sometimes find treasures in the most unlikely places as I did one day in Paris.

Walking up the dusty main road I popped in to a “Algemene Handelaar” and enquired from a dear elderly lady behind the counter if she had any small perfume bottles, to which she replied she had a pair of blue glass bottles and wanted R75 for the pair.

My heart skipped a beat when I recognised them featured in my reference book — they were Lalique. I sold them the next day at the Sandton Fair for a princely sum.

So it is all in “the find”.

The value of your bottle is determined by its age, design, rarity, condition and other variables including labels and packaging.

Today’s pre-occupation with plastic means that few minis are produced with glass stoppers though perfume houses like Guerlain have remained true to their craft.

One of the worst mistakes made by novice collectors is to “clean up” their finds. When you wash a bottle, remove the labels and throw away the box you are also discarding a large part of its value.

Remember, the more original the more valuable.

Where to look – flea markets, antique and vintage shops and even friendly perfume counter assistants.

The more you know about them the more fun you will have.

There are internet sites, specialist magazines and books on the subject so there is no shortage of reference material.

For the ardent collector few things can match the excitement of locating another prize.

Barbara Collins is a Fish Hoek resident who has owned antique shops in Claremont and Plettenberg Bay. She will be trading at the Kelvin Grove Antique and Vintage Fair, in Newlands, on Sunday November 4, from 10am to 3pm. Entry is free.

Call her on 083 444 0133 for more information.