BLOG: Essences of Dreams by John Culme

10th September 2019
BLOG:  Essences of Dreams by John Culme Image


By John Culme


'I would go to Siberia to fetch you a muff; to India to fill your scent-bottle . . .'

(Samuel Beazley, Hints for Husbands, a comedy, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 29 August 1835)

Over the past few years, Matthew Barton of Olympia Auctions has sold a number of 19th century gold- and silver-mounted scent bottles, both plain and decorative. A remarkable French example appeared on 20 November 2012 (lot 415, £900), see above middle image. Unmarked, its design was similar to others made by the Parisian goldsmiths, Morel & Duponchel in the mid 1840s. Crucially, its original green morocco case had survived, complete with a printed paper label declaring it to have been purchased from Taulin of 131 Palais Royal, Paris, 'Ft [i.e. fabricant (maker)] de  Nécessaires [&] Objets de Fantaisie.'

Like those of many retailers, M. Taulin's advertisement was probably a polite fiction: if indeed he was a manufacturer of travelling dressing cases, receptacles for perfumes and the like, it was surely in the sense that he was an entrepreneur, a middleman between the public who visited his shop in the fashionable arcades of the Palais Royal and the real makers of his goods. The tucked-away world of the latter was in stark contrast to the glittering, gas-lit emporia of a city's great shopping resorts, whether in Paris, London, New York or any other major capital.

One actual maker of objets de fantaisie (in his case articles of polished steel) was 50-year old Joseph Henri who on 29 July 1846 had tried to shoot King Louis Philippe as he and the French royal family stood on the balcony of the Palais des Tuileries. At his trial, Henri stated that he had no ill-will towards the King but that misfortunes had made him weary of life; he'd fired his pistol simply to get talked about as a means of meeting death. He was a failure even in this because the court eventually sentenced him to a life of hard labour.

But I digress. While newspapers have always been rich in reports of criminal activity, they also fed an appetite for news from the exclusive realms of 'The Upper Ten Thousand,' which was the title of a regular column in The Queen, 'the ladies newspaper,' first published in London in 1861. Various other periodicals followed from which it was possible to discover details of the gowns and accessories worn by women of the privileged classes to balls and other exclusive gatherings. Lists of wedding presents were also published. In November 1869, for instance, gifts to the brides and grooms on the occasion of the weddings of the sisters Lady Albertha Frances Anne Hamilton and  Lady Maud Evelyn Hamilton respectively to the Marquis of Landsdown and the Marquis of Blandford, could have filled an entire magasin de luxe. Jewellery and articles of silver abounded, while the Marquis of Hartington gave a porcelain card-table mounted in ormolu, the Earl and Countess of Westmorland 'a scent-box with three cut crystal bottles, silver-mounted' and from the Countess of Bradford  and Lady Flora Macdonald came gold-mounted scent bottles. Sir Frederic Johnstone, Bt. gave to each bride a gold-mounted smelling salts bottle with an enamelled top, embellished with their coronets and monograms.

So with what would a marchioness or even a mayoress fill her scent bottle? The choice in such a matter had long been legion. In 1756 Signor Bastorini at the sign of the Two Civet Cats and Olive Tree in New Bond Street offered among his stock, 'just arrived from Italy . . . fine Gonguil, Jessamine, Millflower, and Violet Water; the true Carmilite Water from Paris, with the best and true Eau de Luce.' And a generation earlier, the perfumer, Charles Lillie (d. 1746) was on hand with many similar temptations as well as scented snuff, perfumed and coloured hair-powder, soaps from Turkey, Italy, France and Spain, wash-balls, powders for bags to sweeten linen and quilting, &c., &c. at his shop at the corner of Beaufort Buildings in the Strand.

Eugène Rimmel

In 1857 the French perfumer Eugène Rimmel (1820-1887) moved his business to 96 Strand, the site once occupied by Lillie. Like his celebrated predecessor, Rimmel committed his thoughts and secrets about his trade to paper. But whereas Lillie's work had to wait for many years after his death to be published (Colin Mackenzie, editor, The British Perfumer, London, 1822), Rimmel's The Book of Perfumes hit the bookstands and circulating libraries in time for Christmas 1864. It was enthusiastically received, The Morning Post calling it 'one of the curiosities of the season . . . extremely well written,' and went into several editions.

With his father, Hyacinthe Mars Rimmel, a former pupil of Pierre-François Lubin (1774-1853), perfumer to the French royal court, Eugène was settled in London by early 1832. It was then, in February that year that Rimmel père married Eliza Sims (his second of three wives); their son, Julius Atkinson Rimmel, Eugène's half-brother, was born on 28 December 1832. No doubt he was named for James Atkinson, a wholesale perfumer and near neighbour in Gerrard Street, Soho. Two years later, Hyacinthe and  Eugène challenged the London trade by advertising a consignment of 'genuine EAU DE COLOGNE [and] a large Assortment of choice Perfumery from Paris.' They particularly recommended their 'Esprit de Lavande aux Millefleurs.' After their partnership was dissolved in 1845, Eugène went on to build an empire.

 At the Great Exhibition of 1851, the central of attraction on Rimmel's stand was his 'Fountain of Perfume,' 'well suited for perfuming and cooling apartments, &c.' The fountain, filled with toilet vinegar and kept in motion by the pressure of a weight, was placed in a jardinière filled with artificial flowers scented as if they were real. This proved a great attraction to the ladies, who dipped their handkerchiefs in its 'refreshingly odorous stream.'

Eleven years on in 1862, Rimmel was chosen to be among the five jurors for the perfumery section at the International Exhibition in London. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the exhibition building was Minton's enormous, multi-coloured majolica fountain made up of 369 separate parts. Its waters, in which ladies were again discovered dipping their handkerchiefs, was scented by Rimmel. It seems that the name of E. Rimmel was everywhere at this time. In January 1863, when Charles Fechter (1824-1879), the Anglo-French actor manager, opened his season at the Lyceum Theatre, the audience was treated to a spectacular refurbishment of the auditorium. Rimmel's 'perfume vaporiser' diffused 'with impartial beneficence a grateful fragrance of flowers through all parts of the house' and perfumed programmes of the evening's bill were provided free of charge.

Besides his perfumes and scented waters, Rimmel sold a wide range of toiletries and novelties for both sexes, from soaps to 'fancy crackers, for Balls and Parties, all highly amusing and elegant,' including 'Velvetine' (powder in 'Pure White, Rosy White, or Rachel, according to complexion') and 'Photochrome' ('a new pommade to restore grey hair and beard to their original colour, through the agency of light'). His 'New Royal Perfumes' announced in 1874 were 'L'Etoile du Nord,' dedicated to the Duchess of Edinburgh, and the 'Duke of Edinburgh's Bouquet,' both of which were sold with photographs of their highnesses. At Easter that year, Rimmel introduced his 'Russian eggs' containing perfumes, 'for presenting to Friends, according to Continental Fashion.' The range included gold and silver eggs, some painted with flowers, Parian eggs, silk eggs, hand-painted satin eggs and models of boys and girls carrying eggs in baskets. 

Of course, Eugène Rimmel was not immune to the charms of actresses. Several of his perfumes were dedicated to them. His 'Perdita Bouquet' was formulated for the beautiful American actress Mary Anderson (1859-1940) upon her appearance in 1887 in a revival of A Winter's Tale at the Lyceum. In her role as Perdita one critic thought her, 'absolutely charming, fresh, and girlish, and when she danced with the shepherds and shepherdesses in a scene of unsurpassed pastoral loveliness, the applause was so great that she was obliged to return more than once to repeat the sprightly figure of a kind of wild gavotte.' (The Manchester Courier, Manchester, Sunday, 12 September 1887, p. 8d) Clearly Rimmel was successful in capturing, as it were, Miss Anderson's delightful portrayal in a bottle; five years later, The Queen told its readers that 'the ''Perdita Bouquet'' . . . possesses a delicate fresh fragrance that is most attractive.'


Piesse & Lubin

In a lively market for perfumes, colognes and toilet waters with which to fill a million scent bottles, Rimmel was far from alone. His rivals included John Gosnell & Co., established as long ago as 1677, whose perfumes (Jasmin, Orange Blossom, Blush Rose, &c.) for the handkerchief, &c. were available in 'Bottles of a hundred shapes'; and J. Grossmith & Sons, established in 1835. Another was Piesse & Lubin which opened at  their 'Laboratory of Flowers,' 2 New Bond Street in London's Mayfair in November 1855. The genius behind this enterprise was G.W. Septimus Piesse (1820-1882), one of a large French family long settled in London, whose grandfather was Louis Jean Joseph Piesse (1760?-1819), a perfumer in Thayer Street, Marylebone. Young Septimus was an analytical chemist who is credited with his early use of synthetic scents. He is remembered chiefly through his ground-breaking, The Art of Perfumery, published to coincide with the opening of Piesse & Lubin.

Like Rimmel and others, Piesse & Lubin traded as much on the romance of perfumes as it did on informing the public about the intricacies of production, the many extraordinary steps required from bloom to bottle, from flower to flask. Even in the far north of Scotland, 700 miles away from London, readers of The Orkney Herald  were given a glimpse of the treasures in scent to be found in the 'Laboratory of Flowers.' In the edition of 14 October 1862 they read: 'We can scarcely find the heart to quarrel with Messrs Piesse and Lubin, who gratify the world with ''aerial perfumery,'' ''arrosoir scent fountains for ball-rooms'' [and] ''scent fountains for finger rings.''' Indeed, the very names of the firm's perfumes were enough to make one swoon: 'Kiss-me-quick,' 'Follow-me-lads,' 'Stolen Kisses,' 'Box-his-ears,' 'Sweethearts Nosegay,' 'Perfume of Paradise' and 'Jolly Dog.' These and more were available at the 1862 Exhibition, including some artfully linked with royalty and the aristocracy: 'Her Majesty's Perfume,' 'Empress Eugénie's Nosegay,' 'Prince Arthur's Choice' and 'Baroness Rothschild's Bouquet.'

'Young Lubin' was the name of yet another of Piesse & Lubin's perfumes, which begs the question, who exactly was Young Lubin? He is said to have been Wilhelm Lubin but suspicions are abroad that he may have been a figment of Piesse's clever imagination, just as he invented one Mercutio Frangipani. The latter, he said, was a botanist who sailed with Christopher Columbus and was able to find land by sniffing the ocean breeze. If Lubin was a similar wraith, Piesse couldn't have chosen a better 'partner,' the name Lubin, as already mentioned, being that of a celebrated Parisian perfumer. No sooner had Piesse & Lubin begun trading than M. Félix Frot of  Félix Frot & Cie., successors to Pierre-François Lubin, placed a series of advertisements during 1856 and well into the 1860s in The Morning Post. No doubt frothing with indignation, he begged to inform his friends and the public that, 'he has NO CONNEXION WHATEVER with a HOUSE which he understands has recently been Opened in London, in the names of PIESSE and LUBIN.'

Frot need not have worried. The business of perfumery at this time was expanding dramatically, driven by the availability of dozens of new scents to appeal to every nose and whim and encouraged by relentless advertising. Piesse & Lubin, who as early as 1858 had appointed Eugene Dupuy their agent in New York, quickly became one of the industry's leaders. New fragrances wafting from their Bond Street 'Laboratory of Flowers' were never allowed to languish for want of inspired advertising. In 1864, the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, for instance, the firm created a special perfume, 'Flower of Avon,' for Mrs. Edward Fordham Flower, the mayoress of Stratford-on-Avon. With a ready-made slogan penned by the Bard himself to send it on its way, Piesse & Lubin announced: 'Verona's summer hath not such a flower.' How flattering to Mrs. Flower! Juliets abounded during the next twelve months or so in the form of some of London's prettiest actresses, including Marie Wilton (1839-1921) and Adelaide Neilson (1847-1880), both English; Kate Bateman (1842-1917), an American; and Stella Colas (1843-1913) from France who later settled in Russia.


Florida Water 

In 1868 Rigaud & Cie., perfumers of 45 , Rue Richelieu, Paris began advertising in the London Press. Their English outlet was Newberry & Sons in St. Paul's Churchyard, City and with every purchase they promised 'THE LITTLE ADVISER for the TOILET, Illustrated with Photographs of the Principal Actress of Paris.' One of their novelties was Tolutine, 'a delicious toilet water, superior to Eau de Cologne, Toilet Vinegar, or Florida Water.'  Florida Water, almost unknown to the English market until the 1860s, was (and is) an American version of Eau de Cologne but sweeter and more spicy. It was introduced in the first decade of the 19th century by Collins & Murray (Benjamin S. Collins and Robert I. Murray) of Pearl Street in lower Manhattan. The partnership was dissolved in 1813 and through a series of changes the firm became Murray & Lanman predecessors of Lanman & Kemp-Barclay.

The bright, flowery nature of Collins & Murray's new Florida Water cologne was well named; it invoked the mythical powers of the 'Fountain of Youth' which the Spanish explorer, Ponce de León  is supposed to have searched for in Florida at the beginning of the 16th century. Such fanciful connections, such promises of intoxicating pleasures were endlessly exploited in advertisements and in the very names of perfumes. J. Grossmith & Son was a company which knew the value of the  fascinatingly unfamiliar. In the Spring of 1888 it launched its 'new fragrance of the season,' propelling one playful copywriter into print:

'A mighty monarch once offered a large reward to any one who would invent him a new pleasure: and the discovery of a fresh perfume is hailed with no less gratitude by the luxurious of our own day. Messrs. Grossmith, of 85, Newgate-street have deserved well of their patrons in inventing ''Hasu-No-Hana,'' an essence derived from the fragrant Lotus of Japan. The delicate and ''original'' odour of this scent is exquisite, and so fine in quality that its enjoyment can never cloy the taste of the connoisseur in sweet smells.' (The Era, London, Saturday, 17 March 1888, p. 19a)

Grossmith's cannot be credited with any particular originality here because the 1870s and 1880s were the heyday of the Aesthetic Movement, when all things 'Japanese' were popular, from ballets (Yolande; a Dream of Far Cathay, Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, 1877) and comic operas (The Mikado, Savoy Theatre, 1885) to furnishings for the home. But they persisted with the successful exotic theme into the 20th century when in 1907 they introduced 'Shem-el-Nessim,' 'The Scent of Araby – Each Drop The Concentrated Fragrance of a Thousand Flowers.' One advertisement for Grossmith's perfume, toilet water, hair lotion, &c. in this range discovered an odalisque propped on cushions, dreaming of flying cherubs in the manner of William-Adolphe Bouguereau funnelling the honeyed breath of floral garlands into a daintily-labelled bottle.


Collections of Scent Bottles

With so much choice in perfumes, scents, colognes and toilet waters available, it is little wonder that the gold and silversmiths, enamellers, glass makers and manufacturers of ceramics responded with such variety in the way of bottles and flasks. Ida Pappenheim (1867-1938) was one of many collectors who delighted in these small mementoes of gracious living, which were given in 1971 to the National Museums of Scotland.  Another collection, claiming to the the largest in Britain with nearly 3,000 examples, is that of Idonea Mary Mina French

 (1882-1963) in the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library in Preston, Lancashire.

For more information about the history and the perfume industry and the naming of its products in the 18th and 19th centuries, see Laura Pettibone Wright, 'From Lavender Water to Kiss Me, You Dare!' published in 2015.

Pictured at top of blog:

An advertisement after original artwork by Thomas Maybank (1869-1929) for J. Grossmith & Son’s 'Shem-el-Nessim,' ‘The Scent of Araby,’ London, 1910.

Pictured on Press and Blogs page: 

Lithograph trade card, 'The Genuine MURRAY & LANMAN FLORIDA WATER. The richest of all Perfumes,' featuring the 'Fountain of Youth,' issued by Lanman & Kemp, New York, 1880.