Victorian Era Perfume Case Restoration: The Beginning

Project 6, part 1 – Almost a Spotlight, but Not Quite…

One is the loneliest number…

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today is the beginning of a short project (in terms of number of planned posts), and also an extremely long project (in terms of time required to complete it). Actually, this was originally intended to be a Spotlight, but…it’s not. It’s definitely a Restoration project!

Let’s dive in! My amazing friend who has gifted me many of my Victorian Era items gave me this velvet and glass perfume case as well, containing a single glass perfume bottle. Like the purse, it’s dated in family records to about 1883. The case seems to be made of wood, with a fuchsia velvet covering and silver fittings. It’s a wild color to modern sensibilities, but aniline dyes were invented in the mid-1850s and these garish hues were tremendously popular throughout the Victorian era! The top is cut glass with a simple push-latch, and the interior is lined in ivory silk.

Such an elegant way to display perfume!

The bottle itself has no maker’s mark, nor does the case, although based on some similar pieces it’s very possible that it’s Baccarat. The bottle is cut glass, with no damage of any kind other than the stopper is stuck. There are a few remains of what was likely the label on the neck (you can see a similar pair here), which is why I haven’t yet tried to soak the bottle to loosen the stopper. You can see some similar antiques here, here, here, and here!

Rear view – look at the little teeny rivets and hinges!

Scent in the Victorian Era was incredibly popular. Ruth Goodman, in How to Be a Victorian, sums up the era well:

“At the onset of the reign, the vast majority of perfume was derived from botanical sources, distilled from plants and, in a few cases, extracted from animals. These substances were expensive, as large volumes were required to produce the concentrated oils. But, as the century unfolded, chemists were synthesizing an increasing range of scents from the most unpromising sources. …Oil of pear, apple, almond, and pineapple could all be produced from coal tar, as could the phenomenally popular lemon oil. …The new chemicals democratized perfume, spreading it further and further down the social scale until, by the 1870s, even servant girls were buying scented soap.” (Goodman 135)

So even if I can’t open the bottle, it’s possible to guess at what popular scents might have filled it! Bergamot and lemon oil were extremely popular in the 1880s; if the original owner of this bottle was wealthier, it might have even featured Otto of Roses.

I really do want to open it one day, to see if any hint of scent remains!

It should be obvious, with my single bottle in a case built for two, what the restoration consists of! I’m not particularly fussed about making any repairs to the case (since the only issue is the pile on the velvet being rubbed off in a few spots); so I just need to locate a sibling for the existing bottle. However, I’ve been looking for almost seven months now with no luck… So look forward to the next post, where I will share some of the travails of the search, and – hopefully – have a success to share as well!

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4 thoughts on “Victorian Era Perfume Case Restoration: The Beginning

    1. You know I really hadn’t thought of that! I will definitely look into it because there is hardly anything left of the label. So it would be worth it to me if I could get a tiny hint of what the original scent was!

      Liked by 1 person

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