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(This rabbit hole sprouted a few tunnels and wound up as a multi-part series! I hope this topic interests you as much as it did me.) We’ll start with Floris first, before we explore everything else.

If you don’t already know, Floris was the premiere London supplier for perfumery in the Regency, and it is still operating at 89 Jermyn Street in its original elegant St. James location, still family owned and heading into the 9th generation of management! Sadly, I missed a chance for a virtual tour via Instagram just over two weeks ago led by the current family “nose.” How far we have come from Regency times!

The shop was founded in 1730 by an enterprising immigrant barber from the Spanish-owned island of Minorca, Juan Famenias Floris. Originally employed in a London hotel, he soon seized the opportunity to open his own barber shop in the midst of the men’s clubs district where business was sure to thrive.

He met Elizabeth Hodgkiss in London and after they married they lived above the shop, soon expanding the business to sell perfume and hair combs imported from Minorca, as well as shaving brushes, hatpins, toothbrushes, fine-tooth combs and razor straps all made on the premises, plus scented mouthwashes, hair products and shaving products. Floris recreated scents from his homeland for clients using a refreshing alcohol base, offering among others jasmine, orange blossom, and ‘Lavender’, the one that made him most famous (still available today).

He and Elizabeth had seven children. When the sons were old enough, they studied the perfumery arts in France. Son Robert traveled through France, Spain and Italy to source and send back exotic ingredients the perfumes required. The firm’s website shows one of Robert Floris’s “crossed” letters (written in two directions to save paper) from this pre-Regency era.

Combs, a simple item we take for granted today, were difficult to make in pre-industrial times, hand crafted from ivory or tortoiseshell. (for a look at some Regency combs, see this 2018 post of mine) The fine quality of combs provided by Floris actually earned them their first Royal Warrant (of 17) in 1820 as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb-makers’ to George IV, not long after his ascension to the throne. The much-photographed shop front on the ground floor dates from that time, proudly exhibiting the original coat of arms that came with that first warrant.

Although the beautiful Spanish mahogany cabinets inside the shop are Victorian (purchased from the Great Exhibition in 1851), the flavor of what the shop must have been like earlier is still preserved, down to the iron boot-scraper outside the door. (There is also now a small museum room at the back.) Many famous (and infamous) personalities from British history have been connected with the shop. According to Floris, Admiral Lord Nelson kept a room on the third floor for Lady Emma Hamilton and would write orders to be placed for her while he was oversees. As you might imagine, Beau Brummell would discuss his current fragrances at length with Mr Floris. Wikipedia says “Mary Shelley, whilst abroad, sent friends instructions to purchase her favourite combs and toothbrushes from Floris.”

Perfumes from Floris were a luxury item for the wealthy or for very special gifts. The well-heeled patrons could purchase perfume by bringing their own bottles to be filled with their fragrance of choice. (We’ll take a look at those bottles in a later installment.) A wealthy aristocrat in Regency London could commission the parfumers at Floris to create a custom scent especially for them. How decadent do you want to get? Naturally, having something that no one else had or could have was an essential mark of status. The formulas were recorded in the company’s special ledgers and archived so they could continue to be made on demand for each customer.

Interestingly, Floris in recent years has revived this “bespoke” service from their past. London Perfect has a 2017 interview with Edward Bodenham, the latest descendant to be put in charge of perfumery at Floris, where he talks about the process.  The company has also revisited its extensive formula archives to issue its recent “Ledger Series” of eight scents, which includes two available in the Regency era, Stephanotis (1786), and Red Rose (1807). Some of the products still on sale date back to the mid 18th century, such as White Rose, Limes, Lilly of the Valley and No. 89.

But having a unique scent was not an exclusive luxury reserved for only the wealthiest in society. Many a young Regency miss (or her brother) from a reasonably prosperous family might have worn a scent of her own, or at least of her family’s, devising, created in the still-room at home. We’ll take a look at this aspect of the topic in part 2 of this series in two weeks.

Meanwhile, do you ever use perfume? Have a favorite scent? Have you ever had a chance to visit Floris in London? Please let me know in the comments! Oh, and P.S.! My last post (March 5) was only “out front” for two days because of a scheduling mix-up, but it included the reveal that I’m offering a free Regency short story now to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. Here’s the link for that if you’re interested: Gail’s newsletter

The heroine in my current work-in-progress, an earl’s daughter, is an athletic, active, outdoors-y sort of young woman but she does have one bit of domestic expertise. After her bookish sister has lectured on the medicinal properties of some spring flowers, Honoria tells the hero, “I do have some skills in the still-room, but I will confess I am more likely to make an essence of violets to flavor biscuits or sugar drops, and to turn the cowslips into wine before I would use them as medicines.” (Yes, her sweet tooth has a role in the story. <g>)

17th century still room

Making wines and distilling flavor essences as well as making medicines were all tasks performed in a large home’s still-room (alternatively “stillroom”, and “still room”). As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, well-to-do Regency people who didn’t wish to purchase expensive perfumes from merchants like Floris might make their own scents in their estate still-rooms as well.

Exactly what was a stillroom?

I love this description from Wikipedia: “a working room, part science lab, part infirmary, and part kitchen.” It was always a separate room, really a small “auxiliary kitchen” that provided space for making herbal remedies and other health products, creating essential oils, brewing and distilling beer and wines, making jams and preserving food by fermentation and pickling, among other functions, all out of the way of the business taking place in the main kitchen. It would usually be equipped with its own fireplace/stove, work table, still, shelves and storage cupboards or dresser and racks for hanging dried herbs, etc. Finished products might be moved to a storage room or stored in the stillroom if space allowed.

The name is a shortened form of “distillery room.” According to author Sharon Lathan (whose wonderful article (The Georgian Kitchen) includes a section on the still-room), The History of Hengrave claims “The earliest recorded “still-room” was at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, in 1603….” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates the word (not hyphenated) to 1710. But distillery rooms are ancient. They were not only features in medieval castles (sometimes as a separate structure), but even date back as far as the Romans and Greeks, who had dedicated rooms for creating herbal medicines and distilling essentials oils from plants including roses, lavender, and rosemary.

Definitions of the still-room as “a room connected with the kitchen where liqueurs, preserves, and cakes are kept and beverages (such as tea) are prepared” (Merriam-Webster) are referencing the modern role the stillroom took on when its former functions gradually became obsolete. Some 21st century hotels and restaurants still have a “stillroom” used for these later purposes, and lists of equipment and definitions can be confusing because of this fact. But the most basic purpose of the stillroom is intact –it removes these functions and procedures from the busy main kitchen and gives them their own space.

Late period still-room at Tatton Hall (photo: wikimedia commons)

What changed? The commercial availability of items that were at one time made in the still-rooms of estates—medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, cleansers, alcoholic beverages, even the essential oils used in all these things and as flavorings for food. As physicians and apothecaries (even barber shops, as we saw in Part 1) became more numerous and widespread, the need for these items to be made at home diminished, and in many cases, including perfumes, the quality of the commercial products (at least then) was better than could be achieved at home because of the greater access to ingredients. By the mid-19th century (1860’s) references relegate the still-room to the province of the housekeeper or stillroom maid, but also note that “our grandmothers” used to be the ones who presided there –in other words, the lady of the house in the Regency part of the century and earlier.

For centuries, the lady of the manor was responsible for handing down the precious knowledge from previous generations and teaching her daughters the skills to produce the life-saving substances the household and all its dependents (staff, servants, tenants…) needed. Treating illnesses and preserving food were skills that also enhanced a young woman’s value as a marriage partner. Work in the still-room required the ability to read the receipts, keep records and follow precise procedures, so an educated woman was still required even after the responsibility devolved to servants. In the later 19th century, the position of stillroom maid was a possible precursor to one day becoming a housekeeper, a very respected position.

Starting the process…

Let us now picture our young Regency miss in the still-room at her parents’ country estate, with a basket full of flowers she has gathered from the garden or the fields. Perhaps she has a family receipt for a particular scent that her mother and grandmother also enjoy, or perhaps she plans to experiment with such a receipt to try to create a new scent that will be her own.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

What will she need?

To begin, she’ll need an “essential oil” that captures a fragrance for the basis of her scent design. More than one if she plans to create a mix. Common flowers, herbs, spices and fruits are her most likely available sources—she wouldn’t have access to the exotic ingredients the commercial perfumers would have, like these:

48 aromatic oils from India shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851

She’ll need to know which of these ingredients are easier or harder to work with to produce the oils. In our period, there were four ways to extract those: 1) distillation, 2) expression, 3) maceration, and 4) absorption. So, she’ll also need to know which of these methods works best for the substances she’s planning to use.

In Part 3 (May 10), we’ll look at Recipes and Family Skills –how scents were made (including why Lily-of-the-Valley would not be one your heroine could make at home!).


Meanwhile, what stillroom skills have you practiced? Have you ever canned your own produce, made beer or wine, created a tincture, or even distilled an essential oil? There is a movement to go back to home-made perfumes and remedies today, because of all the chemicals now used in commercial products. (Some commercial businesses are also catering to this trend.) I would love to hear about what you’ve done!

P.S. Sharon Lathan’s article (The Georgian Kitchen, linked above and here) has some great photos I’m not sharing here because of copyright concerns. Well worth a look, however! She also includes a great list of items that a stillroom might produce. Since my focus in this series is specifically on scents, I resisted sharing that here. (rabbit hole side tunnel!!)

I also found these on another source that was slanted much later than Regency, but still pre-dates refrigeration and was based on records from various estates: “some products of the Stillroom could be Cherries in Brandy, Strawberries in Madeira, dried Apricots, and pickling anything from onions to cabbage. Spicey chutneys influenced by contact with the Indian sub-continent and Piccallili. In those days there was also the need to pickle eggs, as hens naturally go ‘off lay’ during winter.”

Pickled eggs are not a favorite of mine, but cherries in brandy? Yes, please! Perfumes, soaps and medicines were only part of the magic being practiced in the still-room.

At the end of Part 2 in this series, we left our Regency heroine in her family’s still-room surrounded by the materials she has gathered for making a new supply of perfume. What has she harvested? Not apple blossoms, for gathering those would destroy the fruit crop. But perhaps roses? Violets? Lavender? Other herbs from the herb garden? Natural scent sources include flowers, buds, leaves, fruits, rinds, roots, wood, resins and bark of plants and trees, as well as animals.

Lavender, by Jeromecold – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Her choices are limited, in part because of England’s climate. If she lived in the south of France, near Grasse or Nice, she would be in the heart of some of the world’s best “perfume lands” and could have her pick of richly aromatic flowers and fruits, including orange blossom and jasmine. But even then, there are flowers she cannot use. In the Regency, there were not yet any “synthetic” scents that could substitute for an elusive natural fragrance, and there are a number of those—scents that defy extraction by any known method. (The reason can be a low concentration of fragrance in the material, but most often, it’s because the extraction process itself alters or destroys the scent.)

Lily-of-the Valley is one such flower. Its scent is very popular today and was even in earlier times. So how did Floris sell a scent under this name starting in 1765? They created a unique blend of other fragrances to approximate the desired scent. Floris’s formula for its famous Lily-of-the-Valley perfume was a highly guarded secret. The perfume was later taken off the market (I have not discovered when, but think it was pre-Regency), but it was re-launched in 1847 and has been sold ever since. The timing makes me suspect they took advantage of the development of chemical synthetics which began in the late 1830’s).

Other flowers that defy scent extraction include honeysuckle, pinks/carnation, sweet pea, lily, magnolia, lilac, mignonette, wallflower, sweet hawthorn, wood violet, muguet and gardenia. Modern chemistry has developed substitutes. Many people who are sensitive or allergic to “perfumes” are actually reacting to the chemicals in modern synthetic scents, so these are good ones to steer clear of in that case!

Lilac, by Marisa DeMeglio from NYC, USA – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Whatever our heroine has chosen, she’ll need a significant quantity. (Wild strawberry might be great, but where will she harvest enough of it?) To capture the fragrance of the materials, she’ll need to make essential oils, but she might also have a home-made supply already stored on hand or have purchased some if she requires an imported scent. (Such oils could also be used to flavor foodstuffs, especially confectionery.) Most interesting perfumes are a mix of more than one scent, so having a good “nose” for creating pleasing combinations (or good recipes to follow) is helpful along with the store of oils.

She will also need a quantity of alcohol, and one of the many things she’ll need to know, or need to have noted in the recipe she consults, is whether that alcohol should be distilled from wine, vegetable or grain sources. Some essential oils only work well with a particular one. Purified alcohol that won’t add any fragrance to the mix is ideal. It may be used both for the extraction and for creating the oils –some oils, including rose, orange, and jasmine can be considered unpleasant in concentrated forms, causing headaches and other symptoms until diluted.

In Part 2 we mentioned the four methods of extraction that were in use during our period. Great advances in the techniques were developed later in the 19th century, which helped to lower the cost of commercial perfumes, as did the introduction of synthetic scents. But our heroine would choose whichever method she knows will fit the material she’s chosen.

For instance, lavender or peppermint (which both grow well in England) and rose leaves are sturdy enough to be distilled. This process using heated liquid and condensation can be dated as far back as 1200 BCE in Mesopatamia (where, incidentally, it was being used for perfumery). Our heroine’s still might be as small as this pottery still seen at Ham House (courtesy Deana Sidney via Sharon Lathan),

but given the amount of liquid in some recipes (for instance, one for rose water calls for 4lbs of rose leaves and 20 pints of water), much larger ones must also have been in use. The Ham House inventories from the 17th century list “pewter stills with glass heads” and also note chafing dishes and Bain Maries for heating the stills. I wish we could see those!

Large home-made modern-day stills follow the same age-old principle

The other methods are also ancient –getting into all of them technically is another whole side-tunnel. (See how many rabbit tunnels this topic has?) But many flowers are too delicate to undergo distillation, even when kept above the water by a sieve—either the heat or the liquid/steam destroys them. Their essential oils are extracted using either maceration (rose petals, violets, etc), which involves repeatedly mixing the flowers into grease such as lard or an oil such as distilled bitter almond, or absorption (the most delicate, such as jasmine), where the flowers are spread on grease coated-plates or cloths soaked in oil. In both cases, the fragrance transfers into the grease (pomade) or oil and can be further processed with alcohol from there. Citrus fruits, such as lemons or oranges, best yield their fragrant oils by expression (also called cold-pressing) –the grating of the rinds and applying pressure to break down the material.

Once our heroine has invested the time and effort to have a store of essential oils, she is ready to mix her scents. Whether she decides to make “eau de parfum” or “eau de toilet” is a matter of how diluted with alcohol or scented water her finished product will be –the process to make them is the same until that step. She might have smelled a lovely perfume on someone she’d like to try to copy (perhaps at Almack’s in London she caught a whiff of Princess Esterhazy’s scent?), or she may have a recipe on hand. Depending on the quantity she is prepared to bottle and store, she might have to adapt the quantities to what she can manage.

This recipe is one for “approximating” the oldest perfume still being used today, Eau de Cologne, which lent its name to the more generic term “cologne” as a particular strength of perfumes and to “cologne alcohol,” a term used for the alcohol distilled from wine. Based on an Italian formula from the 17th century, Eau de Cologne was first made commercially as a wash and body rub in Cologne, Germany in the early-to-mid 1700’s and became popular after the French court adopted it. Like the French kings, even Napoleon is said to have bathed in it. The original recipe is still secret, but these are agreed upon as basic ingredients:

Oil of bergamot2½ oz.
Oil of lemon (hand-pressed)6 oz.
Oil of neroli pétale3½ oz.
Oil of neroli bigarade1¼ oz.
Oil of rosemary2½ oz.
Alcohol30 qts.

The bergamot and lemon oils are dissolved in the alcohol and distilled, and the rosemary and two types of blood orange are added afterwards. Also key is that only alcohol distilled from wine will give the desired results.

Have you ever used Eau de Cologne? (I remember being given tiny bottles of it as a child.) Do you have a favorite scent you enjoy? Or do you use essential oils for aromatherapy? Or are you allergic, or have you given up using scents in view of the many events that now prohibit them? Please leave me a note in the comments!

Coming in Part 4 (May 24): The Art of Perfumery, Scents for the Sexes, and the Truth about Bay Rum!

We’re at Part 4 in this series –thanks for still reading!! I’m squeezing three different bits of this topic into today’s post. Each one could be a post and covered in so much more detail, but they sort of go together. Bear with me?


The best perfumes are achieved by combining scents. But how do you know which goes well with which? This is where real artistry, a sensitive nose, and the value of treasured recipes come into the process. Part of the challenge of mixing scents is the very subjective nature of how different people perceive them and the difficulty in categorizing them, something still being studied.

Michael Edwards’s fragrance wheel from 1983 (public domain:

The “fragrance wheel” (aka aroma, perfume or smell wheel or fragrance circle) was invented by an Austrian perfumer and published in 1949 to show the families of smells and their relationship to each other. The concept has undergone multiple revisions since then as science and perfumers have added to our knowledge. But combinations of scents must account not only for the blend of odors, but also how and when the scents in the mix reveal themselves.

Among the many terms in perfumery are the concepts of “top/head”, “middle/heart” and “bottom/base” notes, which refer to the differences. Top notes are lighter and usually are the first impression, which may evaporate in as little as 15 minutes. Middle notes can take some time to develop, but then usually last for a while, giving the perfume its primary identification. Base notes are the longest lasting, often acting as a fixative to prolong the overall effect of the other scents.

See source

The “fragrance pyramid” tries to capture these qualities. Some fragrance wheels try to incorporate these characteristics along with the descriptive categories and can become very complex. You can find many different ones online. I particularly like the one here. But these are modern measures. In the Regency, making perfumes was still more art than science.

Keeping track of combinations that worked well was important. Perfumery as an art goes back at least 5,000 years to the ancient Egyptians, but the first-known written record dates to 1200 BCE in Mesopotamia. Indians, Persians, Arabs and Romans all left written records about making perfumes. The first “modern” perfume, meaning essential oils dissolved in alcohol, was developed in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. So-called Hungary Water became known across Europe but supposedly the recipe was lost (although the 1784 Toilet of Flora mentions it as a remedy to both cleanse and strengthen the body, made from rosemary, pennyroyal and marjoram flowers mixed with conic brandy.

Remember Floris, where this series began? Nearly three centuries of custom-blended formulas are recorded in ledgers stored carefully and still kept strictly secret. Our heroine’s family recipe for the scent she is making in her stillroom (be it personal perfume, smelling salts, or scent for soap) might have been handed down through many generations and could be a family secret. I mentioned Princess Esterhazy’s perfume in Part 3, after discovering this entry in E. Rimmel’s 1867 book on perfumery which calls “Bouquet d’Esterhazy” “an old renowned perfume, a rival of Cologne water; the name derived from a noble Hungarian family.” Two quite different formulas, one French and one German, are given for it.

Household recipe books in the Regency might include perfumes as medicinal remedies, beauty aids or grooming products. Despite the Toilet of Flora’s claim to be “for the ladies”, the separation of particular perfumes into distinct categories as well as the idea of identifying them as male or female was only just beginning in the first quarter of the 19th century.

(applying hair powder –illust from E. Rimmel’s book)


In Part 3 I mentioned Napoleon’s bathing in Eau de Cologne by the gallon. (Apparently he also drank it.) Wikipedia says that he used “Two quarts of violet cologne…each week, and…sixty bottles of double extract of jasmine every month.” You might think that his use of what some consider “feminine” fragrances was eccentric (or simply French), but you would be wrong. During the Regency, barbers might just as easily have used a rose pomade on a man’s hair or a jasmine scented shaving lotion as one with a more “masculine” woody or spice scent.

Interestingly, Napoleon’s wife Josephine was said to have favored musk, a very strong scent, one used often as a base note and fixative in modern men’s scents. The same Wikipedia article says “she used so much that sixty years after her death the scent still lingered in her boudoir.” Other sources say she also liked to use vanilla, woody scents, and imported patchouli and tonka bean (fragrances not now considered as feminine as floral scents would be.) Patchouli (a woody herb in the mint family that smells “musky-sweet”) was also used by the Indian exporters of fine cashmere shawls to scent their products. I read an account of a French maker of imitation shawls who went to great lengths to obtain the scent to make his shawls seem more authentic. (Muslins, too, were scented with a special characteristic sachet powders).

Commemorative medal of Empress Josephine

As with so many other things in the transitional 19th century, assigning gender identity to different scents really sharpened when the large scale commercial production of perfumes and the discovery of synthetics increased the availability of perfumes and inspired marketers to promote the concept. It’s “modern” and also mostly just in Western culture. The fact that our Regency characters could wear any scent they liked free of gender associations presents one of those conundrums we writers run into from time to time—the conflict between what is accurate to the period and what is acceptable to our readers.

If we present our manly romance hero smelling like jasmine or violets, what does that do to his masculine image for the uninitiated reader? Certainly we can solve it by swathing him in the scents of cedar wood and cloves on the basis of his personal preference, but I do wonder if the lack of any specifically “men’s” scents in the Regency period might have led to the controversial use of Bay Rum by heroes in some of our books?

I have a theory, and won’t mind at all if I am proven wrong, but I just wonder if the idea of Bay Rum for Regency heroes might have started with Georgette Heyer. Does anyone know? I think I used it in one of my early books, and know I’ve read it in others. It sounds rather manly, doesn’t it? It did become popular in the 19th century and was still very popular for men when GH was writing, so the theory doesn’t seem crazy.

bay tree oil and leaves


The truth about Bay Rum is more complicated than you might think. The reason is simple: bay tree (aka bay berry tree) leaves were used for a variety of purposes for centuries by native West Indies people without any particular written record. (note this is not the same leaf or plant as the bay leaves used in European cooking). Islanders used the leaves as an aromatic, fumigant, and insect repellent, hanging branches in their homes or burning the leaves to drive away mosquitoes. They used it as an emollient sponged on the skin to fight fevers or pain, but also to heal cuts or bruises, as the oil has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties besides being soothing and refreshing. They believed it could stimulate hair growth and fight dandruff. Slaves and pirates rubbed the leaves on their skin to heal sunburn and in close living quarters to fight body odors from long hours of hard work under a hot sun.

Bay rum smells so good it has been touted as an anti-depressant, creating a sense of well-being and confidence. Scents commonly identified with it include cinnamon, clove, allspice, oak, sweet vanilla, eucalyptus, musk, and other spices.

No one knows for certain when or by whom the leaves were first soaked in rum to extract and liquefy the oils and prolong the scent, but production of “Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil” in the West Indies dates to the early 17th century. Was it rum-swilling pirates as some theorize? Native islanders? Or slaves whose labor produced the rum? At any rate, it seems likely that a basic form of bay rum was known and in use in the islands soon after. No one knows when other ingredients such as lime or spices were first added, either. Certainly, the British were intimately involved with slavery and trade in the West Indies, so the local cure-all must have been known to them.

antique print -St John (public domain)

Does this mean your Regency hero can wear Bay Rum? Probably not (unless he’s a pirate, or…). Given the mindset of most 19th century British men, the fact that the local people or the slaves used it might automatically taint it as unfit/unfashionable for their own use. I suspect supply was also an issue, as it was most likely only produced within households for the locals’ own use. It was not available commercially.

That only changed sometime after 1838, when a Danish chemist (Albert Heinrich Riise) in the islands began exploring the distillation process and refined the technique and recipe for producing bay rum as a standardized, diluted commercial product. (On this basis some sources claim he “invented” it.) He started selling it under the name A.H. Riise Apothecary, primarily as a cologne/after-shave and manufactured in large quantities. How long this took is not clear, but by 1861 bay rum was well-known in the U.S. but still little-known in Europe, according to an article about it in the American Journal of Pharmacy. That Riise won awards for it (the Centennial Medal in 1876, plus awards in New Orleans and Chicago) can’t be disputed. Nor can the fact that it gained a foothold in Britain at about that time, and became a standard offered in barbershops in the late Victorian era and into the early 20th century. As mentioned, very popular at the time Georgette Heyer was writing. It is still sold today by quite a few companies.

We’ve one more important aspect about this topic I didn’t want to skip—the amazing bottles used to hold and store the perfumes. I’ll be posting about that in Part 5 on June 14. I’ll include a list of more sources, too, but here are a few I recommend:

An excellent and comprehensive source for more information about scent and perfumes is:

For more about essential oils and aromatherapy (also a great fragrance wheel), try:

For more about the classification of different scents and their qualities, try:

Or this site, which has posts about individual scent ingredients as well as interesting history notes by each century.

Note: all images without attribution in this post are sourced from public domain through Wikimedia Commons.

Did you learn something you didn’t already know in today’s post? Have any answers to my questions? I invite you to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

We’ve already covered so much in the first four parts of this series since April (see links below), but there’s one more aspect of this topic I just can’t leave out: how to store the scents that were either purchased or home-made. The fabulous perfume containers used by Regency people who could afford them are works of art in themselves, but they also served an important purpose. After all the trouble and expense of creating a wonderful perfume, what good was it if you couldn’t keep it long enough to enjoy using it?

Labradorite, gold, & cameo decorated 18th c bottles

As we saw in Part 1 about Floris (the famous 18th century London perfumery that is still in business), records show that their wealthy clients often brought in their own containers to be refilled on the premises with their custom-blended signature scent. Preserving the quality of those scents was paramount. Let’s see what some of those containers might have looked like! But let’s also consider the practicalities of the storage problem and take a quick glimpse of how past ages met the problem, too.

Scent essential oils need to be protected from four things: air, light, heat, and contamination from other scents. Perfumes combine any number of these oils, but the combined scent achieved must still be protected. A wide variety of materials and sealant techniques have been used since the earliest times to accomplish these aims.

Despite Shakespeare’s eloquence, glass was not always the most ideal choice, especially once distilling in alcohol or using a vinegar base for certain perfumes was introduced, as those substances could etch or erode the glass. Still, glass remained one of the popular choices along with types of stone (alabaster, agate, rock crystal, travertine marble, laboradite), ceramics (faience, terra-cotta, porcelain), metals (silver, gold, even copper in very early periods, and later enameled metal). Historically, scent containers have often been as much—or more–of a luxury item than the perfumes to put in them!

The Egyptians learned glass-making from Mesopotamia, and used both core-formed glass, stone and ceramics for their perfume containers. The lids or stoppers are less well-documented; they may have used wood, leather, straw or clay that did not survive the ages. The Greeks were fond of ceramic containers in shapes from nature, but also used core-formed glass. It was the Romans who invented the technique of blown-glass, and the path to modern glassware opened.

6th century Greek perfume containers
Roman blown glass perfume bottles

By the 16th and 17th centuries, the growing popularity of liquid perfumes meant scent bottles became more elaborate…. And by the 18th century the trends in perfume containers followed the prevailing trends in art. This means a wide variety including enamels and porcelain, but also gold and any combination of fine materials including gemstones and pearls…

1) A small scent bottle meant to be worn as a pendant, of agate, gold, and gemstones (rubies). This 17th-century bottle was added to in later years. (Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  

2) Two distinctly different styles of 18th century French ceramic perfume bottles

German and English porcelain in shapes were popular, and many bottles came with their own case, which protected from breakage but also helped protect clear glass bottles from light. This “figurine” style bottle from the mid-18th century (below), is something a Regency miss might have been given by her grandmother!  The auction description notes: “2¾in (7cm) long Derby porcelain perfume bottle and stopper, decorated with a striped cat pursuing two turtle doves up a tree, the base with a seal of a prancing horse and angel. In a shaped leather case”

Elsewhere I found mention that “[perfume bottles] began to be produced in cut glass patterns in the Georgian period, whereupon they were sold in fitted plush-lined cases…. Typically, scent bottles in the 19th century were crafted out of cut glass and then topped off with silver lids. These early glass examples were often made in a flask-shape, and featured a fine chain for suspending them on a chatelaine.”

The pair below have gold tops, which probably cover a smaller glass stopper inside with a ground glass shank to make it as air-tight as possible. (Cork was never used, because it has an odor of its own that could corrupt or contaminate the original perfume in the bottle.)

Ground glass stoppers seem to have been in use from quite early –that’s a side rabbit hole I did not successfully navigate! But at times both the stoppers and the bottle necks might have been covered with animal membrane or vegetable parchment to improve the tight fit, and an outer cap of white glove leather could have been added, as protection from evaporation.

Pendant-style mini-perfume bottles that could be worn (or carried in one’s reticule) continued to be popular throughout the 19th century.

A few more examples of Regency-era bottles that reflect the changing taste of the times:

Regency era perfume bottles (1,2,3, below)

1) an “Empire” brass and crystal perfume bottle. The French particularly favored crystal and cut glass.

2) an oval Louis XVI perfume bottle in gold and enamel decorated in a similar style as pocket watches and snuff boxes of the period often were, “the blue ground inset with a grisaille portrait, and classical figure on the reverse” with jewels (real or paste) decorating the stopper and borders.” (auction description) Note: the gold metal top is probably not the “stopper” but a removable lid/cover that protects and helps to hold the stopper in place. It is probably glass. Such lids often had a chain to keep it attached to the bottle.

3) this one is made of rock crystal with elaborate gold casing.

 Two examples of enamel work: (left) an “18th century Bilston (South Staffordshire) pear-shaped enamel perfume bottle, with topper and chain” and (right) German, also 18th century and formed like an actual pear.

As the 19th century progressed, perfume bottles became another medium for designer artwork and styles became identified with particular perfume brands. But the market also opened up for less expensive perfumes and customers with far more modest incomes, so perfume containers had to be created that would still be attractive and perform the necessary protection while costing less. Today’s perfumes are far less volatile because of the synthetics used in them, but they are still subject to evaporation due to the alcohol content. Wouldn’t you love to have perfume in a fabulous container like some of these beautiful old classics?

In this series I have introduced you to the fascinating world of Regency perfumery, but by necessity I have left a great deal unexplored. Vinaigrettes, for instance. Scented vinegars (aka “toilette vinegars”) were made by combining scent essences with white wine vinegar—rose, for example, or essence of orange-flowers. Smelling salts were developed with the discovery that ammonia crystals, mixed with certain compatible scents, lasted much longer than the liquid variety of smelling bottle or vinaigrette with a soaked sponge. Scents related to rose, nutmeg and cinnamon were recommended. One recipe I saw also used bergamot, lavender, and clove in addition.

I also didn’t talk about all the various kinds of products that were scented in the 18th and 19th centuries. All kinds of toiletry items, of course, including “Venetian chalk” (face powder) and freckle lotions, but my favorites are the items like scented writing desks, sewing baskets, and various boxes for storing other items. How did they make the scent last? These items had no space to accommodate the actual source of the scent.

They did it ingeniously: a piece of very thin leather, such as chamois, or heavy blotting paper was soaked in the desired perfume and then additionally treated with the scent, allowed to dry, and then was encased in a very thin  silk cover, creating a sort of “perfume skin.” This could then be inserted into a desk pad or incorporated into the cover of a sewing basket, stationary or handkerchief box lid, or placed amidst sheets of stationary. They also used perfumed pastes to rub scent into leather goods like belts or other items.

To read more:

Candice Hern’s website has four separate articles worth reading, and she includes good bibliographies:

Other articles online (there are many more):


Edmund Launert, Scent and Scent Bottles, Barrie & Jenkins, 1974.

Heiner Meininghaus and Christa Habrich, Five Centuries of Scent and Elegant Flacons, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 1998.

I highly recommend the following, both of which are available from Googlebooks:

Eugene Rimmel, The Book of Perfumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1867

The Toilette of Flora, London: J. Murray and W. Nicoll, 1784

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this series! A deep dive down a rabbit hole, but the exploration has been fun. Here are the links to the other four articles in the “Smelling Sweet in the Regency” series and the dates they appeared here at the Risky Regencies blog:

Part 1: Beyond Floris April 12, 2021

Part 2: Beyond Floris part 2 (Stillroom Magic) April 26, 2021

Part 3: Making Sense of Making Scents May 10, 2021

Part 4: The Art of Mixing Scents, Scents for the Sexes, and the Truth about Bay Rum May 24, 2021

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