Could Your Antique Perfume Bottles Be Worth Thousands of Dollars? Maybe, Say Collectors
Perfume is one of the most powerful cosmetics around. With just a spritz, it can unlock memories, make us feel glamorous, and even serve as a prelude to romance. There’s also a lovely sense of ritual that comes with spraying perfume, and picking up a pretty glass bottle is an easy way to channel classic Hollywood elegance. It’s no surprise, then, that antique perfume bottles are highly sought after collectibles — even if the bottle is empty, and the scent within dissipated long ago. If you have an antique perfume bottle you stumbled upon at a flea market or inherited from a relative, you might be curious to know about its monetary value. Here’s what to look out for.
What is an antique perfume bottle?
Perfume has been around for thousands of years. With such a long history, it's no wonder there's a wide variety of containers out there. Ancient, intricately decorated perfume bottles — like this Egyptian bottle featuring the image of a princess — are on display in museums; there’s even a museum dedicated entirely to the history of perfume in France. While you’re unlikely to come across an ancient perfume bottle in the wild, you may encounter an antique one.
In order to be considered antique, an object must be at least 100 years old. So if you have a perfume bottle from 1923 or earlier, you’re in luck. These bottles typically have glass stoppers or gold-tone metal screw caps, and are notable for their striking shapes that embody iconic aesthetic trends like the graceful femininity of Art Nouveau or the boldness of early Art Deco. The design of antique perfume bottles was often more creative than what you might see today — there are bottles shaped like hearts, grapes, people, and even lizards.
What makes an antique perfume bottle valuable?
Antique perfume bottles are prized by collectors, particularly those with an interest in 19th and early-20th century design. Collectors see these bottles as art, and there’s even an International Perfume Bottle Association (IPBA), which bills itself as “the world’s foremost association devoted to the education, promotion, and collection of perfume bottles and vanity items.”
The first thing you’ll want to do to get a sense of your bottle’s value is confirm its date. The IPBA has a comprehensive guide. If your bottle is a true antique, it will likely have its name and place of origin or a set of numbers stamped or etched somewhere on the glass.
There are specific perfume bottle designers that are particularly valuable. These include:
Baccarat. This design house has been around since 1764, and boasts that they have “the highest number of award-winning Best Craftsmen in France, more than any other French luxury House.”
Cristal Nancy. This manufacturer was established in 1921, and is known for their luxurious crystal bottles. An economic crisis forced them to close in 1934, and they were then acquired by Baccarat.
Cristal Romesnil. This designer produced the well-known perfume bottles for Guerlain fragrances in the 1920s.
Lalique. Founded in 1888 by René Lalique, this design house began creating perfume bottles in 1905, in collaboration with François Coty (a man known as the “father of modern perfumery”). According to Lalique’s site, “their work together revolutionized the perfume industry and made it possible for the first time to offer perfumes in attractive bottles at affordable prices.”
Gaillard. These bottles were designed by Lucien Gaillard, and used for perfumes by Clamy and Violet.
J. Viard. In the 1920s, designer Julien Viard created bottles for Richard Hudnut, Isabey, Favolys, and Langlois.
All of these French perfume bottle artisans were skilled in creating stunningly shaped bottles that have stood the test of time as true objets d’art.
How much can antique perfume bottles sell for?
Antique perfume bottles can bring in thousands, or even tens of thousands. Since 1990, the IPBA has had a yearly auction. In their 2022 auction, a rare Lalique bottle from 1912 sold for $84,000. The bottle had been featured on a 2005 episode of Antiques Roadshow. Most of the highest-selling bottles in this auction were ones emblematic of Art Deco style, like a 1926 Lucien Gaillard bottle that sold for $20,400 and a 1928 Julien Viard bottle that sold for $27,000. In 2021, the IPBA set a record high, when a 1914 Baccarat bottle sold for an eye-popping $102,000.
Parting Thoughts (and Smells!)
If you have a bottle from one of the designers mentioned above, you might be able to sell it for more than you expect. The better condition your bottle is in, and the more beautiful its design, the more likely it is to net you a substantial sum. If you want to get an appraisal of a bottle, you may want to reach out to an IPBA member — while the organization itself does not offer appraisals, they have a list of contact information for reputable dealers and appraisers who can help you determine whether you have a masterpiece on your hands. We hope your antique perfume bottle journey is filled with all the beauty and intrigue of a bygone era.