Perfume bottles, perhaps more so than any other category of container, present antique collectors with a wide variety of types and styles to choose from. Collections can easily be built featuring both rare and beautiful bottles, but identifying these bottles can be a difficult mystery to solve. By discerning the unique features of a bottle, such as the type of glass, the style of stopper, and the manufacturer's marks, it then becomes possible to determine the age, rarity and value of a previously unidentified perfume bottle.
The first and easiest feature to spot of any bottle is its size. Generally speaking, the size of a bottle will be a strong indicator as to whether the container in question was a perfume bottle or another type of decorative glass bottle. Most perfume bottles will hold only a few ounces, but a larger display bottle (called a factice) may hold quite a bit more.
Many bottles will be marked to identify the contents. These markings can include label stickers, tags, stamped lettering, or enamelled lettering. Other marks, found on the bottom of the bottle, may indicate the manufacturing company's name, where it was made, and even the year. Not all markings will be easily understood by the novice, such as manufacturer's initials, serial numbers, and logos. Make note of each marking, as each one provides a clue to the age and value of the bottle.
Perfume bottles may have a range of unique features, from cork-style stoppers to squeeze-bulb atomisers. Some of these features will be essential in determining the age of the bottle, while others will greatly affect the market value of the piece. Glass tops with cork stoppers, for example, indicate that a bottle was made between 1870 and 1920. Plastic, Lucite, and Bakelite stoppers weren't in use until the 1930s.
While clear glass was used in many perfume bottles, it was certainly not the only material used. Porcelain and ceramic containers were both common during certain eras, and glass came in a variety of types and colours. Hand-blown glass bottles are quite rare, and each one is a unique, handcrafted item. Leaded glass crystal is also common, but it largely gave way to newer, cheaper manufacturing techniques in the 20s and 30s.
Identifying the specific types of glass is a matter of noticing the fine details. Small bubbles and irregularities in the glass may indicate it was hand blown. Hard edges distinguish hand-cut crystal from moulded imitations. Seam lines along the edges of a bottle can indicate newer manufacturing processes.
Finally, after you've found several unique identifying features on the bottle, it's time to turn to an antique identification guide. These guides are compiled by experts in antique identification, and will often to help you to not only identify the specimen, but also to find a general market price for the bottle.
Even if you collect older bottles, it's important to familiarise yourself with the features of newer bottles so as to avoid paying too much for a newer reproduction.
Don't buy a bottle until you are sure of its value and condition. It's easy to pay too much for an unidentified bottle. Buying from trusted antique dealers and having items independently appraised will help ensure that you only purchase quality pieces.