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Early British Glass Scent Bottles

In this article we take a look at the history of early British glass scent bottles and how designs have changed over the years.

Early Production

Scent bottles were first produced in Britain around the beginning of the 18th century inspired by the European examples being relatively light in weight and flat in form. However, in contrast British examples were produced with a much heavier clear lead crystal and were usually adorned with cut glass decoration or occasionally engraved with inscriptions. As the popularity of scent bottles grew towards the mid 18th century, designs became much more refined and a wider variety of colours were introduced such as blue, green, amethyst and opaque white. In addition to this, the scent bottles were often combined with an identical glass bottle filled with smelling salts to revive those who were feeling faint. Produced in pairs, both bottles would be housed within a robust travelling case usually produced in either leather or shagreen being a form of shark’s skin. Finding both bottles in good condition with the case are relatively rare and considered highly collectable.

Design refinements

During the mid/late 18th century, the main glassmaking areas were situated in both Bristol and Staffordshire. From there the glass bottles would be transported to London to be decorated by leading craftsmen. The bottles would usually be mounted with gold or silver gilt screw tops or caps and applied to the surface with enamels and gilt decoration over the cut glass in a wide variety of styles and patterns with some of the most desirable themes including exotic birds and Chinoiserie subjects. Some rarer more extravagant examples would also be overlaid with pierced gold cage work often chased or embossed.

19th century scent bottles

In the Regency and later Victorian period, a considerable amount of scent and smelling salt bottles were produced for use at home with many designs becoming strongly influenced by the Gothic revival period. A large proportion of scent bottles were mounted with silver tops with most late Victorian period examples having hinged lids. Another variation of the traditional scent bottle was the double ended scent bottle which proved to be very popular. These were typically of faceted cylindrical form and mounted to each side with different patented fastening devices.

Cameo glass

The last notable milestone in the manufacture of British glass scent bottles during the 19th century was the introduction of cameo glass. Thomas Webb & Sons and Stevens & Williams were the two firms instrumental in their production with both employing many highly skilled cameo cutters. Perhaps the most notable cameo cutters were George and Thomas Woodall of Thomas Webb.

If you have any glass scent bottles that you would like to sell or have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, glass specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.