Collecting Minature Perfume Bottles

Small scent holders offer lots of bang for the buck

Miniature Perfume Bottles
Pamela Y. Wiggins

So often the focus of collecting revolves around beautiful items that are awfully expensive to own. It's nice to be able to turn things about and look at collectibles offering lots of affordable options every now and then – like miniature perfume bottles.

Early Miniatures

The progress in manufacturing yielded by the Industrial Revolution made a plethora of new products available to the common man. Until then, only the wealthiest individuals enjoyed life's little luxuries unless they were concocted at home. Among the many choices for late-19th-century consumers were perfumes packaged in attractive glass flacons. It didn't take long for tiny sample-sized bottles to follow in the early 1900s.

The oldest miniature bottles can be fairly hard to come by. And although many of these antique minis hold heavy price tags, dedicated collectors still clamor to own them. For instance, a bottle made by Rene' Lalique measuring just 2 ¾” high that once held “Cigalia” perfume dating to 1924 can sell in the neighborhood of $1,000, and perhaps more if in pristine condition. Other older Lalique bottles are also desirable.

Another older mini prized by collectors is a 2 ½” bottle that contained “Golliwogg” perfume by Vigny of Paris. These can sell in the $500 range even if they have a bit of wear to the label. Other rare figural bottles dating prior to 1950 can sell from $100 and up as well.

And while figurals, those shaped like a person or an object rather than a free-form style, probably get more attention, even bottles with less character can be quite pricey and collectible. Take the vintage boxed perfume “wardrobes” sold by Chanel over many years. The older sets can easily be worth $200 or more when sold with the original boxes.

Many miniature perfume collections, however, are started with bottles that are quite a bit newer and much more affordable.

Modern Perfume Miniatures

Many pretty miniature perfume bottles still roll off assembly lines today filled with the same fragrances as full-sized versions. Gift shops and perfume boutiques offer these for sale complete with miniature boxes. They’re also sold in gift sets during the holidays. Some are given away as premiums with department store cosmetic purchases. And lots of choices, new and older, can be found at flea markets and in collectibles shops or thrift stores.

Once these enter the secondary market, they usually sell from $1-5 apiece. Most Avon mini perfumes of all ages sell in this range as well. But it doesn’t take much age for bottles to appreciate in value, especially if they are rare like the Jean Paul Gaultier Les Editions Originales set of 4 miniatures released in 2000. These bust-shaped minis often sell for $200-300 a set now.

Other bottles with 10-25 years on them, from the late Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds to Christian Dior's Poison, can be found affordably today because they were produced in large quantities. Mini perfumes no longer being made, often because the fragrance fell out of vogue, also turn up at flea markets and estate sales regularly. They don't look brand new and they're often empty, but they’re still considered collectible.

Choosing only figural bottles can narrow this collecting field even further. Whether it's Prince Matchabelli's well known crown-shaped figurals or Avon's whimsical caterpillars, swans and snowmen, delightfully shaped mini bottles display very well together. Or you can focus on colored glass bottles, such as those holding Evening in Paris scents, which are harder to find than clear examples.

Take a look around your own home, too. You might have a few of these forgotten bottles tucked away in bedroom dressing tables and bathroom drawers.

Displaying Mini Perfumes

Although many, many different types of miniature perfumes can be purchased for under $10, that's only part of the appeal. These petite beauties are just right for modest homes and tiny apartments that limit other types of collections. You can literally fit hundreds of them onto small shelves or dresser trays. Small brass and glass cabinets that sit on a shelf or hang on a wall also make a perfect home for dozens of captivating mini perfume bottles.