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Vintage Perfumes For Sale

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ahmed Soliman and Shimy Brothers Perfumes

In this guide I will introduce you to the world of the vintage perfumes by Ahmed Soliman & the Shimy Brothers Perfume Companies of Egypt.

These two competitors catered to the higher end of the tourist trade. Both Ahmed Soliman & the Shimy Brothers perfumes are very rare finds today, and command very high prices when offered at auction. From the pictures below, you can see the various types of perfume bottles that can be found.

Ahmed Soliman

Ahmed Soliman El Mowardi (1906-1956) had a perfumery located at the Khan-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, Egypt during the first half of the 20th century. Ahmed Soliman marketed himself as "Cairo's Perfume King". Though established in 1838, the 1920s were the height of his perfumes popularity. Ahmed Soliman's shop, the Palace of Perfumes also carried other items such as incense, kohl, ambar cigarettes, ambar paste and ambar gum.

Still today, nobody in Cairo has been able to surpass the quality of the perfumes that Ahmed sold in the store of the bazaar Khan the Khalili. There were imitators of Ahmed Soliman who tried to cash in on using the name Soliman for their own perfumes. A similar sounding competitor was "Mahmoud Soliman & Son" of Tarbiah Street in Cairo. Ahmed was fed up with this and a vintage advertisement states that:

"Do not be misled! Remember two words--Ahmed Soliman. Owing to the great number of designing merchants who vainly try to imitate my wares-an impossibility owing to their excellence- and furthermore use a name similar to mine in order to deceive  I have registered in the Courts of Law to obviate such deception entirely. I therefore advise my clients to take great care that my FULL NAME is printed on each article that comes out of my store."

"The Flower, Spice, Fresh Fruit & Blended Perfumes, in their suggestive loveliness are incomparable and are acknowledged to be the best obtainable."

Oakland Tribune, 1925:
"Perfume of a Thousand Gardens by William Johnston.  
Ask any one who never has been to Egypt who the celebrities of that country are? Very likely they will name first Howard Carter, the man who opened up the tomb of young Tutankhamun, and think next of Lord Allenby, the British Governor, whose name they recall because of the fame he acquired by capturing Jerusalem. If you insist that they name celebrities Egyptian by birth, they will rack [sic] their brains and perhaps remember King Faud or possibly Zaghoul Pasha, the leader of the opposition to British rule.  
Ask anyone who has been been to Egypt the same question. The chances are that the first celebrity named is Ahmed Soliman.  
Ahmed Soliman is no King, nor even a Prime Minister. He is just the keeper of a little shop in the native bazaars in Cairo. But today, largely on the strength of his interesting personality, he undoubtedly is the most widely known of all present-day Egyptians both in Europe and America.  
In this fascinating land customs have changed little in centuries. Businesses are handed down from father to son. Things continue much as they were one thousand, two thousand, four thousand years ago.  
Ahmed Soliman, as were his father and his grandfather, and countless generations before him, is a vender of perfumes. In the fertile oasis of Fayoum in the Egyptian desert, his family for generations have been by carefully guarded secret processes extracting the perfume oils for which the Near East is famous - attar of roses, double jasmine, narcissus, orange blossom and heliotrope. From father to eldest son in each generation is handed down the treasured parchment where quaintly written sentences in Arabic give the instructions necessary to make the incense of Araby and the lotus flower oil.  
Nearly a century ago the family set up a little shop in Khan el Khalili Bazaar in Cairo; and to that shop, barely twelve feet square now comes all the world. Practically no American or European ever visits Cairo without going to see Ahmed. All day long he sits in a corner of his little bazaar, dispensing his priceless oils. They are ot perfumes. Even the great Paris perfumes are customers of Ahmed., sending for his oils to use in manufacturing the delicate scents they markey in quaint bottles under still quainter names.  
The oils are sold practically by the drop ten dollars for a tiny vial, but a single drop on a handkerchief will scent it for a month. In the jars, ranged about the walls of the tiny shop is a stock of oils, flowers perfumes, spice, scents, incense, fresh fruit odors, worth a half million dollars.  
Within the shop there are divans about the walls, over which are thrown ancient rugs from Persia and Arabia. In one corner sits Ahmed, bland, smiling, hospitable. He makes no effort to sell you his wares, or even to exhibit them, but politely urges you to have some coffee. You assent and he claps his hands. A native boy is despatched to the nearby coffee shop, returning presently with a tray of delicious Turkish coffee. Or you may have Persian tea, if you prefer, served in quaintly shaped glasses. Perhaps he may even stir into your cup a tiny dab of amber paste, peculiar Oriental preparation made from ambergris, that lends a faint perfume to the coffee or tea, and is supposed to have rejuvenating powers.  
“Perfume oils” - It is always you, not Ahmed, who brings up the subject of business. He brings forth a bottle of the precious oil and barely gives a touch of the cork to the sleeve of madam;s coat. Instantly the whole neighborhood is pervaded by a scent, delicious, fragrant, compelling.  
A stout young man with a monocle, accompanied by two secretaries, passing, pauses to wave a greeting to Ahmed, which he smilingly returns. It is Prince Leopold of Prussia. Ahmed probably knows in person half the royalties of Europe, and has the other half for customers, but never boasts about his acquaintances. A dozen Kings and Queens have sat on the divan where you are sitting, the Prince of Wales, too, and countless Princesses but anything you wish to know about h them has to be dragged out o Ahmed. He never gossips about his clients.

That elderly English couple who were just in here - that lady who bought the hundred pounds worth of perfume oils - weren’t they Lord and Lady Jellicoe?”
“Oh yes,” he answers carelessly, “they always come here when they are in Cairo.”  
A wonderful salesman is Ahmed. When you are in his shop, you are the only person he is concerned with. Did you have a good night’s rest? Are you enjoying Cairo? Is there anything he can offer you that will add to your comfort? Even though a Prince passes by, he seems interested only in you.  
“The King of Spain?”  
“Oh yes, he send to me frequently for cigarettes. Let me rub your sleeve with this Shem-el-Messim.”  
Quiet, suave, unobtrusive, hospitable, Ahmed Soliman, speaking seven languages fluently, has made friends for himself among the great personages of all nationalities who visit Cairo. Still in the early thirties, he has become almost the dictator of the bazaars, disputes between merchants and European or American customers over prices frequently being referred to him for adjustment.  
Yet with it all he seems curiously lacking in ambition. A true Oriental he has nothing of the American spirit of progress or expansion.  
“I would think,” I said to him, “with your wide acquaintance and your many friends in other lands, you would extend your business, that you would open branches in Paris, in London in New York,”  
“Why should I?” he answered with a shrug of his shoulders.” Everyone comes to me here. I’m doing very well.”  
And if everyone who goes to Cairo pays him as much as I did for six little vials of his oils, I suspect he is.”

The perfumes were compounded in Egypt, but the bottles were imported from Czechoslovakia. Most of the bottles are decorated with rich gilding and vibrant enamels of Egyptian gods & goddesses, or stylized Egyptian motifs. Some stoppers have faceted glass jewels.

As you can see below, a rare silver overlay bottle is pictured. The bottles would be housed in elegant leather covered and silk lined presentation cases or simple celluloid, Bakelite or wooden (treen) cases.

Two perfume bottles for Ahmed Soliman, circa 1920s, in red and green crystal, with enameled detail, jeweled metal screw caps, in a sumptuous box. L 7 1/2". Photo by Rago Arts

Single Flower Perfumes from Ahmed Soliman:
  • Lotus Flower 
  • Attar of Roses
  • Jasmine
  • Violet
  • Double Jasmine
  • Heliotrope
  • Verbena
  • Gardenia
  • Lotus
  • Morning Glory
  • Orange Blossom
  • Black Narcissus
  • Narcissus
  • Banana
  • Bittersweet
  • Fotna (Mimosa)
  • Lilac
  • Golden Wattle
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Carnation

Perfume Blends from Ahmed Soliman:

  • Tutankhamon Pharaoh Scent [sic]
  • Secret of the Desert
  • Harem Perfume
  • Shem El-Nessim
  • Queen of Egypt
  • Fragrant Flowers
  • Nefertiti
  • Kino
  • Heliotropium
  • Fotna
  • Ramses IV
  • Le Caire
  • The Flower of the Sahara
  • Queen Hatasu
  • Arabian Night
  • Christmas Scent
  • Scent of Araby
  • Omar Khayyam
  • Bitter Sweet
  • Morning Glory
  • Ahmed Soliman
Spice Scents from Ahmed Soliman:
  • Sandal Wood
  • Antique Ambar [sic]
  • Royal Ambar
  • Amber Kashmir
  • Musk
  • Ambar
  • Amber
  • Frankincense

"Incense prepared by Ahmed Soliman is a most wonderful agent for creating that real, fascinating Eastern atmosphere. Inferior incense should be avoided."

Incense from Ahmed Soliman:
  • Incense of Araby
  • Sandlewood [sic]
  • Ambar
  • Mecca
  • Rose Jasmine
"Kohl has been used by harem ladies since time immemorial to beautify the eyes, is also found in its purest form at the Palace" 

Kohl from Ahmed Soliman:
  • Cleopatra
  • Fascination
  • Hareem
  • Blue
  • Black

"Ambar gum restores a lustre to the skin and imparts a delicate perfume to the body. Only Ahmed Soliman has it in his Palace of Perfumes."

"Ambar Paste:" the elixir of youth is perhaps the most Oriental of all my preparations. The effect is enchanting, seductive and the taste is delicious. Although delightful for all ages owing to its curious and pleasant flavor, and it's healthy blood-warming properties-the Genuine Ambar Paste is a veritable Open Sesame to elderly people who would, for a time, re-enter the portals of the realm of youth"

The Shimy Brothers

The Shimy Brothers Perfumery of Cairo also produced fine perfumes in exquisite flacons during the same time period. These bottles are nearly indistinguishable from Ahmed Soliman's unless your pieces are marked. Shimy Brothers sometimes had the words "The Artistic Perfumers- Port Said - Cairo - Luxor - Egypt" either on the bottles or on the velvet presentation boxes. A calling card inserted within the presentation box advertised "Mr. A. Shimy. Proprietor, Address: Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo."

Like the ones for Soliman, these bottles were of high quality Czechoslovakian crystal and came in various glass colors and were decorated with hand enameled scenes and figures. The bottles were topped off with gilded brass filigree caps which had faceted glass jewels. Sometimes you will find the vials marked on the sides or base made in Czechoslovakia or Czechoslovakia will be on a little plaque on the cap.

Some of the Shimy perfumes were: Sahara Jasmin, most bottles are unmarked.

last two photos by ebay seller  lalm1

Mahmoud Soliman & Son:

Mahmoud Soliman & Son were located at Tarbiah Street in Cairo around the 1920s-1940s. From what surviving perfumes bottles I have seen of their company, they seem to have used the simple clear glass dram sized bottles and celluloid, and wooden travel cases just like Ahmed Soliman and the Shimy Brothers. But I did see a metal case. Another bottle I have found is a clear glass bottle with cobalt blue stripes, this bottle had a glass stopper with attached dauber and was most likely made in Germany during the 1920s and came in  treen case. 

So far I have only seen a few scents with the Mahmoud name: No. 5,  Jasmin, and Verbena.

A note enclosed along with the Verbena perfume bottle: 
"Directions For Use. This perfume is concentrated. Handkerchiefs or clothes should only be touched with the stopper every two or three days.  If desired, this essential oil may be diluted by mixing: 1 gr of essence, 16 grs of alcohol, 4 grs of water. It will then be of equivalent strength to European perfumes."

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