Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mary Chess Perfumes

Mary Chess of New York City. Established in 1932 by Grace Mary Chess Robinson on Park Avenue, small shop opened in 1933. Mrs. Avery (Grace Chess) Robinson, founded the multi-million-dollar perfume firm under her maiden name. Based in New York City, it was sold before her death in 1964.

She was associated with the long-established fragrance firm of Taylor of London. Her company sold perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries, famous for her Roman bath oils in the 1930s.

Mary Chess was an avid gardener and started making perfumes in New York in 1932 after she was disappointed by the insipid aroma of a bottle of toilet water. She created all her perfumes herself, using natural ingredients and her first perfume was White Lilac. Growing through repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. the enterprise was incorporated in 1932: next year it moved out of its cramped quarters and began producing the floral-scent perfumes for which Mary Chess is probably best known for. By 1934 the Mary Chess name was becoming a proxy for fine women's perfume.

Became a very important perfumer after she introduced "Chess Pieces" in 1938. These figural perfume bottles were in the shape of chess pieces, an artful play on her name. Though expensive, these sets proved popular gifts and were sold well into the 1960s.. The Wheaton Glass Company of Millville, New Jersey produced the glass bottles and pressed figural stoppers for Mary Chess from 1946 to 1948.

Acquired in 1991 by The Fine Fragrances and Cosmetic Group, London

Grace Mary Chess was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of William E. Chess, who owned a local cordage mill. In 1907 she married Avery Robinson, also from Louisville and son of another Louisville mill owner, who had worked for her father after graduating from MIT. In 1920 Chess and Robinson left for London where Robinson was employed as treasurer to the Royal Philharmonic Society.  In London she became famous for her sculpted metal flowers which she sold to the Queen Mother. She founded the Mary Chess Company in 1932.

While in London Chess sent her daughter Carley to study with Nadia Boulanger, despite the composer's pessimistic assessment of the girl's aptitude for music. In the end Carley did not pursue a musical career but instead became a writer of children's books.

Mary Chess also collected antique scent bottles, some of the most exquisite bottles had hinged tops of sterling silver (they are much in demand today). Mary Chess had a big collection of these early scent bottles in silver and gold overlays.

Scribner's Commentator - Volume 5 - Page 30, 1939:
"Smelling salts are returning to favor" is the word from New York's more exclusive perfumers. Mary Chess, the Park Avenue creator of individual scents, has been selling an astonishing number of bottles of smelling salts and muff bottles in recent months. (Muff bottles, as anyone's grandmother will tell you, are slender little bottles with perforated caps on each end; one half of the bottle is filled with lavender to scent up the muff, while the other half is filled with smelling salts.)"


The  perfumes of Mary Chess:
  • 1932 White Lilac
  • 1932 Rose
  • 1932 Heliotrope (heliotrope, bergamot, ylang ylang, vanilla)
  • 1932 Gardenia 
  • 1932 Desert Verbena/Verbena
  • 1933 Chessmen 
  • 1934 Tapestry (an aldehydic floral chypre perfume)
  • 1934 Yram (an oriental perfume)
  • 1934 1001
  • 1935 Autere, relaunched in 1980
  • 1935 Floral Odeurs (a line)
  • 1935 Carnation
  • 1935 Violet-Orris
  • 1935 Lily of the Valley
  • 1935 Violet
  • 1935 Bay
  • 1935 Juniper
  • 1935 Sandalwood/Sandal
  • 1935 Jasmin/Jasmine
  • 1935 Mimosa
  • 1935 Lavender
  • 1935 Rose-Geranium
  • 1936 Woods-at-Night (pungent forest odor perfume)
  • 1937 Cream Perfume
  • 1937 Elizabethan Perfume (a woody-mossy-leafy perfume)
  • 1937 Tuberose
  • 1938 Chess pieces: roi, reine, cavalier, fou, tour
  • 1940 Scented Lacquer (perfumed paint for furniture)
  • 1940 The King of Chessmen
  • 1940 Good News for Men
  • 1940 Vetiver
  • 1940 Green Walnut for Men
  • 1942 Strategy (a aldehydic, spicy, pungent forest blend perfume)
  • 1946 Song (a floral perfume)
  • 1949 Chivalry
  • 1953 Golden Court, chessboard presentation
  • 1956 Souvenir D'un Soir
  • 1958 Rose Geranium
  • 1959 Black Knight
  • 1959 White Knight
  • 1960 Tuilleries
  • 1960 Lazy Mary presentation
  • 1966 Perfume Burner (perfume lamp)
  • 1977 Chess for Men
  • 1978 Chess d’Or
  • Tea Rose
  • Our English Rose
  • Don’t Tell


In 1931, she created the perfume Lilac for the B. Altman department store.


American Glass Packer, 1939:
"Top honors went to the Mary Chess Cosmetics packages. One feature of these was the "exquisite design of the perfume bottles which were appropriately copied from a 17th century chess set." Swindell Brothers, Inc., supplied the bottles."

Drug and Cosmetic Industry, 1939:
"Mary Chess has designed an attractive three drawer package of assorted Roman Bath vials for Christmas selling. It comes in the regular Mary Chess ivory and brown coloring, or in a silver or gilt package for the holidays, and contains 21 vials of the most popular Mary Chess floral fragrances and blends."

Arts and Decoration, 1940:
"Mary Chess sponsors violet— a sweet true odor to go with your tiny flower turban or to complement the violet accessories of your new spring suit. They have sachet, perfume and toilet water, the last-named particularly good since its delicate."

Glass Packer, 1940:
"Scented Lacquer. This original product of Mary Chess Inc., New York, is painted inside drawers, cupboards, linen closets; or, under furniture, to perfume a room. Various scents are available, including Pine or Leather for the wan of the house."

For Easter 1941, she introduced the "Closet Box", a gift box containing her famous scented lacquer, a fragrant paste sachet which you would paint the inside bureau drawers and closets or daub under tables and chairs (the scent would last for about a year) and that it is was a simple matter to wash off the lacquer if you tire of the fragrance, a pair of satin corner sachets (for dress hangers or hat stands), and these came in wonderful scents: Heliotrope, White Lilac, Gardenia, Carnation, Tapestry or Violet. The set was offered for $5.75.

The New Yorker - Volume 21, Issue 2, 1945:
"1001 Perfume By Mary Chess "Where there's a Princess, there must be a France." "1001" Perfume— reflecting the charm and elegance of Columbia's new Technicolor picture, "A Thousand and One Nights." Sapphires and diamonds.."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug 29, 1946:
"This is the story of Mary Chess, a business started in a kitchen, whose products were sold without a salesman, a business built on the firm foundation of loving Care.. If you ever visit the Mary Chess salon at 324 Park avenue, New York, you will notice two lovely flower arrangements. These are the work of Mrs. Avery Robinson, the original Mary chess. And in the Queen’s Dolls’ House in London are to be found some more of these exquisite flowers, this time Lilliputian in size. For when the English people conceived the idea of making the Doll’s House for Queen Mary as an expression of their love, Mrs. Robinson was one of the two Americans asked to contribute.   
Like the Queen of Hearts who made her own tarts Mary Chess cooked up her first batch of cream in her own kitchen with the help of her cook. Since that day back in 1932, her establishment has come a long way. Today her cosmetics are made in a modern laboratory where 150 people are employed. 
Mary Chess just happened. It was Mrs. Robinson’s interest in the beauties of Rome and Greece that led to her putting her finger in the cosmetic pie. There was no attempt to market the first efforts. The little jars were sold to friends who rapidly spread the word about. Being pushed, as it were, into business, Mrs. Robinson decided she must do something about it and the first step was to find an office. (For the many feet finding their way to her door were hard on her carpets.) So she opened up in an apartment off Park avenue and when this became too crowded moved to 128 East Sixty-Sixth street. Here she stayed until 1936 when she moved to the present location.   
The research that led to the establishment of Mary Chess was first responsible for her being the first cosmetic house to make Roman bath oil and a complete line of bath products. One of these , the fragrant sachet, is a favorite of Ethel Barrymore. And her frequent large orders are a mystery to all. “She must eat it.,” they say. “no one could possibly use as much as she orders every two months.” 
Another of Mary Chess’ originals in the scented lacquer, really not a lacque  at all. It’s a paste sachet for scenting dressing table drawers, closets or rooms. And a table painted with this lacquer still retains the scent after four years.  
The charming chess piece perfume bottles are collector’s items and no chess collection is complete without them. They tell the store at Mary Chess of the letter from a professor who explained he was ,king a collection of chess sets. And being a teacher at a small college he knew he would never be able to afford to buy the pieces. Could they please send him any empty bottles they had around? Needless to add, his collection now contains these lovely little glass bottles."



Arts and Decoration, 1948:
"Mary Chess is featuring a frippery in turquoise satin that is a pillow topped by a straw flower bouquet and permeated with Strategy sachet. You put it in the drawer with your underthings remain fragrant and sweet-scented."


How to Keep House, 1949:
"Line dressing-table drawers with fitted sachet pads or use the scented flannel drawer pads made by Mary Chess."

The British Chess Magazine, 1950:
“There is in New York, a perfume shop called “Mary Chess” which dispenses its perfumes in bottles shaped like the various chess pieces. Anything can be bought singly from pawn to King, or one half a chess set. For 8 pawns, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights and King and Queen form one assortment. A pawn costs $1.75 and a King is $25; whilst the sixteen pieces in assorted fragrances are $100. This seems rather an expensive method of assembling a chess set- but everyone to his scent!”

Woman's Home Companion, 1950:
"Mary Chess' gilded filigree Perfume Ball Pin with solid perfume in White Lilac, Tapestry, Strategy, Carnation, Gardenia and Yram. $18.00. In Song $21.50."


Souvenir d'Un Soir:




The bottle is a replica of St. Gauden's Pulitzer Fountain, depicting "Pomona", that stands in New York City at the southeastern corner of Central Park.  Located just in front of the Plaza Hotel and right in front of the Bergdorf Goodman department store. Bergdorf Goodman was the exclusive retailer of Mary Chess.  This presentation was launched in conjunction with an event at the hotel. Two versions of this bottle exist. The larger bottle stands 4 3/4" tall.  The smaller bottle stands 3 1/2" tall.

"May the fountain at the plaza - one of New York's most beautiful landmarks bring back to you  -  The Memory of an Evening - Souvenir d'un Soir" is printed on the back of the hangtag.  









Harper's Bazaar, 1956:
"MARY CHESS- New from France... SOUVENIR D'UN SOIR! A sparkling, modern perfume made exclusively for Mary Chess. French bottle is an exquisite replica of the Plaza Fountain."

The New Yorker, Vol 33,1956
"SOUVENIR D'UN SOIR- A sparkling perfume for day and evening. Exquisite French bottle—a replica of the famous Saint-Gaudens fountain in New York's Plaza. 2 ozs. $45, 1/2 oz. $10, purse Flacon, $5. Aerosol Nuages de Parfum, $5. All plus tax." 

Holiday, 1960:
"Chest of 24 vials of Roman Bath Oils, in 6 different fragrances (4 vials of each). $22."

The New Yorker, 1963:
"MARY CHESS Cream Perfume Compacts New Cream Perfumes- cached in golden compacts to carry or wear on a chain. Enchantingly feminine Mary Chess exclusives . . . in White Lilac, Tapestry, Strategy and Yram. "

House and Garden, 1970:
"LILACS can go on breeding "memory and desire" in Mary Chess's White Lilacs ($6 for a quarter of an ounce)....Mary Chess has a famous Carnation that smells like sugar and spice ($6 for a quarter of an ounce)....Tuberoses are not roses but small creamy -white flowers of the lily family  with an intense, passionate fragrance. Not everyone can wear them, but when you can, wow..Tuberose by Mary Chess ($10 for half an ounce)."


Some info was found on wikipedia.



Mary Chess Perfume Burner, 1966, photo from ebay seller waytopioneer12




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