Thursday, November 20, 2014

Black Americana/Memorabilia Perfumes

The following posting is based on historical and relevant perfume information on Black Americana/Memorabilia and is not intended to offend or upset anyone, but rather used as a reference guide.

Black Americana themed perfume bottles remain some of the lesser known collectibles on the market but are slowly gaining in popularity. Once thought of as offensive, they are now being seen as important historical Black Memorabilia and collectors of all races seem to enjoy the little caricatures that were at one time based on stereotypes. Perfume bottles, related trade cards, perfume labels, powder boxes and other related items would look interesting when all grouped together in a vignette.



The height of the Negro themed perfume bottles was in the late teens and into the 1920s. With ragtime music already being played, Jazz was seen as something new and exciting. When French star Gaby Deslys returned home from performing abroad, she brought with her the first all black Jazz band and interest in things Negro related were beginning to be produced. The French saw the band as novel and were readily accepting them while Americans were shunning them.

In America, the blacks were being stereotyped into everything from watermelon eaters, alligator wrestlers, chubby mammies, black horse jockeys and parodied by black faced minstrel shows. Today, these portrayals may seem politically incorrect to some, but to others they represent some of the early histories of the Africans in America.

Elsewhere, the glamourous black American singer and dancer, Josephine Baker and her all Black Jazz band revue toured Paris and gained even more popularity. This led to Negro influenced jewelry, fashions, artwork and other items began to be manufactured by the French.

AS you can see from this vintage 1920s perfume label, it features an image of Josephine Baker, under the image is her name, Josephine Baker. The image used on the label comes directly from a famous photo of Baker holding a toy elephant. The embossed gold foil perfume label was made by the German firm Gerhardt Tetlow for an unknown perfumery company.





Le Golliwogg by Vigny:

The best known Black Memorabilia perfume bottle is the adorable Le Golliwogg by Vigny Perfumeries of Paris, France in the 1920’s. The bottle design and name Golliwogg are directly inspired by a character created by Florence K. Upton around the turn of the century. The English writer based her books on a popular American rag doll. Vigny took the idea and applied it to their perfume line and advertised Le Golliwogg as a “lucky lil fella” and the fragrance as “the perfume of romance.” Michel de Brunhoff was the creative genius who designed all of the Art Deco figural bottles and labels.

Vigny’s bottle stoppers were of black glass molded with wide open eyes and a large smiling mouth enameled in red. The top of the stopper was fitted with real seal fur which is not always intact on bottles found today. The rarest of all bottles, were the first presentations which had no hair, these are not to be confused with the stoppers found today missing their hair. The bottle, itself, was made by Verreries Brosse and the satin glass bottle was the first made in the series of bottles that were to change over the years. Later bottles were made up of clear glass. Baccarat produced two bottles for the perfume, one is cylindrical #524, and the other a large round, disk shaped bottle #378.

Le Golliwogg’s famous bottle came in several sizes ranging from a miniature of just 2 ¼” tall to the largest, the deluxe size, which stood 4” tall. Other products in the range included: face cream, face powder, lotion, and rectangular shaped bottles with stoppers fitted with long daubers. A small bronze and enamel pin can often be found with Golly’s cute face. This same motif can be found as a matching metal pendant inscribed with "Vigny Golliwogg" and "Lucky Charm."

The bottle shown on the left is being sold by Stonegate Antiques on Trocadero. The bottle on the right is the Baccarat flacon version of Vigny's Golliwogg and features Golly's face on the label. Baccarat #378 from 1919.

Other lesser known perfumes:

Jasmine by Cameo features a black celluloid stopper in the shape of a stylized black face wearing a top hat, this design must have been inspired by the black minstrel shows so popular at the time. I believe that this bottle may have held other scents possibly by other perfume companies or by Cameo. Photo by eBay seller sylviastresures

Both Golliwogg and Jasmine both feature googly eyed faces with broad smiling red mouths.

Another perfume bottle was made up of glass molded in the shape of an alligator, with an open mouth, its stopper was a stylized African American’s head. During this time, alligators and negros seemed to go hand in hand, shown in a lot of advertising, postcards, valentines and cartoons as well as cast iron banks, and small porcelain novelties made in Germany, Japan and in the USA.

From the early 1900s up until around the 1930s, companies in Germany were producing very thin walled and ultra delicate glass bottles in figural shapes, often of animals, birds and sometimes people, these bottles were used for both perfume and liquor. But every once in awhile, one can find the little fragile Negro figural bottles. Most bottles ranged in size from 2” and up. These bottles were usually sold empty to perfumers in the USA and France, who would then use the bottles to package their own perfumes. I believe that a majority of these bottles were based on the popular Kewpie figures that were painted black and named Hottentots.

This cute German scent bottle was recently sold by Stonegate Antiques on Trocadero. Their description is as follows: ”In excellent condition, this little piece of vintage Black Memorabilia, features hand-painted legs, hands, and a very sweet and whimsical face! This piece is diagonally incised "Germany" across the back of the bottle and dates to the 1930's. These sweet little bottles typically experienced a second life as Christmas tree ornaments once their contents were exhausted, and thus, not many survive today!”

One cannot speak about Black Memorabilia without mentioning the first female millionaire, the progressive African American businesswoman and entrepreneur, Madame CJ Walker. Madame Walker created her own perfume and toiletry business and employed blacks to sell her products via door to door. This gave her black American employees a sense of pride, independence and accomplishment that they might not have found elsewhere due to the prejudices and restrictions that were placed on them during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations....I have built my own factory on my own ground." 
-Madam Walker, National Negro Business League Convention, July 1912

Parfumerie Chamberry of Belgium, circa 1920-1925 had a beautiful perfume label featuring a young black child's head as a prominent design motif.

The “So Sweet” perfume by Corning & Tappan NY featured a label on the front with a pair of little Black Kids sharing a peppermint stick,. This perfume came out in 1880 and may have been discontinued by 1900. The actual perfume name is “Tho Thweet”, a reference to black dialect with a lisp.

Shown below is a darling vintage glass perfume bottle with a hand painted wooden head stopper; representing a Southern Black mammy figure dressed in a colorful silk dress featuring black faces and watermelon slices. Introduced in 1938, the perfume Picanette was marketed by Karoff (a division of Stuart Products Co.).

Shown above is an adorable celluloid solid perfume pot with the same head as the Jasmine by Cameo perfume bottle. This little perfume pot is marked “Parfume Chypre Concentrate “.

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