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Vintage Perfumes For Sale

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The history of perfume cannot forget the antique pomander. The pomander, from the French "pomme d'ambre" meaning "amber apple", was a small case which held various herbs, spices or animal derived substances worn for protection and personal scent.

The earliest pomanders were actually balls of ambergris in which were mixed with spices and herbs. These would emit their scent when warmed in the hands and would be carried in the hands or bags. Convenience born out of necessity and the pomander case, henceforth known as the pomander were soon created.

The pomander could be in a variety of shapes, but the most common was a globular shape which would open up and reveal segmented partitions, much like an orange. This orange idea was taken directly from the old fashioned pomanders, the clove studded orange, which was rolled in spices which would hang inside of a closet or other area in the home that would need a little fragrance.

Other pomanders were made up of delicate filigree or ornately perforated to release the precious scents within. The most costly of pomanders were made up of gold, silver or ivory and could be decorated with enameled tracery, portrait plaques or set with jewels. These cases may be further enhanced with ornate chased details of fruits, flowers, figures, animals, scrolling and arabesques.
There are some examples that include other necessities of the day such as compasses, bottles that held liquid perfumes, needle cases, spoons, snuff compartments and vinaigrettes. The lesser expensive pomander cases were made up of brass, carved wood or nut shells. Many pomanders were worn suspended from a belt, bracelet, finger ring, neck chain or chatelaine, others were simply held in the pocket.

Large table pomanders known as pouncet boxes were also present. These held sponges saturated in aromatic vinegars. Sometimes smaller pouncet boxes were attached to the tops of canes of the clergy and doctors who would visit the sick and dying. Curiously, some of the staves of nobles and royalty were also topped by the pouncet box for ceremonial occasions.

The Great Plague saw a major increase in both aromatic vinegar and pomander use. Back then, people believed that most sickness was due to "miasma" or "bad air" and that smelling sweet smelling herbs, pungent vinegars or spices would prevent the "miasma" from entering the body through the nose. Citizens were desperate for anything to help combat the foul air and without today's medical knowledge, readily used anything that was suggested by the doctors of the time.

The 1799 book The Philosophy of Medicine notes that pomanders prescribed for the "richer sort, by the College, contains lignum aloes, which can be of no possible use when enclosed in an ivory box, because it emits its scent only when much heated or burning. Many of the people of Aleppo carry a little ball of Labdanum in their hands, or smell to vinegar in which rue has been steeped."

Pomanders were also employed to combat the stench of the cities, where sewage, animal dung and garbage overflowed the streets. In order to travel the streets without wretching, one would hold the pomander up to their nose and inhale the sweetened scents inside.

The word pomander, as we found earlier derives from the French phrase "pomme d'ambre" which means "apple of ambergris" due to the fact that many pomanders contained the waxy ambergris as an ingredient to protect the wearer from disease or ward off any other pestilences. The "apple" part of the phrase refers to the shape of the pomander, which in some instances be fashioned in an apple, pear or pomegranate shape.  More rare examples are book shaped, or fashioned into sailing ships and more morbidly, skulls that were known as memento mori. Other than the fruit shapes, the most common examples are vase, urn, acorn and egg shapes.

In the case of the segmented pomanders, some of the partitions would be labeled as to the contents within such as the case of some German examples:

  • Rosen (rose)
  • Ruten (rue)
  • Citronen (lemon)
  • Rosmarin (rosemary)
  • Muskaten (nutmeg)
  • Augstein (amber)
  • Thymian (thyme)
  • Schlag (ambergris, musk and civet mixture)
  • Canel (cinnamon)
  • Negelken (cloves)
  • Jnger B (ginger balsam)
  • Majoran (marjoram)
  • Lauendel (lavender)
  • Zimbt (cinnamon)
  • Annis (anise)
  • Meiraen (myrrh)

Other examples have the names of liturgical: Mateus, Johannes, Lucas, Marcus and other may have the names of mythological figures: Venus, Juno, Minerva and Paris.

A Dictionary of the French and English tongues of 1650 describes a pomander as a "sweet ball, pomme de senteur."

The common name for a pomander was a "sweet-ball" as noted in the 1677 book A Large Dictionary, it also mentioned that a pomander was "a preservative against some evil."

The A New Complete English Dictionary of 1770 says that a pomander is a little round ball made of several perfumes; a musk ball."

Ancient Scottish Poems of 1770 mentions that "The French phrase, “Pomme “ d'ambre,” means an amber bead in shape and colour like an apple. Hence the English word pomander. "

Arzneiwissenschaftliches Wörterbuch, 1788:
"Pomambra, Pomum ambrae, Geruchball ein wolriechender Ball der nemlich aus Ambra und andern wolriechen den Substanzen zusammengesetzt ist Es werden mehrenteils der graue Amber, Bisam, Zibeth, Ladanum, Benzoin, gemeiner /Storar, Zimmetöl. Gewürz mittelst des Schleimes eines Gummi grosse apfelförmige Kugeln gebildet um dadurch einen Wolgeruch zu verschaft sen. F. Pastille.G A Smell ball, Pomander, Muske ball. H. Ein Amber bal Reuk-bal."

"Pomambra, Pomum Ambrae, smell ball, perfume, a fragrance ball namely from Amber and others, composed the substances are more part of the gray amber, musk, civet, myrrh, benzoin, common styrax, cinnamon spice, means the mucus of a rubber large apple-shaped balls formed thereby a pleasant smell.  F. Pastille.G. A Smell ball, Pomander, Musk ball. H. An Amber ball, Smell-Ball."

The Elizabethan and Renaissance eras produced some of the finest pomanders of all time. Richly gilded, adorned with jewels, these works of art can be found in many portraits of royals and nobles alike. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I was given several pomanders and in some of her portraits, you can see different examples.

The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, Volumes 5-6, 1867:
 "Perfumes, says Mr. Rimmel, did not come into general use in England until the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Howes, who continued Stowe's Chronicle, tells us that they could not make any costly wash or perfume in this country until about the fourteenth or fifteenth year of the Queen, when the Right Honourable Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford came from Italy, and brought with him gloves, sweet bags, a perfumed leather jerkin, and other pleasant things, and that year, the Queen had a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed only with four tufts or rows of coloured silk. She took such pleasure in these gloves, that she was pictured with them upon her hands, and for many years afterwards it was called the Earl of Oxford's perfume. 
On another occasion, Queen Elizabeth visiting the University of Cambridge, was presented with a pair of perfumed gloves, and was so delighted with them that she put them on at once. She also usually carried with her a pomander or "pomme d'amber", which was a ball composed of ambergris, benzoin, and other perfumes, and she was once mightily pleased with a "faire gyrdle of pomander" which was a series of pomanders strung together and worn round the neck. These pomanders were held in the hand to smell occasionally and were supposed to be preservatives from infection. They were very generally used as may be seen from the portraits of the period. Their exact ingredients are thus described in an old play: 
'Your only way to make a good pomander is this: Take an ounce of the finest garden mould cleaned and steeped seven days in change of rose water; then take the best labdanum, benzoin, both storaxes, ambergris, civet, and musk; incorporate them together and work them into what form you please. This, if your breath be not too valiant, will make you smell as sweet as any lady's dog.'
In Drayton in his "Queen of Cynthia" also alludes to pomanders in the following lines: "
And when she from the water come.
When first she touched the mould.
In balls the people made the same.
For pomanders and sold." 
Some of these pomanders consisted in globular vessels containing strong perfume and perforated with small holes, not unlike our modern pocket cassolettes. The earliest illustration of this favourite toilet requisite occurs in the Scaphae Fatuarum Mulierum (Boat of Foolish Women), a series of five caricatures published by Jodocus Badius in 1502 and intended to flagellate the abuse made of the five senses. The annexed engraving represents the Boat of Foolish Smells in which are three ladies, one of whom is holding some flowers she has gathered and smelling at the same time a pomander which her friend has bought from an itinerant vendor of perfumes."

In 1864, the perfumery company of Piesse and Lubin recreated Queen Elizabeth I's pomander. A newspaper ad reads: "Queen Elizabeth's Pomander - Piesse and Lubin have produced and exact copy of the Pomander, or Scent Casket, as worn by Elizabeth, suspended from her girdle. It contains six prophylatick odours, of rare excellence. These copies have been made by permission of the Lords Commissioners of Science and Art, according to the original in Kensington Museum. Price £3. 2s. On view at 2, New Bond Street."

Piesse & Lubin's recreated pomander consists of a gilt metal ovoid shape, with cast foliate panel decoration and applied with six small oval porcelain plaques painted with portraits of girls and young ladies, The piece measures just 7.5cm (3in) high.

Inside a pomander one could find the following substances, mostly in a dried or resinous form, original period appropriate names are shown in parenthesis:
  • Agarwood 
  • Ambergris (amber greese/aurum/elimpium)
  • Aromatic Aloes (agallochum)
  • Balm (baum)
  • Basil
  • Bay Leaves
  • Benzoin (baum benjamin/bengemen)
  • Calamus (callamos)
  • Camphor (camphire)
  • Cinnamon
  • Civet (sevitt/galia zibettina)
  • Cloves
  • Cubeb
  • Cyperus (siperus)
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Gum arabic
  • Gum Mastic (mastich)
  • Labdanum
  • Lavender (stoechas/staechar arabica)
  • Lignum aloes
  • Mace (macis)
  • Marjoram
  • Musk (muske)
  • Musk, Aloes & Ambergris Mixture (gallia moschata)
  • Myrrh (stacte)
  • Nigella (nygela)
  • Nutmeg (muscata)
  • Olibanum
  • Oriental Sweet Gum (liquidambar)
  • Orris Root (orrice)
  • Rose petals
  • Rose oil
  • Rosemary
  • Rose Water
  • Sandalwood (yellow sanders/saunders)
  • Scented water
  • Spikenard
  • Storax (storackes/storax callamyte)
  • Styrax
  • Tragacanth (gum draggon)
  • Turpentine
  • White Turmeric (zedoary)

Pomanders fell out of favor as the vinaigrette, snuff boxes, cassolettes and smelling salts containers were ushered onto the scene in the early to mid 1700s. Today, antique pomanders are very rare objets de vertu and command high prices when presented for sale.

Recipes for Pomanders from the 1705 book, Beauties Treasury, or the Ladies Vademecum, complete with the original spellings:

“An Odiferous Balsam to Comfort the Brain, and revive the Spirit:

Oil of musk one dram, oil of cloves six grains, Oil of Lilies of the Valley three grains, and a little Virgins-Wax; mix them all together, according to Art: Anoint the Nostrils with it, and you will find it very refreshing and pleasant.

Cloves, Cinnamon, Lavender and Nutmegs of each two Drams, Oil of Cloves, Oil of Lavender, Angelica and Spike of each half a Scruple; Wax four Drams, Musk and Amber of each three Grains, all which being mixt, and made up into a Balsam, will be of the same use and Vertue as the former.

A Perfumed Composition, to carry about in a Silver Box. 
True Jessamine-Butter half an Ounce, Essence of Orange Flower, Essence of Cinnamon, Oil of Orange Peel, Oil of Nutmegs, Essence of Roses of each half a Scruple; Flowers of Benjamin one Scruple, Essences of Musk, Amber and Civet of each half a Scruple. All these must be work’d well together in a cold and small Marble Mortar, and then use it.

Perfumed Pastes, or or Pomanders for Bracelets.
Storax Calamita and Labdanum of each a Dram and a half; Benjamin one Dram, Cloves, Mace, Wood f Aloes, Lavender-Flowers, of each half a Scruple; Musk and Ambergrease of each four Grains, a little Turpentine, Gum Tragacanth dissolv’d in Rosewater as much as will suffice; mix them well in a warm Mortar, and make them all into a Paste for Use.

Another Pomander of exceeding pleasant Smell, and of great Virtue against Pestilential Airs and the Fits of the Mother:
Florentine Iris Roots, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon of each half an Ounce, Yellow Saunders, Storax Calamita, and Benjamin of each two Drams, Ambergrease one Dram, Musk of Alexandria half a Dram, Balsam of Peru, and Oil of Rhodium of each a Scruple: Mix all well together, and add two Drams of Civet. If you think it too chargeable, you may make half the Quantity.

Trochises of Roses:
The Shavings of the Greenest Cypress-Wood one Ounce, Florentine Iris six Ounces, Calamus Aromaticus three Drams, Wood of Aloes six Drams; Pound them altogether. Then take three or four Hundred Red Damask-Roses clean pick’d, beat them in a Mortar with a Wooden Pestil, when they are half beaten, put in the Powder, then pound them again, moistning them with a little Damask Rosewater, and when they are very well mixt, make them up into little Trochisces, and dry them in the Shade.If you would heighten the Perfume, add Musk and Ambergrease, as much as you think fit, powdering the Musk, and dissolving the Ambergrease in Rosewater, and then mix it with the rest. This may be us’d in making Musk-Soaps, and Sweet-Powders as well as Pomanders.

A Pomander made of this Trochise:
The Trochise of Roses above mention’d half an Ounce, the best Labdanum two Ounces, Storax Calamita and Benjamin of each an Ounce, Violets powder’d one Ounce, Amber and Musk of each half a Dram, Powder which is to be powder’d, mix them all well together, and work them well into a Paste, of which you may make excellent Pomanders of a very durable Scent.

A curious Perfume, to put in Pocket-Boxes, or Heads of Canes, to Chear the Spirits, Ease Pains in the Head, and prevent Fainting Fits or Swounings, bad Smells, or infectious Airs:

Purest Jessamine Butter half an Ounce, Essence of Orange Flowers two Drams, Chymical-Oil of Cinnamon two Drops, Essence of Roses one Scruple, Essence of Amber, Musk and Civet o each half a Scruple, work them together in a Marble or other Stone-Mortar, set in a cool Place, and do it quickly, that as little of the Scent may fly out as possible, and then put it up in Boxes of Ivory, Silver, etc, with Covers to unskrew or take off, and under those Covers little Holes, to let out the Scent as Occasion requires, and so these may be put into the Head of a Cane, a little Knob placed on a Busk, or at the End of a Fann, in a Hollow Ring, it being a very Rich and exceeding wholesome Perfume. 

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