Smells and Secrets from a Museum Store

Posted: 9th September 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Smells and Secrets from a Museum Store

Opening a box from the museum store I was immediately struck by a strong perfumery scent that took me back to my grandma’s bathroom with a mixture of lavender, floral and musky smells. I closed my eyes and reminisced over my years long gone. Smell is one of the most powerful senses and can help you recall specific memories.

The box was filled with perfume bottles from a collection donated as far back as the 1980s and it was a kaleidoscope of styles of miniature perfume bottles.

Scent has been part of human history since ancient times when scent was used for ceremonies relating to the rituals of death in societies. Later in the 16th century and 17th century perfume was used for medical purposes to ward off illnesses.

The use of perfume as mainly a pleasurable activity and the development of desirable and coveted containers that held this scent arose in the 18th century with the establishment of perfume manufacturers such as Yardley.

Hull Museum’s collection hold mainly 19th and 20th century perfume bottles such as ‘Evening in Paris’ launched in 1928 by Bourjois. These highly collectable plastic blue containers came in various guises that reflected activities taken during an evening in Paris. These were international best sellers.

An earlier manufactured bottle from the 19th century is doubled-ended with separate compartments which had a dual purpose; a medical and a cosmetic use. One end contained smelling salts as the fashions of the day required women to wear tight corsets which often made some women faint. The smelling salts would revive the women. The other end contained perfume often flowery scents so beloved by the Victorians.

Perfume bottles come in different shapes and sizes including our favourite pets which you can see here.

My favourite scent is Lavender which is grown in Yorkshire not too far away from Hull.

Written by Assistant Curator Vanessa Salter

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