Vivienne King is a regular exhibitor at the Shepton Mallet Antiques and Collectors Fair held at the Bath & West Showground. Based in Somerset, she specialises in antique perfume bottles and is on the Committee of the UK Chapter of the IPBA (International Perfume Bottle Association). Grant Nicholas speaks to her about her specialist subject.
How long have you been involved in the Antiques Trade and what started you off?
I started my journey in the antiques trade some 35 years ago, but to this day I am not entirely sure how that came about! maybe something in the genes as I believe that one of my grandfathers, whom I never knew, loved nothing more than routing out treasures in the street markets of London.
Can you define your speciality – what kind of items, and from what era are collectors interested in?
Although I have an interest in many kinds of antiques, almost from the start I specialised in antique perfume bottles. To me they were luxurious and exquisite objects of desire, going back over more than two centuries.
What kind of items might the entry-level collector look for?
Perfume bottle collectors fall into two main groups: those, like me, who have a passion for the antique bottles and those who covet the “commercial” bottles. Antique bottles were luxury items into which the perfume was decanted and they come in an infinite variety of styles and precious materials, including silver, gold and enamels.
On the other hand, commercial perfume bottles are those which were specifically designed to present the fragrances for sale. For a little over 100 years the leading perfume houses have competed to present their scent in ever more stylish bottles. The renowned house of Coty really started this trend when they commissioned Rene Lalique to design their first commercial bottles.
What kind of price range could a collector expect?
Starting a collection could be as simple as keeping a pretty, empty bottle after using up your favourite scent! The fledgeling collector will soon find that the variety is endless – from miniature commercial bottles which can be picked up for a few pounds, to the splendid giant ‘factice’ bottles which were used as a shop display.
In the antique field, pretty cut crystal bottles and novelty shapes can also be found at reasonable prices. So, from ‘pocket money’ purchases it is easy to graduate to much more expensive examples!
Are there useful publications/websites/public collections or events that you can recommend?
There is an International Perfume Bottle Association which is based in the US and here we have our own associate club: the U.K. Chapter of the IPBA. A wealth of information is available by visiting the websites: http://www.ipba-uk.co.uk and http://www.perfumebottles.org.
Membership comprises avid collectors and dealers who all have a passion for perfume bottles.
There is an annual Convention which always has a spectacular variety of bottles on display and for sale. For more details about membership and the Convention: http://www.ipba-uk.co.uk
Should I go to fairs, auctions, specialist dealers or take my chances online?
For all collectors, the ‘thrill of the hunt’ is what drives them on. Fairs and markets are enticing, auctions can be daunting yet exciting, but to learn the subject nothing really beats getting to know and trust the specialist dealers. They have spent many years gathering knowledge which they are more than willing to share.
Of course these days there is the internet too – As with all collecting, the condition is very important and that is not easy to judge from a photo, so beware!
Do you have a personal favourite designer/maker/item?
My real favourites are the Georgian and Victorian bottles in fine enamels and precious metals – they are truly exquisite miniature works of art. The intricate cameo glass bottles by Thomas Webb and fine examples by Sampson Mordan & Co are also of exceptional quality.
If you would like to contact Vivienne, you can email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next Shepton Mallet Fairs are on 9th – 11th March, 4th – 6th May, 14th – 16th Sept & 9th – 11th Nov