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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

A Connoisseur of Perfumes

( Article orginally published September 1942 by Hobbies )

PRACTICALLY no phase of modern life is more significantly linked with the romance of history than perfume," explains Mrs. W. L. Ballenger, in commenting upon her hobby of perfume collecting. Continuing, she says: "The first mention of its use seems to be in connection with religious rites. The 30th chapter of Exodus contains two formulas, one for an anointing oil and the other for a perfume, both to be used solely for religious purposes by the tabernacle priests. The anointing oil consisted of sweet spices such as pure myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, and cassia, mixed with pure olive oil. It is also related in the Bible that the Hebrews used fragrant gums, and the Wise Men of the East brought an offering of frankincense and myrrh to the new Christ.

"The use of perfumes in ointment and liquid oil form was prevalent among the Egyptians, who used them in and after their baths. With these people, too, perfumes played an important part in their religious rites. The oils and ointments were prepared with meticulous care by their priests; they kept the oils in beautiful onyx and glass pots, and the ointments in marvelously carved ivory or wooden boxes.

"With Cleopatra's reign, the use of perfumes and cosmetics reached its climax in history up to that time. In the immortal "Anthony and Cleopatra," when Anthony meets Cleopatra at Cyndus, he remarks, `From the barge a strange, invisible perfume hits the senses of the adjacent wharfs.' The ancient Egyptians deemed those skilful in the art of concocting perfumes magicians, and there still is truly magic in it.

"In early Grecian history perfume was used universally by both men and women.

"During Roman history, many new developments occured in the art of perfume making, and the Orientals believed the perfume would prolong life and enhance beauty. Science has proved that scents are effective as restoratives as they have a strong influence on the nerves.

"The Arabs gifted in perfume making discovered the art of extracting the essence of flowers and plants by distillation. They produced rose water which was manufactured 2n large quantities and it was used to wash the walls of Omar's mosque.

"Perfume has always been an expensive luxury. It is alleged that Madame de Pompadour, belle of the court of Louis XV, submitted an annual bill to the king of $100,000 for sweet oils and perfumes. During Queen Elizabeth's luxurious reign, perfumes reached their most costly period, because her fastidious choice made them the vogue.

"Today, more than ever, is the manufacture of perfumes an art. As feminine sophistication, fastidiousness, and modernity continue to become the keynotes of the ultra-smart world, perfumes keep pace with feminine desires.

"The various essentials taken from nature's floral masterpieces each have characteristics with which the perfume master chemist must be familiar. The perfume chemist, like the master musician, must know the character of the essential odors, like the musician knows the harmony of various notes, and the painter the harmony of colors, in order to effect a complete and perfectly balanced perfume - a classic.

"Rare and costly ingredients gathered from far corners of the earth may be combined in a single perfume. From strange and mystic Tibet, from hunters who range the lofty Himalayan mountains, from the remote provinces of inner China, from the upper fastnessess of Abyssinia, from whalers in the North Atlantic come the elements which, combined by the hand of an artist, produce the finer perfumes we all admire.

"Musk, Ambergris, Storax, Labdanum, Bergamot, are some of the exotic names in a perfumer's list of ingredients. These names you never hear but one is present in every perfume.

"The perfumer has a choice of 5,000 fragrant elements! From these he chooses and blends those he requires for his creation-and in so doing may conceivably create a formula in which hundreds of ingredients are required.

"First and most important is the floral essence, generally the base of a fine perfume.

"On the sun-filled Riviera, the golden curve of coast on the Mediterranean, grow most of the flowers that yield their fragrances for perfumes, or they did prior to recent war days. For years the center of perfume making was the famous town of Grasse, where field after field of roses, violets, jasmine and other favorite flowers were brought to perfection. At picking time the floors of the essence factories were heaped high with blossoms. Perhaps the war has changed all that, too.

"Here, before war clouds, you could see the workers in the fields at dawn, picking the flowers while they were still radiant with dew ... and most fragrant."The natural essence is extracted from flowers by various methods. Sometimes the petals are placed on glass plates which have been coated with fats to help draw out the delicate flower oils. When petals have been drained of their precious fragrance, they are removed and fresh ones applied. It requires more than 500 pounds of flowers to produce one ounce of essence.

"Musk, ambergris, civet and castor are the four animal derivatives used to give perfume the necessary lasting quality. These ingredients were among the earliest known commodities used in ancient trade. The most obscure sections of the world have been searched for these elements. "Musk, which has been used in perfuming since pre-Biblical days, comes all the way from Tibet and the Himalayan mountains, where hunters stalk the musk deer at an altitude of 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Castor comes from Russian beavers. Civet comes mostly from Ethiopia.

"Ambergris is a rare growth in whales which is sometimes found floating in the ocean, having been expelled from the whale in which it grew; or it may be taken from a whale after it is killed. Ambergris may come from the North Atlantic, South Africa or the Persian Gulf. These animal essences used in perfumes are aged as long as five years.

"Once all the elements are available, the final task of making the perfume last and not evaporate lies in substances which help retain its fragrance indefinitely. Balsams, gums, benzoin and oleoresins are used.

"The Latin word `per,' meaning through, and `fumum,' meaning smoke, gives us a visual picture of the Arabian form of perfume, really an incense obtained by burning aromatic gums and woods. Myrrh, saffron, cassia, orris, were used in religious ceremonies, and as the blue wreaths of smoke ascended toward heaven, they wafted the credulous prayers of the primitive worshippers, leaving behind the powerfully sweet, fragrant fumes, deliriously mingled with the ecstatic songs and dances of these believers in many gods, until the perfume-intoxicated people were thrown into a religious frenzy."

Mrs. BalIenger's hobby of perfume collecting really dates back about five years, when she realized that she had an accumulation of undesirable odors along with her favorite ones. People thought perfumes were her hobby, so she decided about two years ago to really make it one.

Each time any of her friends go away on a vacation trip they bring her back some perfume souvernir. To house the collection satisfactorily Mrs. Ballenger designed her own perfume bar, an anniversary gift from her husband.

Mrs. Ballenger truly knows the history and the romance of perfume because of her hobby.

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