IRICE Perfume Bottles
IRICE perfume bottles are collectible perfume bottles distributed by the American company Irice.
Given the nature of perfume, from the confidence it gives its wearer to the indescribable effect it sometimes has on its very targeted audience, it’s not surprising that perfume has long been kept in bottles whose shapes seem to echo the mysterious properties of the fluids inside them. Whether it’s a slender phial, a tiny tear-shaped lachrymatory, or a round, flat-sided ampullae, perfume bottles are designed to contain magic, which is only unleashed when the bottle is opened and a drop or two of the precious liquid is discreetly applied.
Glassblowers in Britain, Bohemia, Germany, and France made perfume bottles throughout the 19th century. U.S. glass manufacturers such as the New England Glass Company and the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company also made perfume bottles during the 1800s. Some of these were hexagonal and opaque (white, blue, and green were common colours), with knobby, pineapple-shaped stoppers. Others were known gemel bottles, in which two flattened oval bottles were joined in the furnace, their necks pointing in opposite directions. Gemel bottles, especially standing ones in bright colours, are especially sought after.
For collectors, a sweet spot for antique perfume bottles is Art Nouveau. Beginning around 1890, artisans and glass factories alike produced elaborate cut or blown glass perfume bottles with ornate caps, some of which had hinged silver stoppers and collars. Purse-sized conical bottles with very short necks and round stoppers were often decorated with gilt flower-and-leaf patterns; manufacturers included Thomas Webb & Sons and Stevens & Williams Glass Company, both from Staffordshire, England.
The same companies also produced perfume bottles in cameo glass. Again, leaves and flowers were popular motifs, in colours that ranged from pink to purple to green, all of which were encased in white. In the United States, Steuben manufactured bulb-shaped perfume bottles using the company’s Verre de Soie technique, with glass threads wrapping the piece and matching the colour of its iridescent base. Tiffany’s bottles included short, stumpy crystal cylinders with hob-nail bottoms and ornately engraved silver caps that covered the bottle’s crystal stopper.
In France, René Lalique was a giant when it came to small perfume bottles, which he produced in a series of ever-larger factories outside of Paris for François Coty and other perfume makers. Lalique brought his jeweler’s eye to perfume bottles—he even used a jewelry-casting process called cire perdue, also known as lost wax.
Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Lalique did not add lead to his crystal. Instead, he preferred a demi-crystal because it was inexpensive, easy to work with, and imbued his perfume bottles with what became his trademark milky opalescence.
During Lalique’s collaboration with Coty, which lasted through the 1930s, he also made perfume bottles for d’Orsay and Roger et Gallet. One such bottle for Roger et Gallet was crowned by an elaborate tiara stopper, one of Lalique’s most copied designs. Another was an opaque green circular bottle with a bird on one side and the words "LE JADE" at the bottom.
Later, as Lalique’s name became as synonymous with perfume bottles as Coty’s, he would make empty vessels so that customers could transfer their perfumes into Lalique’s more elegant containers. Tantot and Amphitrite are just two examples of unfilled Lalique perfume bottles.
During the 1920s and ’30s, glass perfume bottles inspired by the Art Deco movement were all the rage. Natural forms and motifs gave way to geometric shapes and bold, streamlined designs. In Czechoslovakia, perfume bottles from this era are routinely made of blown and meticulously cut crystal. For some of these bottles, the diameters of the stoppers were a great as those of the bottles beneath them, giving these otherwise simple containers the look of a Vegas showgirl wearing an impossibly top-heavy headdress.
But between the wars, Paris was the place for perfume and perfume bottles. Signature shapes for Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar by Guerlain were codified, and beautiful collaborations took place between Baccarat, the legendary maker of fine crystal, and everyone from Guerlain to fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. For Guerlain, Baccarat created the Japanese-influenced Liu bottle, with its square-sided black body adorned gold labels. For Schiaparelli, Baccarat produced a bottle in the shape of a candle in a candlestick, with a gilt-metal flame for a stopper.
The company started as a “jobber” or importer of various vanity items in the 1920s in New York. The head of the company was named Irving W. Rice and he gave an abbreviation of his name to the company, which has appeared on the distinctive silver and blue foil labels ever since - IRICE. The company still exists today in New York and every Christmas if you go to a drug store and look on the counter there will be a display of IRICE atomizers.
IRICE didn’t actually manufacture these perfume bottles, they were importers and jobbers. So the perfume atomizers and bottles came in a wide variety of modes from many, diverse countries.
IRICE brought in box-car loads of Czechoslovakian crystal before World War II. During the war, IRICE employed American companies. After the hostilities had ended, the company began importing again, but this time from West Germany – the labels reflect this.
Today most of IRICE’s sources are in the Far East in Japan and later in Taiwan.
IRICE is located in New York City at 15 West 34th St. and continues to supply vanity items and perfume bottles to America.
For a brief period in the 1930's IRICE dabbled in commercial perfumes (that is, perfumes that came in the bottle) and created a limited line of these fragrances (Grape Cologne and Pineapple among them). A perfume called Renaissance that was contained in an IRICE bottle for the Scherk company is occasionally falsely sold as a Victorian antique today. The bottle was made from heavy pressed glass with a gilt frame and marble-like jewel on each corner of the frame. The portrait of an old fashioned lady completed the antique look though the bottle is from about 1935.
Any collection of IRICE items can be dated by the information on the labels or by carefully examining the parts of the atomizer. A glass tube in the atomizer means 1930's roughly, while by the time of the 1950's plastic tubing was found in the atomizer. Most of the porcelain flower decorated atomizers date to the 1950's. Time line on the labels can be determined by the country cited under the name "Irice." So it goes: Czech, American, West Germany, Japan, and finally Taiwan.
Most heavily collected and sought today are the IRICE series called Little Drams or sometimes Stubby series. These were tiny perfume bottle made in Czechoslovakia with charms or dangles hanging from chains from the top of the stopper. A wide variety of animals and dolls have been seen. A cross-over collectible here is the 1939 World's Fair IRICE bottle with the peristyle and hemisphere charms. Most other IRICE perfumes are still in the category of inexpensive collectibles.
To date very little has appeared in print about these perfume bottles and atomizers.
A 1920s Czech IRICE perfume bottle in black and clear crystal with enamelled and jewelled metalwork sold for $1,500 at Rago Arts and Auction Center in November 2006
Two pink glass perfume bottles, the larger applied with gilt decoration and enameled porcelain medallion; together with a smaller bottle applied with gilt tracery, molded pink glass medallions, and raised on pink "quartz" glass feet, acid etched "Czechoslovakia" sold for $850 at Cleveland Auction Company in September 2007
A 1960s German-made IRICE atomiser brought $400 at Perfume Bottles Auction in April 2011.