Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bottle Art

Handmade perfume bottles, mostly 19th century.
My first Avon bottle, ca. 1965.
Nearly fifty years ago, when I was in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Alaska, my mother included in a box of Christmas gifts a bottle of Avon aftershave (this was back when I shaved with a razor rather than a pair of scissors). I was delighted, though I was never a big fan of stinging alcohol on freshly shaven flesh. What I liked was the bottle. It was a green horsehead hitching post. Somewhere, I believe I still have it. Not many years later my mother became an actual "Avon Lady" at a time when the company rediscovered that fragrances (male or female) sold better in designer bottles. It wouldn't be going to far to say that during this period (mid-1960s to 2000), the firm went "hog wild" selling collectible bottles, everything from their elegant "Bird of Paradise" (below, right) to a downright ugly "Coleman lantern" (below, right). It probably wouldn't be going to far to say the number of different designs ran in the thousands and that the production run of each design (given their marketing and distribution system) likely ran into the thousands as well, for even their less popular items. Though the bulk of my mother's massive collection of bottles we sold off after her death, I still have most of the pieces of an Avon chess set.

Designing bottles for men must
have been a challenge.
Bottle art, Iran,
16th century.
With the advent of the
20th century, distinctive
bottles were given patents.
Today we think of bottles as either glass or plastic, but the first, prehistoric collectible bottles were ceramic or woven of hemp coated inside and out with tar. A bottle, after all, denotes a shape--narrow neck, wider body, flat bottom--as opposed to a jar (wide opening) or a jug (small opening, large body, usually with a handle). Not surprisingly, the first bottles were made for preserving two precious liquids, perfume, and wine. Somewhat later in history, olive oil earned its own bottle. Although both wine and olive oil have, over the centuries, sometimes found their way into some pretty interesting bottles, it's the precious fragrant fluids which have commanded the most attention from hundreds of talented, but anonymous bottle designers. The ceramic Persian bottle (above, left) probably held wine. The Phoenicians taught the Romans how to make glass bottles, most of which were quite small and thus ideal for perfumes. But it wasn't until the 17th century, when glassmaking techniques matured, that perfumers discovered that the bottle was just as important as the contents it preserved. However, Eau de Cologne Imperiale by Guerlain (below, left), which was a favorite of the wife of France's Napoleon III, was the exception. Most 19th century colognes came in bottles that, while attractive, might just as easily have bottled whiskey (below, right). During the early 20th century, perfume bottles such as that of Chanel No. 5, (above) often became as recognizable as their contents.

Golden Bea design that
was the "signature" of
Empress Eugenie of
France (mid-19th century.
The typical Eau de Cologne
(water of Cologne, Italy)
bottle dating from the
19th century.
Perhaps the most famous bottle ever designed came into being around 1915 as Indiana native, Earl R. Dean, entered a competition sponsored by a beverage company for the design of a distinctive bottle for their product. Inasmuch as the drink was formulated from the coca nut, Dean made a rough sketch from his Encyclopedia Britannica of the nut pod then based his design upon that. He took his drawing to his boss at the Root Glass Company. Root liked it, made a mold, and produced a prototype. A year later, the Coca-Cola Company chose Root's prototype as the competition winner, and Root glass became the manufacturer of the most recognizable bottle in the world still today. For his effort, Dean was awarded a lifetime job with the company. The design, however, had to be modified somewhat--slimmed down--the originals kept falling over on the conveyor belt.

Earl Dean's original design,
Chapman Root's 1915
Like perfumes, vodka bottles
seem to attract the art of
the bottle designer. This one
is called Crystal Head Vodka

How about an ice-cold shot from a Kalashnikov...Vodka bottle, that is?


No comments:

Post a Comment