It isn’t often that I am flummoxed by research into something I’ve found, but this case had me chasing my tail. Here’s the back story: I recently acquired a batch of stuff being sold by a gentleman whose very old mother had gone into assisted care, he was beginning to sell her bits and pieces to pay for her stay in the facility. It’s a common story and a sad one, but sometimes it lets me send lovely things back into the world for another life so I try to be positive and honest. In this case he had a silver Mexican bracelet that was to die for, I gave it back and told him it was worth in excess of $150 and he needed to get more than I could give him for it. Its just good karma to be fair in my world.
None of what I got had a ton of value other than curiosity and my love for bits of Odd Stuff. One of the other people I was with acquired lots of depression glass and some serious pieces of carnival glass, I opted for stranger things, like two shoe horns, one from JC Penney and the other Sears and Roebuck.
I also got a small wooden box of things including ten tiny ceramic deer, a cool brass souvenir of Paris bracelet, a hat pin and sundry bits of things that will be used to create other things.
My favorites in the mix were of course, the French bracelet and the ten tiny deer. I seem to have accidentally begun to acquire deer. They are seeking me out but that’s another entry entirely. I also got a set of very old Lancôme perfume bottles still in their box and an odd little wooden case. More about that in a moment. The Lancôme bottles go back to the late thirties and were well and truly stuck shut. A little hot water unstuck the tops and I could pull the stoppers out and smell the heavy old perfumes in them. Did you know there are serious collectors of empty and almost empty old perfume bottles? Who knew. Those will be on their way to a new home soon…
Now, for the wooden box. It’s 2.75 inches tall and looks like an old cannon barrel standing on end. It’s actually a coffret, a tiny wood case, of maple that is threaded about an inch down and unscrews. The exterior has a purple and silver metal paper label that reads Florosa Fanoma, W Rieger, Frankfurt A/M, which is most likely for Am Main. At the bottom is the single word, ” Violet”.
Inside the tiny wooden coffer, or coffret more properly, is an eight-sided lead crystal bottle with a cut glass stopper. This stopper was also stuck shut until I gently ran warm just over the top, at which point the crystal perfume dauber/wand slid cleanly out. No label on the bottle inside and amber colored liquid fills the bottle about three-quarters of the way up.
A little background here: My favorite scent in the entire known universe is violets. As a child in Germany, I loved that they grew in the parks and lawns in Springtime with great abandon and very long stems. I would take hours and pick huge bunches of them to take home. Their scent was so haunting and so elusive and the air smelled like heaven wherever they perched in the water glasses my mother gave me for my bouquets. In France a few years back I brought home a bottle of Violettes de Toulouse and I have hoarded it until I can go back and get more. That’s enough of a reason to go back to France for me. Yes, I love violets.
I am serious about my violets, so it was with both fanfare and trepidation I pulled the stopper out and sniffed it carefully. Holy Cow! It smelled like it was bottled last week! I dabbed some on one wrist and then the other and sat there with essence of violet all around me.
How could this be? The container was old, the label was old, so how old was old anyway? I started digging and found very little information on the elusive W. Rieger. I know that he was part of Wilhelm and Guillaume Rieger and they founded a perfume company in 1860. I found a reference to Violet Perfume then and in about 1910. The style of the label tips me off that this is an old, old bottle but how can it still smell so good?
And there is another Rieger connection:Paul Rieger of California was famous for his ‘flower drops’ perfumes from the early part of the 20th century. There are a ton of Paul Rieger ads for sale on eBay, all clipped from magazines that survived until now. Apparently flower drops were THE perfume to give and wear as the ads are everywhere. There are still many actual flower drops bottles around with CALIFORNIA flower drops printed on the labels.
The two Rieger thing was making me as crazy as a raccoon with a can opener and a six pack of tuna. Paul Rieger and Wilhelm Rieger? How does this whole thing go together? That’s just too much of a coinkydink as my mom would have said. A few more hours of digging (God bless the internet and my research abilities) and I uncovered the 1910 San Francisco Crocker-Langley City Guide. Bingo. Paul Rieger, big wig San Francisco perfumer, is the owner of Paul Rieger Perfumes but guess who the manager is? William Rieger. I’m betting Wilhelm became William in America. There is even a Mrs. Paul Rieger, widow, listed so there may have have been even more Rieger generations in the Bay Area.
Paul Reiger must have been a marketing genius, his perfumes were in Saturday Evening Post, Sunset Magazine, Photo Play and every magazine out there at the time. Reiger’s Flower Drops was the 1910 creation of Paul Rieger, but I’m betting someone else in the family made them first back in Germany and the family took the concept to the new world and unleashed it.
“Reiger’s Flower Drops were advertised as the ‘soul of the flowers’ and ‘lasting 50 times as long as ordinary perfumes’ and ‘the rarest and finest perfume ever produced. One bottle holds all the delightful fragrance crushed from thousands of living blossoms. The acme of elegance and refinement-entirely different from any other perfume you have ever known.’
The regular sized vials were about 3ml and retailed for $1.50, sample sizes were available for 20 cents.” (quote from Cleopatra’s Boudoir perfume blog)
The secret to the fragrance and my own ah ha moment was in discovering they used no alcohol in the process. In addition it’s been stored in the dark for all that time in it’s little maple coffret, and probably somewhere nice and cool to boot. This is straight concentrated oil of violet, and that is why it has lasted perhaps 100 years. If this fragrance was acquired as late as 1929 it’s still 74 years old.
Why 1929? The McKinley Tariff Act of 1930 meant everything imported had to be marked with its country of origin, as in “Made in”. This says Frankfurt a/M, it does not say Germany, therefore it landed in the USA before the tariff did. Additionally, it predates the California Flower Drops labeling although it is similar. This purple foil label is so over the top that it has Victorian style all over it, so I’m educated guessing it was made about 1890 or so.
Imagine, this scent was created before there were telephones, or record players, or commercial airline flights, or typewriters, or plastic, or refrigerators or ball point pens or mechanical pencils, or flush toilets, washing machines and running water in every house- and it’s still alive.
I will keep it and wear it and enjoy every single lovely drop of time I wear on my wrists, I think it’s better than a watch because it doesn’t just mark time, it has kept it alive.