Scent Crimes Series - along with "Bathroom Storage", "Confusing Stella Flankers", "Opaque Perfume Receptacles", and posts about other fragrance-related annoyances of every stripe - because I only managed to get there at 4.30pm, a derisory half an hour before closing time. You don't really need to know the reasons, but they may have involved a missed train and an upside down Google map. And in practice I only really had 20 minutes to browse and take photographs, because the museum staff started making concerted efforts to shoo people out at about 10 to 5. Twenty minutes to look round a collection of this size and importance is shameful, the museum-visiting equivalent of a supermarket sweep, but there it is.
Now the Mrs French Scent Bottle collection is not just the largest in Britain, but one of the most important in the world, and has been kept at the Harris Museum since 1964. The 2748 bottles, made from ceramic, glass, silver and other materials, date from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Some are on permanent display in glass cabinets, and there are also numerous sets of drawers full of additional specimens; these are kept locked but the curator will open them on request. I did get the member of staff on duty to open a drawer just so I could see what a typical one contained, before promptly asking her to close it again...
So who was Mrs French and how did she come to amass such an enormous quantity of perfume bottles? Not just scent bottles in fact - the museum has other collections of note she donated, including visiting card cases, stone eggs, mineral specimens, decorative objects made from stone, and mother of pearl gaming counters.
Following the death of her only child, who was killed in action in the Second World War at the age of 20, Idonea's hobby escalated to a new level, possibly as a direct result of losing her son. The couple spent their free time driving round the country looking for more collectables, notably perfume bottles. According to the meticulous records she kept of her purchases, Idonea never spent more than £1.10 (about £30 / $50 at today's values). Predictably, their house quickly became cluttered with cabinets, though apparently her husband banned his wife from keeping bottles in the dining room. After his death, that room was also quickly colonised!
But meanwhile, here are some close ups of the scent bottles themselves. Unfortunately the glass roof of the museum room allowed light to bounce off the glass display cases in such a way as to make taking photos very tricky. That and the time pressure, obviously, made it a rather fraught process all round! One or two of the "roof-eclipsed" photos (eg the one of Attar Bottles below) actually look a bit arty, but not enough to mitigate my frustration at the obliteration of text on the information boards in the cabinets. There are also a number of dazzling spots of light in some of the shots: contrary to appearances these are not ghostly orbs of the sort you see in "Most Haunted" ricocheting off dungeon walls, but merely a testimony to my complete ignorance of how to take photos through glass.
I have noted down the headings that correspond to the various sub-groupings of the bottles: these are partly based on function/style and partly on materials used. Whether I have correctly matched the illustrative photos to their respective bottle category is a moot point, so please allow for material inaccuracies. : - ) I suspect that that might have been a problem even if I had written up my visit the following day - it was simply too short a time in which to log what I was seeing and photograph it in any kind of systematic fashion. So I can only urge you to go along to the Harris if you are ever in the Preston area and enjoy a more orderly eyeful of this lovely collection yourselves!
SMELLING SALTS AND VINAIGRETTE
18TH CENTURY BOTTLES
TOILET WATER BOTTLES
In my haste I failed to capture this category on film, so here is a picture of the rather impressive museum door instead, which is at least a bit "bas relief-y", like a cameo.
FINGER RING BOTTLES
I suspect that these may in fact be further examples of novelty bottles, but if I was on holiday in Mevagissey, I would be well pleased to take one of these home instead of a yard of bendy pink and white nougat or some clotted cream fudge.