Little treasures

Barbara Collins is a regular face at the antique fair, held monthly at the Blaauwklippen Estate outside Stellenbosch.

The mind altering sensation of the scent might be the main reason why most people would buy perfume, but for ardent collectors it is the humble bottle that is the real treasure. Antiques trader BARBARA COLLINS gives some tips on how to sniff out the top prize.

For years I had an antique shop, The Georgian, specialising in jewellery, silver, collectables and perfume bottles but more especially miniature ones, creations of rare, delicate beauty by European masters of the genre.

Manufacturers produce miniatures each time they launch a new fragrance.

Over the years they have become acutely aware of the miniature collectable value, and will sometimes turn them out in very limited numbers, real treasures.

They are big business in Europe where collectors come from all over the world to gather at quarterly fairs to buy, swop and simply browse and enjoy.

I have travelled to London, Bath, Paris and Berlin to participate in these fairs and am invariably stunned by the sheer volume of bottles on display.

My vast collection includes some rare gems. A tiny silver urn with pursed lips designed by the surrealist Salvador Dali – a blue glass bottle Bourjois called Evening in Paris and a bottle of Worth, also blue glass by Lalique.

One of the nicest things about collecting mini perfume bottles is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get going, and you sometimes find treasures in the most unlikely places, as I did one day in Parys.

Walking up the dusty main road I popped in to a “Algemene Handelaar” and enquired from a dear elderly lady behind the counter if she had any small perfume bottles, to which she replied she had a pair of blue glass bottles and wanted R75 for the pair. My heart skipped a beat when I recognised them featured in my reference book — they were Lalique. I sold them the next day at the Sandton Fair for a princely sum.

The value of your bottle is determined by its age, design, rarity, condition and other variables including labels and packaging.

Today’s pre-occupation with plastic means few minis are produced with glass stoppers though perfume houses like Guerlain have remained true to their craft.

One of the worst mistakes made by novice collectors is to “clean up” their finds. When you wash a bottle, remove the labels and throw away the box you are also discarding a large part of its value.

Remember, the more original, the more valuable. Where to look – flea markets, antique and vintage shops and even friendly perfume counter assistants.

There are internet sites, specialist magazines and books on the subject so there is no shortage of reference material.

For the ardent collector few things can match the excitement of locating another prize.

The next antique fair at the Blaauwklippen Estate is on Sunday December 2, at the coach house.

Call 083 444 0133 for details.