1902 Encyclopedia > Perfumery


PERFUMERY is the art of manipulating odoriferous substances for the gratification of the sense of smell. Perfumes may be divided into two classes, the first of which includes all primitive or simple odoriferous bodies derived from the animal or vegetable kingdom, as well as the definite chemical compounds specially manufactured, while the second comprises the various "bouquets" or "mélanges" made by blending two or more of the foregoing in varying proportions,—toilet powders, dentifrices, sachets, and the like. To the former class belong (1) the animal products, ambergris, castor, civet, musk; (2) essential oils (more properly called attars), mostly procured by distillation; (3) the philicome butters or oils, which are either solid or liquid fats charged with odours by the processes of inflowering or maceration ; (4) the odoriferous gum-resins or balsams which exude naturally or from wounds in the trunks of various trees and shrubs. such as benzoin, opoponax, peru, tolu, storax, myrrh; (5) a few chemical bodies, similar in odour to or identical in odoriferous active principle with certain plants, e.g., nitro-benzol, called attar of mirbane or false almond, vanillin or methyl-protocatechuic aldehyde, coumarin or coumaric anhydride, and a few others. Ammonia and acetic acid are used respectively as smelling salts and in the preparation of aromatic vinegar, but can scarcely be considered as perfumes. The second class contains the endless combination of tinctures for scenting the handkerchief sold under fancy names which may or may not afford a clue to their composition, such as "comédie française," "eau de senteur," "eau de Cologne," "lavendre ambrée," "blumengeist." These are sometimes made upon a quasi-scientific basis, namely, that of the odophone or gamut of odours of the late Dr Septimus Piesse. Their numbers may be almost infinite; one large firm in London is known to manufacture several hundreds.

Sources and Commercial Values.—For the sources of the various animal perfumes the reader is referred to the articles AMBERGRIS 1 (vol. i. p. 660), BEAVER 2 (vol. iii. p. 476), CIVET 3 (vol. v. p. 796), and MUSK 4 (vol. xvii. p. 106). The sources of the attars are the different parts of the plants which yield them,—the wood (lign aloe, santal, cedar), the bark (cinnamon, cascarilla), the leaves (patchouli, bay, thyme), the flowers (rose, lavender, orange-blossom), the fruit (nutmeg, citron), or the seeds (caraway, almond). Some plants yield more than one, such as lemon and bergamot. . They are mostly obtained by distilling with water that part of the plant in which they are contained; but some few, as those from the rind of bergamot (from Citrus bergamia), lemon (citron zeste, from C. Limonum), lime (C. Limetta), by "expression." The outer layer of the cortex is rasped off from the unripe fruits, the raspings placed in a canvas bag, and squeezed in a screw or hydraulic press. The attars so obtained are separated from the admixed water by a tap-funnel, and are then filtered (see OILS, ESSENTIAL, vol. xvii. p. 748). Certain flowers, such as jasmine, tuberose, violet, cassia, either do not yield their attars by distillation at all, or do it so sparingly as not to admit of its collection for commercial purposes; and sometimes the attar, as in the case of orange (neroli), has an odour quite different from that of the fresh blossoms. In these cases the odours are secured by the processes of inflowering (enfieurage), or by maceration. Both depend upon the remarkable property which fats and oils possess of absorbing odours. The former process has already been described in the article JASMINE (vol. xiii. p. 595). Maceration consists in soaking the flowers in heated fat; in due time they are strained off and replaced by fresh ones, as in the enfleurage process. The whole of the necessary meltings and heatings of the perfumed greases are effected by means of water-baths, whereby the temperature is kept from rising too high. For the manufacture of perfumes for the handkerchief the greases now known as pomades, butters, or philocomes are treated with rectified spirit of wine 60º overproof, i.e., containing as much as 95 per cent. of absolute alcohol by volume, which practically completely abstracts the odour.

The gum-resins have been employed as perfumes from the earliest ages; many are referred to in the Old Testament; see INCENSE (vol. xii. p. 718) and FRANKINCENSE (vol. ic. p. 709). They are largely used in the manufacture of perfumes, both for burning as pastilles, ribbon of Bruges, incenses, &c., and in tinctures, to which they impart their characteristic odours, affording, at the same time, a certain fixity to other perfumes of a more fleeting nature when mixed with them. The chemical perfumes are relatively new. Vanillin, the odoriferous principle of vanilla (V. planifolia), was first artificially prepared by Tielman and Hermann in Germany, who obtained it from the sap of certain kinds of fir, and established its composition. Their research was afterwards remarkably verified by Dr C. R. Alder Wright, who prepared it from crude opium. It is a pale straw-yellow crystalline substance, smelling exactly like vanilla, and said to be forty times stronger. Its value commercially is about 23s. per oz. Coumarin, the odoriferous principle of Tonquin beans (Dipterix odorata), is also artificially prepared. In appearance it resembles vanillin, and is valued at 9s. per oz. Some similar bodies with fancy names, such as "hemerocalle," "bromelia," "aubépine," are in the market, but have scarcely yet found their way into the perfume manufactory. Nitro-benzol, before mentioned, is employed only for imparting all almond-like odour to inferior soaps. The various compound ethers called artificial fruit essences, from their resemblance to the odours of certain fruits (jargonelle pear, pineapple, plum, &c.), find no place in perfumery, though largely used in confectionery for flavouring.

As before stated, the bouquets constituting the second class of perfumes are but alcoholic solutions, i.e., tinctures of some of the foregoing blended together in various proportions, of which the following well-known recipes are examples:—


Ext. Vanilla………………..2 pints.
Ext. Musk………………….1 pint.
Ext. Civet…………………..1 pint.
Attar Rose………………….1 oz.
Attar Mitcham Lavender ….1 oz.

"Bouquet du Roi."

Ext. Neroli………………….2 pints.
Ext. Rose…………………...2 pints.
Ext. Musk…………………..1/2 pint.
Ext Vanilla………………….1/2 pint.
Attar Rose…………………..1 dram.

The Odophone.—The late Dr Septimus Piesse endeavoured to show that a certain scale or gamut existed amongst odours as amongst sounds, taking the sharp smells to correspond with high notes and the heavy smells with low. He illustrated the idea by classifying some fifty odours in this manner, making each to correspond with a certain note, one-half in each clef, and extending above and below the lines. For example, treble clef note E (4th space) corresponds with Portugal (orange), note D (1st space below clef) with violet, note F (4th space above clef) with ambergris. It is readily noticed in practice that ambergris is much sharper in smell (higher) than violet, while Portugal is intermediate. He asserted that properly to constitute a bouquet the odours to be taken should correspond in the gamut like the notes of a musical chord,—one false note among the odours as among the music destroying the harmony. Thus on his odophone, santal, geranium, acacia, orange-flower, camphor, corresponding with C (bass 2d line below), C (bass 2d space), E (treble 1st line), G (treble 2d line), C (treble 3d space), constitute the bouquet of chord C.

Other Branches of Perfumery.—For the preparation of scented soaps two methods are in use ; both start with a basis either of fine yellow soap (which owes its odour and colour to the presence of resin), or of curd soap (which is hard, white, and odourless, and is prepared withoutresin). In one process the soap is melted by super-heated steam, and while still hot and semi-fluid mixed by means of a T-shaped stirrer of wood with iron cross-bar, technically called a "crutch," with the attars and colouring matter. It is then removed from the melting pan to a rectangular iron mould or box, the sides of which can be removed by unscrewing the tie-rods which hold them in position ; when cold the mass is cut into slabs and bars with a thin brass wire. In the other or cold process the soap is first cut into chips or shavings by a plane or "chipping machine," then the colouring matters are added and thoroughly incorporated by passing the soap between granite rollers driven by steam-power ; the tinted soap emerges in a continuous sheet but little thicker than paper. The attars are then added, and after standing for about twelve hours the soap is again sent through the rolling machine. It is next transferred to a bar-forming machine, which consists of an Archimedean screw with tapering thread revolving in a box; the soap in sheets is roughly squeezed through a hopper over the widest threads of the screw and is forced, as this revolves, towards the distant end of the box, to an opening of the required size, through which it emerges in a continuous bar almost as hard as wood. Soap thus worked contains less than 10 per cent. of water; that prepared by melting contains 20 and even 30 per cent. The amount of attars added depends upon the nature of the perfume, and amounts usually to about 7 or 8 per cent. The finest soaps are always manufactured by the cold process. Toilet powders are of various sorts. They consist of rice-starch or wheat-starch, with powdered orris-root ill varying proportions, and with or without the addition of oxide of zinc, oxide of bismuth, or French chalk. The constituent powders, after the addition of the attars, are thoroughly incorporated and mixed by sifting through a fine sieve. Violet powder for the nursery should consist entirely of powdered violet root (Iris florentina), from the odour of which the powder is named. It is of a yellowish tint, soft, and pleasant to the touch. The white common so-called "violet powders" consist of starch only scented with attar of bergamot, and are in every sense inferior. Tooth powders consist for the most part of mixtures of powdered orris-root with precipitated chalk, and some other constituent destined to particularize it as to properties or flavour, such as charcoal, finely-pulverized pumice, quassia, sugar, camphor, &c. The perfume of the contained orris-root is modified, if required, by the addition of a little of some attar. Toothpastes are not much in vogue ; they are, formed of the same constituents as the powders, and are worked into a paste by the addition of a little honey or glucose-syrup, which substances are usually believed ultimately to have an injurious effect on the teeth. Perfume sachets consist either of a powder composed of a mixture of vanilla, musk, Tonquin beans, &c., one or other predominating as required, contained in an ornamental silk sac ; or of some of the foregoing substances spread upon card or chamois leather or flannel after being made into a paste with mucilage and a little glycerin. When dry the card so prepared is daintily covered with various party-coloured silks for sale. Where the ingredients employed in their manufacture are of good quality these cards, known as "peau d’Espagne" sachets, retain their odour unimpaired for years.

Adulterations.—There is, as might be expected, considerable scope for the adulteration of the "matières premières" employed in perfumery, and it is to be stated with regret that many unscrupulous dealers avail themselves of the facilities offered for this dishonourable practice. Thus, in the case of musk, the "pods" are frequently found to be partially emptied of the grain, which has been replaced by hide or skin, while the weight has been increased by the introduction of lead, &c. In other instances the fraud consists in the admixture of refuse grain, from which the odour has been exhausted with spirit, with dried blood, and similar substances, whilst pungency is secured by the addition of carbonate of ammonia. Attar of rose is diluted down with attar of Palma rosa, a variety of geranium of only a quarter or a fifth of the value. The main adulterant of all the attars, however, is castor oil. This is a bland neutral body, practically odourless, and completely soluble in alcohol; it therefore presents all the requisites for the purpose. Its detection is difficult even by chemical analysis, which is obviously inapplicable in most instances ; the safeguard of the purchaser is the knowledge resulting from experience.

Statistics.—In Europe, flower-farming for perfumery purposes is almost exclusively confined to that triangular portion of the valley of the Var (France) which has Grasse for its apex and the Mediterranean shore between Nice and Cannes for its base, with an area of about 115,000 English acres. It is here that the jasmine, tuberose, cassia, rose, and violet grow to such perfection, and that the processes of enfleurage and maceration are. commercially worked. Subjoined is an estimate1 of the weight of flowers annually employed.


Great praise is due to the pioneers of flower-farming in the British colonies of South Africa and Australia, and especially to Colonel Talbot in Jamaica, whose efforts in this direction bid fair to meet with complete commercial success.

The attars from peppermint (Mentha Piperita), thyme (T. vulgaris), and lavender (Lavandula vera), the finest in the world, are distilled from plants grown in the neighbourhood of Mitcham in Surrey. It is estimated that between 8000 and 10,000 ounces of musk are annually imported from all sources, while the quantity of alcohol employed in the manufacture of perfumes is calculated to exceed 60,000 gallons.

See Piesse’s Art of Perfumery, 4th ed., 1980. (C. H. P.)


FOOTNOTES (page 526)

(1) The present (1884) value of ambergris is about 90s. per oz.

(2) The present value of castoreum is about 32s. per 1b.

(3) Its price is about 9s. per oz.

(4) Average value about £5 per oz.

FOOTNOTE (page 527)

1 Kindly farnished by M. Bruno Court, head of the well-known house of Notre Dame des Fleurs of Grasse.

The above article was written by: Charles Henry Piesse, F.C.S.; Public Analyst, Fulham District, London; author of Chemistry in the Brewing-Room and Olfactics and the Physical Senses.

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