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Petra Ichor

Secrets Of The Perfumes - Part 1

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Graham's magazine, Volume 48
Philadelphia, January, 1856.


While some people pique themselves, on the enlightenment of the present age, the age peculiarly their own, others—sulky old grumblers— point, with a dissatisfied "humph!" to the position, both moral and physical, in which great masses of the people live, and to the notorious fact that many of the nations of Europe are at this moment zealously employed in cutting one another's throats in thousands and tens of thousands. Much, in fact, may be said on both sides of the question; but if we take enlightenment in its more literal sense, or even if we merely bring it down a peg, and understand it as something midway between Price's candles and intellectual illumination, there cannot be a dissentient voice upon the subject. The present is the most enlightened age the world has ever seen. Were it not that many of us are blind, and a greater number purblind, we should live in a perfect blaze of light. The quacks need no longer try to make a mystery of their nostrums—the ingredients, worthless or absurd, of every one of these is known, and the knowledge scattered broad-cast throughout the country; and so the worthy gentlemen have only to console themselves with the idea that they do not sell an ounce the less on that account; that the enlightened people gobble up their filth, as eagerly as ever. As for secret processes of any kind, there is no such thing; the sort of illumination we are talking of, penetrates everywhere; and if even the witches of Macbeth, were, in our day, caught at their deed without a name, the sudden blaze thrown upon the caldron and its composition, would make them take to their broom-sticks in astonishment and alarm.

Among the most curious revelations latterly made, is an analysis of the Perfumes.* These etherial luxuries, no matter by what awful name they are called, are exposed, one by one, to the sight, as it were, of the public, and their componont

* The Art of Perfumery, and the Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants; with Instructions for Manufacture of Perfumes for the handkerchief, Scented Pomanders, Odorous Vinegars, Dentifrice, Pomatums, Cosmetiques, Perfumed Soap, etc. By G. W. Septimus Piesse, Analytical Chemist. London, 1885.

parts numbered and proportioned. They are usually obtained from flowers, and Mr. Piesse remarks, that "the extensive flower-farms, in the neighborhood of Nice, Grasse, Montpellicr and Cannes, in France—at Adrianople, (Turkey in Europe;) at Broussa and Uslak, (Turkey in Asia;) and at Mitcham, in England, in a measure indicate the commercial importance of that branch of chemistry, called perfumery!"—an importance which will be more readily understood when it is stated, that "one of the large perfumers of Grasse and Paris employs annually eighty thousand pounds of orange-flowers, sixty thousand pounds of cassiae-flowers, fifty-four thousand pounds of rose-leaves, thirty-two thousand pounds of jasmine blossoms, thirty-two thousand pounds of violets, twenty thousand pounds of tuberose, sixteen thousand pounds of lilac, besides rosemary, mint, lemon, citron, thyme, and other odorous plants in larger proportion." There are four modes of obtaining the perfumes from plants—namely, expression, distillation, maceration, and absorption. In maceration, the flowers are put for a certain time, into melted deer or mutton fat, which, in consequence of a natural affinity, draws forth the perfume, the fat thus becoming pomade. When olive-oil or ben-oil is used instead of suet, the result is "huile antique" of such a flower. Our author gives minute directions for all the various processes; and to him we refer, confining ourselves to such scraps of information as will be interesting and amusing to the mass of our readers.

When mentioning bergamot, (from the Citrus Bergamia,) Mr. Piesse tells us it should be preserved in well-stoppered bottles, and kept in a cool dark cellar; light, especially direct sunshine, deteriorating all perfumes, excepting rose. The labor of collecting the exquisite odor of the sweebriar is so costly, that an imitation is palmed upon the public instead, composed of French rose-pomatum, cassia, fluer d'orange, verbena, etc., surely an excellent perfume in itself. The extract of heliotrope is in the same category— there is no heliotrope in it, but it is, nevertheless, a very nice perfume. Neither it honeysuckle used as a perfume, but it is well imitated. Jasmine, on the other hand, is much prized by the perfumer. "When the flowers of the Jasminum Odoratissimum are distilled, repeatedly using the water of distillation over fresh flowers, the essential oil of jasmine may be procured. It is, however, exceedingly rare, on account of the enormous cost of production. There was a fine sample of six ounces exhibited in the Tunisian department of the London Crystal Palace, the price of which was 9 the fluid ounce! The plant is the Yasmyn of the Arabs, from which our name is derived." Of lavender, our author says—" The climate of England appears to be better adapted for the perfect development of this fine old favorite perfume, than any other on the globe. 'The ancients,' says Burnett, 'employed the flowers and leaves to aromatise their baths, and to give a sweet scent to water in which they washed; hence the generic name of the plant, Lavandula.' Half a hundred weight of good lavender-flowers yield, by distillation, from fourteen to sixteen ounces of essential oil. All the inferior descriptions of oil of lavender arc used for perfuming soaps and greases; but the best—that obtained from the Mitcham lavender— is entirely used in the manufacture of lavender-water, but which more properly should be called essence or extract of lavender, to be in keeping with the nomenclature of other essences prepared with spirit."

Lily of the valley is a delightful perfume; but there is no such thing as the lily of the valley in it. Rosemary plays an important part in Eau de Cologne, and is the principal ingredient in Hungary Water, In both these compositions, it is the refreshing and invigorating element. The perfume we call verbena, as everybody knows, is delicious; but verbena is not one of its ingredients, the distilled spirit of the plant is too expensive for the manufacturing perfumer. The essence of violets, is rarely genuine, but from a different cause—the demand for it is so enormous, that the trade is as yet unable to keep pace with it. "Real violet is, however, sold by many of the retail perfumers of the west end of London, but at a price that prohiblts its use except by the affluent or extravagant votaries of fashion. The violet-farms from whence the flowers are procured, to make this perfume, are very extensive at Nice and Grasse; also in the neighborhood of Florence." The wall-flower, singular to say, is not used in perfumery, although an excellent imitation of it is popular.

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Updated 13th April 2011 at 11:51 AM by Petra Ichor




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