The Perfumer’s Art: 1890-1896

Mrs Daffodil was inspired by this lovely post on specialised delivery methods for scent.


Perfumes, like many other costly luxuries, were brought from the Orient by the returning crusaders, and in the Middle Ages were profusely used by the wealthy classes.

The De Medici women revelled in strong perfumes, and even administered poison to a hated rival through the medium of an innocent-looking bouquet or glove. Anne, of Austria, was devoted to the pungent odor of Spanish leather, which she consumed in great quantities, having fans and gloves made of it.

The Empress Josephine used a great deal of musk, and long years after her death her rooms at Malmaison were still pervaded with this odor. Frangipanni, named in honor of the Marquis Frangipanni, and patchouly, were also held in high esteem. The dandies of the court were inveterate consumers of fine perfumes, and men and women, alike, reeked with odors that to-day would be deemed ineffably vulgar.

Some one pertinently remarked, that “to smell of nothing is a mark of the truest refinement.” Many people have an insufferable objection to perfumes of any kind, although even the most fastidious could scarcely object to such delicate and evanescent odors as violet, woodbine, and mignonette.

Fashionable women, while they decry the pungent and assertive scents, put the finishing touch of elegance to their costumes by sewing a number of tiny sachets in the lining of their gowns and hats, just sufficient for a suggestion, nothing more.

The latest absurdity is the injection of perfume by means of a hypodermic syringe into the veins; the lady’s maid is initiated in this delicate duty by the family physician, and the fair one goes about emitting delicious odors from the pores of her marble skin. This habit, while not as pernicious as the morphine habit, is extremely silly, for there are a number of lasting and delicate perfumes which may be applied externally. It is declared that this injection leaves permanent effects, but in the face of medical science this is an impossibility. It will probably be necessary for a woman to puncture herself several times a day before she becomes scented to her satisfaction. A less painful mode of attaining such results might be discovered.

Godey’s Magazine, Louis Antoine Godey, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1896 p. 118-221

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Had Mrs Daffodil, in her career as a lady’s maid, ever been asked to perform this “delicate duty,” one fears that her mistress would soon wish that she had fallen under the spell of the morphine habit.

This technique offers a less intrusive method of scent application:

Instead of using liquid perfumes or powders in New York, it is now considered the thing to pencil oneself here and there, in the hollow of the hand, on the cheek, or on the forehead with small sticks of concentrated perfumes representing one’s favourite odour. Everybody is now buying these pencils of violet, moss-rose, or verbena, which women carry about in their pockets in order to perfume themselves when the fancy seizes them in fact, the rage for this method of perfuming is so wholesale that it has started a new industry that of the perfume pencillers. There are now in the manicure establishments a large number of these pencillers, with their little cases of pencils, ready, if desired, to perfume a person from head to foot. The stroke of the pencil should be very light and rapid, for the odour is so penetrating that only a slight application is necessary.

Otago [NZ] Witness 22 May 1890: p. 37

One must always be considerate of others in applying scent:

it is always elegant for a woman to be perfumed, but in so delicate and refined a manner that even the most sensitive cannot be otherwise than pleased. The odor should be so vague, so fleeting, that only a breath of it is caught as my lady moves. To accomplish this gentle delicacy of perfuming, every garment should be laid upon sachets, or, what is better, wrapped in the marvellous perfumed flannel which can only be obtained in Paris, and which outlasts all the sachets that one can buy.

Liquid perfume should never be used upon the clothing; it should only be applied to the hands and face and neck, where it is really delightful and refreshing.

The Bulletin of Pharmacy, Volume 9, 1895

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



3 thoughts on “The Perfumer’s Art: 1890-1896

  1. amorettea

    As someone extremely allergic to lavender, eucalyptus, lilac, freesia etc., I wish more people would be satisfied with a light fragrance that is barely detectable. I have had to move seats in movies and on transportation more than once to keep my head from exploding.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil deeply sympathises with your affliction. Too many persons seem to feel that nothing succeeds like excess when applying scent, oblivious to the fact that others are gasping for breath around them. Add to that the cheap and conflicting perfumery of shampoos, cosmetics, and the ill-named “air-fresheners,” and it is a wonder that more heads do not explode. It should be axiomatic that if one can smell one’s own scent, then one has applied too much.
      Best Wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil


  2. Pingback: Pretty Maids All in a Row: 1888 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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