The Museum acquired this perfume flask in 1893 as part of a collection of botanical specimens sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in London. However this flask's journey did not begin in London, as the label reveals, the flask was used as a vessel for the importation of 'Otto of Rose', otherwise known as 'attar of rose' or rose oil.
Rose oil is the essential oil extracted from the petals of roses generally of the variety Rosa damascena, which is the basis for the industry in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Syria and Rosa centrifolia, the basis of the industry in Morocco, Egypt and Western Europe. Yields of oil vary widely and it could take between 1500 and 10 000 kilograms of rose petals to make one kilogram of rose oil. Though the price of rose oil is high and its manufacture process is labour intensive, it remains one of the most widely used essential oils in perfume and cosmetics.
Records housed in the Economic Botany Department at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew reveal that the flask was originally donated by the perfume company Piesse & Lubin, who had imported the oil from Turkey. Piesse & Lubin were a prominent perfume house in London during the nineteenth century. However imports were not limited to rose oil. Piesse & Lubin imported both raw and processed botanical material from China, Malaysia and Mexico, all for the purpose of perfume manufacture. Based at the prestigious location of No. 2 New Bond Street, the only Street which runs between Oxford Street and Piccadilly in the West End of London, Piesse & Lubin operated their 'Laboratory of Flowers' where many different fragrances were produced. Designed for different tastes and emotions, all had alluring names, such as 'Bosphorous Bouquet - from the Valley of Sweet Waters' and 'Box-his-Ears', the sequel to 'Stolen Kisses'. Like any fashion, perfume went through highs and lows of popularity, with different scents taking preference at different times.
The Piesse & Lubin Company closed in c. 1900 after over thirty years in the perfume industry. Their inventively named perfumes, 'Kiss-me-Quick', 'Stolen Kisses' and 'Box his Ears', included a wide range of perfume notes including Opoponax, Vanilla, Tonka bean, Lemon, Bergamot, Mandarin, Patchouli, Civet absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, May rose absolute, Iris concrete, Frankincense and Otto of Rose. Though it no longer exists, the Piesse & Lubin Company were significant contributors to the perfume industry in the nineteenth century, and though different technology is now used to create perfumes many of their ingredients, such as Otto of Rose, remain the same.
• International trade centre, 'Turkey: Rose and other essential oils', http://www.intracen.org/uploadedFiles/intracenorg/Content/Exporters/Market_Data_and_Information/Market_information/Market_Insider/Essential_Oils/Turkey%20and%20Rose%20Oil.pdf, accessed 2015.
• Leffingwell, John C., Aroma from Carotenoids (Leffingwell & Associates, 1999).
• Piesse, G.W. Septimus, The Art of Perfumery and Methods of Obtaining the Odours of Plants (Philadelphia: C. Sherman & Son, 1857).
• Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus maior), Naturalis Historia.
• Rayner-Canham, Marelene, and Geoffrey Rayner-Canham. 'Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century' (Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2005).
• Rhind, Jennifer, 'Fragrance and Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche', (Singing Dragon, 2013).
Rebecca Anderson, MAAS volunteer, 2015