The use of perfume can be traced back to ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India, where incense-based perfumes were widespread. The first known chemist was a maker of perfumes in about 2000 BC. Perfumes, as precious commodities that were often bound up in the rituals of religious practices (especially those involving death) were often held in elaborate containers. These might be ceramic or more frequently stone, a porous material. The Romans would use hollowed-out precious stones, a common practise until the invention of glass. Glass perfume containers found in Palestine date back to around 500 BC.
Perfumes needed to be stored in containers that ideally shielded them from heat, light and oxygen, all elements that would speed up the process of decay. Perfume bottles could remove these elements and the development of the atomizer allowed the perfume to be stored in an oxygen and dust free container.
The history of perfume and its champions is one of decadence and excess. The use of perfume was popularised in Europe in the fourteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth of Hungary became interested in its use. In sixteenth century Italy, Catherine de’Medici hired a perfumer to live on site and guard the materials and mixtures he made from outsiders. Perfume bottles reflect this ostentation and display of wealth through the nineteenth century up to the 1910s, when designers like Lalique were called upon to create one-off pieces. Typically at this time perfumes would be sold in simple containers and decanted into exquisite bottles at home. This activity seems to have died off around the 1960s, when perfume makers democratised their target market and began to sell perfumes in bottles made to standardised designs. As each brand now makes sure to have its own eye-catching package, the need for the individual to store and display their perfume has become largely redundant.