I'm a shameless collector of many things and my assortments are varied. Ask me anything you like about the works of Swedish etcher/engraver Axel Herman Haig, or icons from the Cuzco school of painting. I also manage to stockpile select vinyl records and antique Victorian jewellery boxes. But then, of course, there is perfume. When the collector bug bites, it bites hard... and I find it increasingly difficult to keep a tight hold on the purse strings. With almost 700 commercial perfume miniatures stowed away in my collection, I have only recently decided to shift my focus and assemble a variety of charming vintage flacons by US perfume company Prince Matchabelli.
I don't recall exactly when it was that I first saw a depiction of someone's phenomenal Matchabelli collection in a book I borrowed from the state library in Perth, but I can clearly remember being wowed. The aesthetic value of these charming little crowns ignited a pang of envy in me, and that feeling stayed with me for a long, long time.
Only recently, some 7 or 8 years later, I stumbled upon a Matchabelli miniature suspended on a neckchain - boxed and in mint condition - and I knew then and there that I had to own this rare little gem. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. I went on to spend a good week trawling the internet and ebay (admittedly whilst I was supposed to be working, and indeed whilst my wife slept beside me in the wee hours of the morning) hunting down a bargain. I had the bug!
What I hadn't quite anticipated though, was the cost. Only recently, a miniature Matchabelli flacon for Infantia - a scent created in 1937, and one barely larger in size that a €1 coin - sold on ebay for $350 US. A current listing of a black glass Ave Maria (1929) empty crown bottle is this minute fetching $190 US, with 4 days and 2 hours remaining in the auction. And an optimistic seller in Germany is presently attempting to hock off (using the 'Buy it Now' feature, no less) a selection of 10 empty Matchabelli bottles for a very tidy €7,777. Waaaay out of my league, I'm afraid.
The thing that perhaps strikes me the most, is the present demand for these bottles more than 80 years after the Matchabelli Perfume Company opened its doors in 1926. But the history of the company is every bit as enchanting as the flacons are captivating. The establishment began after the Georgian Prince and ambassador to Italy, Georges Matchabelli and his wife Princess Norina Matchabelli immigrated to the USA as penniless refugees after the Bolshevik Revolution forced the Russian nobility to flee for their lives. Georges was an amateur chemist that enjoyed creating perfumes for his friends and family, and thus he and his wife strived to accumulate the very modest capital required to set up their company. A magazine interview led to increased exposure of the brand, and suddenly Matchabelli became famous for their blends that were presented in colour-coded crown-shaped bottles that had been designed to replicate the (lost) crown found on the Matchabelli coat of arms. Many successes followed, and despite the dissolution of their marriage in 1933, and Georges death two years later in 1935, the Matchabelli brand went on to endure the decades. More than 50 perfumes are associated with the name, and today the brand belongs to Parfums de Coeur Ltd. Sadly, the modern-day packaging and design aesthetic doesn't even come close to that seen in its heyday. From this perspective alone, I understand why these royal treasures are sought out and coveted by collectors. It is a blessing that the history forged by the Matchabelli's is being recognised and preserved; yet a curse for me - the collector with a 'less-than-sufficient' expendable income.