Friday, August 15, 2014

Piston Pump or Plunger Perfume Atomizers

In this guide I will introduce you to the world of the antique and vintage piston pump type of perfume atomizers. These bottles were meant for travel and had a leak proof design and are cylindrical in shape. The date range for these unique perfume bottles is 1900-1940s. The travel atomizers you will most likely come across date from 1900-1920s.

Notions and Fancy Goods, Volume 44, 1910:
"Introduction of the Pump Variety. Not long after the invention of the bulb atomizers, what is now known as the pump variety, was introduced, but never became very popular, probably owing to the difficulty in handling them. Considerable objection was made to them by women who complained that their hands and gloves became soiled in using them, the liquid oozing out during the operation of raising and lowering the piston, which was necessary to create the spray. Another objection to this style, was their tendency to get out of order, on account of the intricate valves with which they were provided. 
At about this time, a Bohemian manufacturer put on the market, an atomizer that combined the features of both the bulb and pump atomizer already referred to. This new atomizer, instead of having a rubber bulb, had a pump running in a glass tube acting as a piston rod. The head of this rod also acted as a spray inducer. The same disagreeable features appeared in this atomizer as existed in the earlier pump varieties, and in consequence, it was a very short lived innovation."

Dry Goods Economist, Volume 66, Issue 3, 1912:
"Quadruple Perfume Atomizer. Paris is just now greatly interested in quadruple perfume spray that was originated, and is being marketed by Sarah Felix, a producer of general toilet lines. This new spray or atomizer -one of was purchased in Paris by the DRY ECONOMIST, and is shown in two positions on this page - is of the pump type, and consists of a large bottle, having enclosed four separate or mated bottles in about an ounce for holding that number of different odors. The four bottles have individual spray pipes leading to outlets or small capped nozzles of the larger bottle.


The spray pipes have small cocks on the interior, making it possible for the user to spray any single odor, several odors, or all four may be sprayed instantaneously, thus forming a mélange of the odors by opening all the cocks at once. In addition to the cut offs concealed within the bottle, each vent is equipped with a screw cap, thus making accidental leakage an impossibility. The spraying is done by means of a spring pump forcing the air through the single or several open vents, when the perfume comes out through the row of keys resembling small knobs, seen at the front of the bottle in the illustration. 
The upper section of the atomizer is of nickle plated metal, in which is located the pump. The outer base is of etched glass and is 2 1/4 inches in diameter. The small vent caps are attached by chains to prevent their being lost and the whole object measures 6 inches in height. In a limited way, this new style of atomizer has been offered to the American trade in the nickel and in the gold plated styles, either of which has a retail value of about $7.50."
This design was manufactured by Robert Bloch in Paris, he specialized in atomizers with multiple "jets".

Opening & Closing

Some buyers may be interested in seeing if your bottle's plunger works.

To open, place your finger or thumb on top of the plunger, press and turn counterclockwise a quarter turn. The plunger should pop right up. Now press down onto the plunger several times and see if air is emitted from the nozzle. You could also fill the bottle with water to see if it will spray.

To close, place your finger or thumb onto the plunger, then the plunger pushes down into the mount head and locks in with a quarter turn clockwise. Do not try to pry the plunger off of the mount head or you will snap it off. Unfortunately, I have seen the remnants and damage caused by people unaware of how to open or close these properly.


Looking at your bottle , the mount has two parts, the upper part and the lower part, to open the bottle to clean it out or to add perfume, you can place your hand around the top part above the seam and give it a twist. These are usually on pretty tight, try some WD40 or other lubricant in the seam, but don't attempt damage by using pliers or other tools to try to get it open.When you get the bottle open, look at the very bottom of the plunger mount, sometimes you can find mount manufacturer's markings here on this part of the metal. A soaking in vinegar often removes verdigris from brass mountings. You can use a small brush to scrub away any stubborn verdigris.


The bottles have small nozzles from which the perfume was emitted. To guard against leakage, these nozzles had a tiny screw on cap which attached to the mount by a little chain.

The hardware mounts were made of brass, bronze, silver, gold, pewter, or molded lead. They were generally plated with gold, silver or nickel, and in the 1930s, chrome. Most of the atomizer hardware was Made in France, but others were made here in America and in England. French hardware is usually marked "Brevete" , "Depose" , "Modele Depose", or "Bte. SGDG".

People often mistake these markings for manufacturer's marks but in reality:
  • Brevete means " Patented" 
  • Depose means " registered" 
  • Marque de Fabrique: this word means trade mark.
  • Marque déposée: trademark
  • Modele Depose: Registered Design
  • Bté. SGDG: means " patented." It is shortened from the phrase Breveté Sans Garantie du Gouvernement  which means " Patented without State Guarantee."
One mark you should look for is the "TM" logo for Theophilus Martin, a French silversmith operating around 1904. His mountings can usually be found on Daum-Nancy, Galle and other bottles.

The Bottles

The glass for the atomizer bottles were usually French, Bohemian, American or English. Baccarat was responsible for many of the heavy cut glass  bottles you may find in your travels. Other companies such as Lalique, Galle, Saint-Louis and Daum Nancy also made bottles for these atomizers. The glass is rarely marked, but sometimes you might find the acid etchings of Lalique, Daum Nancy and Baccarat. Lalique bottles often have atomizer mounts by Marcas et Dardel (often misspelled Marcas et Bardel) and Marcel Franck.

Extremely rare bottles may have dual, triple or quadruple chambered compartments for different scents, each with its own nozzle.

Marcel Franck

 The major company that dominated the scene was the firm of Marcel Franck. Marcel Franck still manufactures atomizer hardware for perfume bottles today. Marcel Franck had French patents for his perfume atomizer hardware, most prolific was "L'Escale", "Fizz", and "Le Kid".

The atomizer mountings marked "La Provencale" and "Le Parisien"were attributed to Marcel Franck, but current information assures us that it is not the work of Marcel Franck. Some of these mounts were engraved, molded or tooled with floral designs or other motifs.

The Jewelers' Circular, Volume 87, 1923:
"In this same illustration is shown "Le Parisien," an atomizer of distinction. It is of Baccarat crystal, hand painted and decorated and of genuine Galle's etched glass. The tops are of nickel, silver or gold plate. In style and construction they are  quite different from the usual atomizer."

The mid 1920s, brought forth the Le Kid atomizers by Marcel Franck were meant for the purse or pocket. They were smaller versions of the piston pump atomizers and came in a variety of finishes in materials such as the extremely popular mother of pearl, lizard skin, enamel, nickel plate, snake skin, brass, shagreen,  galalith (French Bakelite), gold plate, tortoiseshell, enamel, eel skin.

c1923 advertisement for Le Kid and Floris, atomizers by Marcel Franck.

Marcel Franck's Le Kid atomizers proved so popular that a rival company, Aromys of Paris decided to create their own version of the little purse atomizer which they called L'Aiglon (the Eaglette) in 1929, in three different sizes, and marketed them for " the purse, the pocket or the voyage". L'Aiglon was also available in a variety of finishes such as enamel, mother of pearl, galalith, rhodoid (an early plastic), nacrolaque (a plastic similar to Bakelite) and brass.

Dry Goods Economist, Volume 66, Issue 4, 1912:
"Miniature Pocket Atomizer. Illustrated on this page is a neat pocket atomizer imported by the ECONOMIST, but which can be obtained in this market, is about 3 inches in length and 3/4 inch width. It unscrews from the top for filling purposes.


The little nozzle on the side, at the top, is where the spray is forced. At the end of the chain is attached, a small screw cap. Which covers the nozzle when not in use. The atomizer works on the order of a bicycle pump. In nickel, it retails for 50 cents and up according to finish. It can also be gold plated. There is also on the market, a large all-metal atomizer heavily nickel plated which is an improvement over the average atomizer."

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