We have all had similar experiences if we buy old perfume, namely stuck stoppers. In this particular case the stopper was stuck tight in a bottle of Houbigant’s Le Parfum Ideal. The bottle was quite small and from my reference books on perfume flagons, I was convinced that the scent probably dated from 1925-1930 or thereabouts.
All of that was fine I had the bottle, I had the box, and the bottle was pristine with threads still tied and sealed in wax as a matter of a fact, which suggested an early 20th century date to me. BUT there was no way of getting Ideal open. Like everyone else I have tried numerous methods for opening old bottles. My favorite, and the least likely to harm bottles is the old freezer technique. In this one you merely take your bottle and put it in the freezer for twenty minutes or so, and then the stopper often contracts slightly away from the edge of the bottle mouth. Then you give it a faint woggle sideways, and often as not the stopper gives. This is a relatively painless procedure and does not damage old labels or risk snapping off the top of the stopper ( a minor disaster in my opinion).
That is my favorite way of dealing with stubborn stoppers, however in this case it proved useless. I had to try method number two which is not a favorite, and that is to hold the stopper under a stream of hot water. This has drawbacks, for starters some water always dribbles down the side of the bottle and then you get label disintegration or wrinkling, which is unsightly. Also I never know how long to keep up the hot shower. The idea here is to dissolve old perfume residue which may have sealed the stopper in the bottle neck. Long story short, no amount of showering would convince Le Parfum Ideal to let go. The hot water did dissolve the remains of the wax though, and slightly damaged the label. At this point I had spent the best part of a day trying to open the bottle and decided to cease and desist and go to bed.
Next day, day two to be precise, I tried the alcohol bath. Here you create a bath of isopropyl alcohol and put your bottle neck down in it with plastic wrap on top to keep the
fumes from escaping. Again the hope is that any dried perfume gluing the stopper in place will dissolve. Not in this case. I soaked LPI for hours, but nothing doing, and when I got nowhere by evening, I resorted to the freezer at twenty minute intervals again. This produced no result. At this point forty eight hours had elapsed since the perfume arrived. On day three I was back to holding the bottle under the hot tap and desperately looking online for further bottle opening advice, but that well had run dry and by now I was reading tales of intrepid husbands who had drilled open ancient bottles of No 5. I wanted to keep the bottle, so drilling was well and truly out.
Then my hub became curious. What was the problem exactly? I explained and he said, the answer was a wrench. “Wrench!” I bellowed with visions of crystal stoppers shattering all over the kitchen counter tops, “Wrench! Are you mad?”
He wasn’t though, he went and got the correct size of wrench and a towel to wrap the bottle, and with me cowering in the next room with the cat, struggled with the stopper. And pop! Out it came and hit the Hub in the face he said, with a wave of perfume nobody had smelled for eighty or ninety years. He said it was rather a good wave, and unique in his experience.
He was right. Old Le Parfum Ideal is a rich tobacco and jasmine note with aldehydes flattening out in the top, and a dry down reminiscent of Coty Chypre’s. Ideal is opulent and well worth the trouble it gave us. Which was a lot, that bottle put up a three day fight.
What is your favorite stopper opening method-or do you have a good story of an old bottle?