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Story of perfume from 150 years ago found on wreckage

An unusual find was made on the wreck of a smuggling ship that sank in the 19th century off the coast of Bermuda. Divers exploring the wreck came across a perfume manufactured 150 years ago! What is more, during the chemical analysis it was possible to recreate the composition of the perfume and produce a
Published: November 5, 2014 - 17:36
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 08:49
Story of perfume from 150 years ago found on wreckage

An unusual find was made on the wreck of a smuggling ship that sank in the 19th century off the coast of Bermuda. Divers exploring the wreck came across a perfume manufactured 150 years ago! What is more, during the chemical analysis it was possible to recreate the composition of the perfume and produce a slightly less weathered version which will be sold.

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“This perfume has been waiting 150 years for someone to use it and now we finally have that opportunity,” Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, representing The Bermuda Perfumery, said at a special gala in New York.

Made in the mid-19th century, the perfume was carried in the hold of the steamer Mary Celestia, which sailed during the American Civil War. The ship’s crew smuggled all sorts of goods in an attempt to circumvent the naval blockade imposed by Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States at the time.

The vessel was ideal for smuggling goods between Bermuda and North Carolina. Fast for the time, the Mary Celestia delivered elegant clothes, shoes, perfumes and wines. This leads us to believe that the vial found was intended for one of the wealthy ladies favoring the Confederates. Unfortunately, the order never reached its recipient, as on September 6, 1864, the steamer ran into a reef and sank.

For decades the wreck was one of the biggest tourist attractions in sunny Bermuda. As a result of a hurricane that hit the area in the early 21st century, the remains of the steamer were turned over and everything changed. Artifacts that had been hidden until then began to appear during subsequent explorations. This is how the aforementioned bottle of perfume fell into the hands of archaeologists in 2011.

“On the bow of the wreck I found a small box with a missing lid. I got closer and inside I found a small bottle with a transparent liquid,” – said James Delgado, one of the archaeologists working on the wreck.

Thanks to the markings on the glass bottle, it was possible to establish that it came from the now defunct perfume house of Piesse and Lubin in London. G.W. Septimus Piesse is also the author of “The Art of Perfumery”, the first book on modern fragrance making, published in 1857.

The glass vial and its contents were taken to a laboratory in New Jersey. There it was opened and examined by an expert – Jean-Cleaude Delvill. As the interested party himself reports, it took him several hours just to open the package. When he finally managed to do so, he was surprised by the fresh, intense floral fragrance, full of citrus notes. A small sample was then placed in a chromatograph, which allowed the exact composition of the perfume to be recreated. The reconstructed version of the perfume contains scents of grapefruit, citrus and rosewood. The whole is completed by a delicate aroma of rose and orange blossoms.

As Delville assures us, the modern version of the fragrance coincides with the original by more than 80%. He attributes the differences, in turn, to advances in distillation and the fact that some of the original’s ingredients were of animal origin and can no longer be used in the perfume industry today.

To commemorate the year the steamship carrying the perfume went down, it has been decided to produce only 1884 flacons of the ‘resurrected’ fragrance. The retail price is expected to be $225 apiece, with a portion of that amount going to support the protection and preservation of wrecks in Bermuda. Those interested in purchasing a fragrance with such a remarkable history can do so online at lilibermuda.com.

Source: ctvnews.ca

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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