AROMATIC SUBSTANCES

The gratification of his senses is peculiar to man, and it is to this
trait that we are indebted for all the arts. The activities which
aimed at the gratification of the eye and ear developed into the
creative arts and music, and in like manner human endeavor directed
toward the stimulation of the sense of smell has in our time assumed
the proportions both of an art and a science; for it was nothing but
the advancement of chemistry that made it possible to fix all the
pleasant odors offered by nature and to create new perfumes by the
artistic combination of these scents. The preparation of perfumes is a
very ancient art that is met with among all peoples possessed of any
degree of civilization. It is particularly the ancient nations of the
Orient which had in truth become masters in the manufacture of numerous
perfumes.

The first perfume was the fragrant flower; it has continued to be so
to the present day: the sprig of dried lavender flowers which we lay
in the clothes-press was probably used for the same purpose by the
contemporaries of Aristotle. In the Orient, which we may look upon as
the cradle of the art of perfumery, the idea suggested itself early to
substitute for the delicious fragrance of the flowers some substances
of lasting odor; various sweet-scented resins supplied the material
for this purpose. The use of these aromatic resins must have been
very extensive: the ancient Egyptians alone consumed extraordinary
quantities for embalming their dead. How highly the Oriental peoples
in general prized perfumes can be learned from the Bible: the Jews
(like the Catholics to the present day) employed an aromatic gum-resin
(olibanum, frankincense) in their religious ceremonies; in the Song of
Solomon mention is made of Indian perfumes, for instance, cinnamon,
spikenard, myrrh, and aloes.

Altogether, incense played a prominent part in the religious ceremonies
of the ancient Western Asiatic nations—among many peoples under a
theocratic government it was even believed to be sinful to use incense
for other than religious purposes. The Bible teaches us that Ezekiel
and Isaiah protested against it, and that Moses even prescribed the
preparation of certain kinds of incense for use in the tabernacle.

Among the most highly civilized people of antiquity, the Greeks, a
large number of fragrant substances, as well as oils perfumed with
them—that is to say, perfumes in the same sense as we still understand
the term—was known; this will be no surprise to those familiar with the
culture of this remarkable people. The odor of violets was the favorite
among the Greeks; besides this they used the scent of the different
mints, thyme, marjoram, and other aromatic plants. This was carried
so far as to become a matter of fashion for the Greek fop to use only
certain odors in the form of ointments for the hair, others for the
neck, etc. In order to prevent this luxury which was carried to such
an excess, Solon even promulgated a law that interdicted the sale of
fragrant oils to Athenian men (the law did not apply to the women).

The Romans, who were the pupils of the Greeks in all the arts, carried
the luxury with perfumes perhaps even farther. In ancient Rome there
was a very numerous guild of perfumers called _unguentarii_; they
are said to have had a street to themselves in Capua. A Patrician
Roman anointed himself three times daily with precious, sweet-scented
oils which he personally took along into his bath in golden vessels
of exquisite workmanship, so-called nartheciæ. At the funeral of
his wife Poppæa, Nero is said to have used as incense more odorous
substances than could be produced in one year in Arabia, at that time
the only reputed source of perfumes. This luxury went so far that
during the games in the open amphitheatres the whole air was filled
with sweet odors ascending from numerous censers arranged in a circle.
The apartments of well-to-do Romans always contained large and very
valuable urns filled with dried blossoms, to keep the air permanently
perfumed.

Roman extravagance with perfumes was carried to such an excess that
under the consulate of Licinius Crassus a law was passed which
restricted the use of perfumery, there being good reason to fear that
there would not be enough for the ceremonies in the temples.

With the migration of the almost savage Huns and Goths, the refinement
of morals ceased, progress in civilization was retarded for centuries,
and at the same time the use of perfumes disappeared entirely in
Europe; but it was otherwise in the Orient. As an instance we may
mention the prophecy of Mohammed, who promised in the Koran to the
faithful in paradise the possession of black-eyed houries whose bodies
were composed of the purest musk.

The Arabs, the ancient masters of chemistry, were also the first
founders of the art of perfumery. Thus the Arabian physician Avicenna,
in the tenth century, taught the art of preparing fragrant waters from
leaves, and Sultan Saladin, in 1157, on his triumphal entry, had the
walls of the mosque of Omar washed with rose water.

It was the intercourse with the Orient brought about by the Crusades
that made Europeans again more familiar with the art of perfumery, and
a number of new odors rapidly became known. Italy and France, in those
times the representatives of culture, were the countries in which the
preparation of perfumes was carried on on a large scale. Thus, for
instance, we find the name of a Roman family preserved to the present
day because one of its members had combined a sweet-scented powder,
called Frangipanni after its inventor, which is still in favor, and
because his grandson Mauritius Frangipanni had made the important
discovery that by treating this powder with spirit of wine the fragrant
substance could be obtained in a fluid form.

The fact has been frequently related and repeated, that Catherine de
Medici, the wife of Henry II., had made use of the fashion of perfuming
the body for the purpose of ridding herself of objectionable persons,
by giving them scented gloves prepared and at the same time poisoned by
a Florentine named René (Renato?). We think this tale to be simply a
hair-raising fable—modern chemistry knows no substance the mere touch
of which could produce the effect of a fatal poison; and it is scarcely
credible that such a material had been known at that time and lost
sight of since.

In the sixteenth century, especially at the court of Queen Elizabeth,
perfumes were used with great extravagance; in fact, were looked upon
as one of the necessaries of life. This luxury was carried still
farther at the courts of the sumptuous kings of France; Louis XV. went
so far as to demand every day a different odor for his apartments. A
lady’s lover always used the same kind of perfume she did.

It is well known that among the Oriental nations perfumes are used so
largely that even food is flavored with rose water, musk, etc.; and
Indian and Chinese goods always possess a peculiar aroma which is so
characteristic for certain products that it was considered to be a sign
of genuineness; this was the case, for instance, with the patchouly
odor which always adheres to Indian shawls.

A shawl-maker of Lyons, who had succeeded in perfectly imitating Indian
shawls with reference to design and colors, spent a fabulous sum to
obtain possession of the plant used by the Indian weavers for perfuming
their wares. Despite the great outlay caused by the search for this
plant, the manufacturer is said to have done a flourishing business
with his “genuine” Indian shawls.

In more recent times the great extension of trade to the farthest
countries of the globe, and still more the progress of chemistry, have
made us familiar with a number of new perfumes. More than two hundred
different aromatic substances are now known, and still they are far
from being exhausted; every year new odoriferous plants become known,
from which the chemist extracts perfumes. By this means, as well as by
the enormous employment of perfumes in all grades of society, the art
of their preparation has risen to a higher plane; out of empiricism,
which alone prevailed a few decades ago, into the domain of the
chemical sciences.

Since the appearance of the last edition of this book, the art of
perfumery has made noteworthy progress both with reference to the
knowledge of new aromatic substances and to improvement in the
methods of their preparation; by the introduction of glycerin, solid
and liquid vaselin, and salicylic acid into perfumery, one of its
branches—hygienic cosmetics—has made an important advance.

At present it is particularly France and England whose perfumery
industry is most extensive and which to some extent rule the markets of
the world; southern France and Algiers especially furnish the best raw
materials, the finest essential oils for the manufacture of perfumes at
the chief centres, Paris and London.

We apply the term perfume—which really means a fumigating material—to
those substances which make an agreeable impression upon our sense of
smell; the French call them briefly _odeurs_, _i.e._, odors. The high
degree of development at present attained by this industry in France
and England is the cause of the fact that all perfumes are generally
sold under French or English names, which must be borne in mind by
manufacturers in this country.

Perfumes or scents, however, exert not only an agreeable impression
on the olfactory organ, but their effect extends to the entire
nervous system, which they stimulate; when used in excess, they are
apt to cause headache in sensitive persons; the laborers in the
chemical factories where these substances are produced on a large
scale, occasionally even suffer by reason of their stimulating action
on the nerves. For this reason perfumes should never be employed
otherwise than in a very dilute condition; this necessity arises from
a peculiarity of the odorous substances which when concentrated and
pure have by no means a pleasant smell and become fragrant only when
highly diluted. Oil of roses, of orange flowers, or of jasmine, in
fact nearly all aromatic substances, have an almost disagreeable odor
when concentrated; only in an extremely dilute state they yield those
delightful scents which we admire so much in the blossoms from which
they are derived.

It will be easier to understand the almost incredible productiveness
of perfumes if we cite as an instance that a few centigrams of musk
placed on a sensitive scale can for years fill a large hall with their
characteristic odor without showing an appreciable loss of weight, and
still particles must separate from the musk and become evenly diffused
through the air of the hall because the odor is perceptible throughout
every part of it.

It would be an error, however, were we to assume that all aromatic
substances possess the same degree of productiveness; some of them, as
for instance the odorous principle of orris root, have a comparatively
faint smell—a fact which must be borne in mind in the combination of
perfumes. Even odors having a very similar effect on the olfactory
nerves differ widely in their intensity; for instance, true oil (attar)
of roses possesses an intensity more than twice as great as that of the
rose geranium; many authorities agree in giving the proportion as three
to eight, the first figure being that of rose oil, the second that of
oil of rose geranium. Therefore, in order to produce perfumes of equal
intensity (having the same effect on the olfactory nerves), we must
dissolve in an equal quantity of the menstruum either three parts by
weight of the attar of roses or eight parts of the oil of rose geranium.

In the prescriptions for the preparation of perfumes given in this
book, these proportions have been carefully weighed; but it will be the
office of the trained olfactory sense of the manufacturer to modify
them for the various kinds of perfumery in such a way as to produce a
truly harmonious pleasant odor.

Although we know many aromatic substances, we are still in ignorance as
to the preparation of certain decidedly agreeable odors. Thus no one at
present is able to produce the refreshing odor of the sea borne along
on the wind, any more than we are able to reproduce the scent exhaled
by the forest, especially after a warm rain; chemistry, though it has
done much in the domain of perfumery, has thus far thrown no light
upon it. Even certain vegetable odors—for instance, the delightful
perfume exhaled by some Aroideæ and Primulaceæ—we cannot as yet
preserve unchanged in perfumery. This opens an illimitable field for
future activity to the progressive manufacturer.

In a book devoted to the production of perfumes it would certainly
be in place to say something about the physiological relations of
the olfactory sensations; but unfortunately this interesting part
of physiology is still enveloped in great obscurity. All we know
positively on this subject is that many particles of the odorous bodies
evaporate and must come in contact with the olfactory nerves in order
to produce the sensation of odor. There is no lack of experiments
seeking to draw a parallel between sensations of smell and those of
hearing, and, as is well known, we speak of a harmony and dissonance
of odors as we do of tones. Piesse, the renowned perfumer, has even
made an attempt to arrange the different odors in a “harmonic scale”
having the compass of the piano, and to deduce therefrom a law for the
mixture of the several aromatic substances. This attempt, although very
ingenious, still lacks a scientific foundation. Piesse endeavors to
combine the several scents like tones to produce chords in different
scales; the chords of odors are to agree with those of tones. Thus far,
however, no proof has been furnished that the olfactory nerve and the
acoustic nerve have the same organization, and under this supposition
alone could Piesse’s system be accepted as correct.





THE DIVISION OF AROMATIC SUBSTANCES ACCORDING TO THEIR ORIGIN.

The majority of the substances used in perfumery are derived from
the vegetable kingdom, but some come from the animal kingdom, and
for others which do not occur complete in nature we are indebted to
chemistry. As is well known, most blossoms possess a decided odor,
which is extremely fragrant in some; yet it is not the blossoms
alone, but in different genera various parts are distinguished by
agreeable odors. In some plants the fragrant substances are contained
in every part, as in different pines and the mints; in others, only
in the fruits (nutmeg, vanilla), while the other parts are odorless;
in certain plants only the rinds of the fruits contain an aromatic
substance (oranges, lemons). In the Florentine Iris the entire plant is
odorless—only its root stock possesses an agreeable, violet-like scent;
while, for instance, in the camphor-tree an aromatic substance exists
in the wood, in the cinnamon laurel in the bark, in the clove-tree
mainly in the closed buds.

But taking the aromatic plants all together, we find that it is
particularly their flowers which contain the finest odors, and that the
majority of perfumes are prepared from their blossoms.

From the animal kingdom we take for the purposes of perfumery only a
very small number of substances, among which, moreover, some peculiar
relation exists; while, for instance, all men would call the odor of
violets, roses, vanilla, etc., agreeable, the odor of some animal
substances is decidedly obnoxious to many persons, though others like
it—an observation which can be verified often with reference to musk.

With the advancement of science, chemical products find application
in ever increasing numbers; among them are substances which owe their
origin directly to the vegetable kingdom, while others, such as
nitrobenzol and pine-apple ether, are only indirectly derived from it.

From what has been stated, we learn that our attention must be directed
particularly to those scents which are derived from the vegetable
kingdom. To the manufacturer of perfumery, however, it is a matter
of importance whence the plants are obtained which he uses for the
preparation of the odors; a very slight change in the soil often
makes a great difference in the quality of one and the same species;
we see this quite clearly in our ordinary strawberry. While the wild
fruit is but small in size it has a delightful aromatic flavor, and
the same species transplanted into gardens attains much greater size
but possesses only a faint aroma not to be compared with that of the
wild variety. The Lombardian violet is large and beautiful, but the
German has a much more pleasant odor. On the other hand, the blossoms
of the orange-tree obtained from the plants cultivated in pots cannot
be compared with reference to their odor with these growing in the
Riviera, the strip of coast land of the Mediterranean from Marseilles
to Genoa. Altogether the last-named region and the south of France
may be called the true garden of the perfumer; in the neighborhood of
Grasse, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and some other towns, extensive plots
of ground are set with aromatic plants such as orange-trees, Acacia
farnesiana, jasmine, violets, etc., whose products are elaborated
in large, well-appointed chemical factories solely devoted to the
extraction of their odors. The proximity of the sea-coast, with its
favorable climate almost free from frost, permits the cultivation of
southern plants, while in the more elevated parts of the country the
adjoining Maritime Alps cause a more changeable climate which adapts
them to certain other sweet-scented plants.

The great value of the annual production of the French flower farms at
Cannes, Grasse, and Nice will be evident from the following figures.
The harvesting and elaboration of the flowers at the points named
give employment to fifteen thousand persons, and the average annual
production is:

Orange flowers, 2,000,000 kgm., valued at 2,000,000 francs.
Roses, 500,000 ” ” 500,000 ”
Jasmine, 80,000 ” ” 200,000 ”
Violets, 80,000 ” ” 400,000 ”
Acacia flowers, 40,000 ” ” 160,000 ”
Tuberoses, 20,000 ” ” 80,000 ”
———-———- ———-———-
2,720,000 kgm., valued at 3,340,000 francs.

From these flowers were manufactured: 500,000 kgm. of pomades and
essences, 1,000,000 litres of orange-flower water, 100,000 litres of
rose water, and 1,200 kgm. of oil of roses.

Besides, in more northern countries we find here and there quite
an extensive cultivation of aromatic plants; this is the case, for
instance, in England, where lavender, crisp mint, and peppermint are
planted on a large scale solely for their perfume. In northern Germany,
too, we sometimes find caraway and sweet flag cultivated, for their
peculiar odors only, in special fields.

As stated above, the place of growth of a plant exerts a powerful
influence on the quality of the odors developed in it; this
circumstance may be the reason why certain scents are prized most
highly when they are derived from some definite regions, because
the buyer is sure that the product from such places is of superior
excellence.

Thus we find that English oils of lavender and peppermint are valued
more highly and bring better prices than those from other points of
production; some places even have, as it were, acquired a monopoly of
certain odors. While the factories at Cannes produce the most perfect
odors of roses, orange flowers, jasmine, and cassie, those at Nice
are famous for the finest odors of violet, reseda (mignonette), and
tuberose, and those of Italy for the odors of bergamot and orris root.

Unfortunately there are in the United States no extensive places of
cultivation for odoriferous plants, although certain localities are
very well adapted to the growth of violets, mignonette, roses, syringa,
lavender, etc. Peppermint, however, is grown on a large scale in some
parts of New York State and in Michigan. Of course such an enterprise,
in order to be profitable, requires the intelligent co-operation
of planters and duly qualified chemists, besides well-furnished
laboratories and a considerable amount of capital; but under these
conditions the prospects of gain are good.

At present the manufacturers of perfumery are almost entirely dependent
upon English and French factories for their supply of odors. Owing to
the absence of competition, the prices for the products, excellent
though they are, are high, and become still more so when the crops
are short. These conditions would be materially altered under active
competition.

As indicated above, the odors used in perfumery may be divided into
three distinct groups according to their origin. These groups are:

1. Odors of vegetable origin.

2. Odors of animal origin.

3. Odors of artificial origin—chemical products.

Before describing the preparation of true perfumes, it is necessary
to become acquainted with the several raw materials required in their
manufacture; that is to say, the simple odorous substances, their
origin, their preparation, and their peculiar qualities. Besides these
odorous raw materials, the art of perfumery makes use of a number of
chemical and mineral products, whose quality largely influences that
of the perfume to be made. These, therefore, likewise call for an
appropriate description. Among these auxiliary substances are alcohol,
glycerin, fixed oils, and solid fats, which play an important part
not only in the preparation of the perfumes, but also enter into the
composition of many. The liquid handkerchief perfumes always contain
a large quantity of alcohol, the scented hair oils consist largely
of fixed oils, while solid fats of animal or vegetable origin occur
in the so-called pomades. As we shall see, the actual odors, owing
to their extraordinary productiveness, constitute generally only a
small percentage of the perfumes; the greatest bulk is usually either
alcohol, fixed oil, or solid fat.

Hence, as the last-named substances, aside from the odoriferous
materials, form the foundation of all articles of perfumery, the
manufacturer must devote particular attention to their purity, and
their qualities must be discussed in detail.