Resurrecting A Long-Lost 19th Century Fragrance

June 5, 2014

[Updated with video] Some of the world’s foremost fragrance industry experts have analyzed a pair of 150 year-old perfumes discovered in a shipwreck off Bermuda and now will create a replica of the scent, making 19th Century perfume available to the public for the first time.

The process of revealing the ancient find to the world begins with a cover story in this month’s edition of Perfumer & Flavorist – a global authority on the fragrance industry.

Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, Director of The Bermuda Perfumery, and Dr. Philippe Rouja, the Bermuda Government’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks, led the years-long investigation and penned the 2,500-word cover story.

They explain how the intact “Piesse & Lubin” perfume was discovered – almost miraculously – among hidden cargo inside the shipwrecked Civil War Blockade Runner called Mary Celestia, which sank in the azure waters off Bermuda in 1864.

Video courtesy of Look Bermuda:

“We’ve spent months investigating and researching and I’m immensely proud of the work we’ve amassed for the global fragrance industry,” said Mrs. Ramsay-Brackstone who is also Master Perfumer at The Bermuda Perfumery. “This story is fascinating in so many domains: for shipwreck divers, historians as well as perfumers.

“My goal now is to allow the public to get close to this discovery – to smell the perfume and experience its notes. I hope by sharing the story of this ancient perfume and its intriguing mystery we grow the understanding and love of modern-day fragrance-making in the hearts of many people.”

In April 2013, Mrs. Ramsay-Brackstone hand-carried the Piesse & Lubin perfume to the laboratories of drom Fragrances in New Jersey where a thorough investigation commenced to learn the ingredients of the fragrance.

Jean-Claude Delville and Lionel Nesbitt led the technical analysis at drom. They will also help bring the extraordinary find to the public.

Mr. Delville said: “When someone has the opportunity to conduct some extraordinary research, he has no right to keep it for himself.”

As part of the seven-day underwater rescue excavation in June of 2011, a coalition of marine archeologists from the Bermuda Government, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Waitt Institute recovered perfume, cologne and other intriguing artifacts.

Dr. Rouja, who was part of the underwater team, said: “We initially had no idea of the potential significance of the perfume and led by Isabelle and her colleagues it has been an enlightening journey for us into the magical world of historic and modern fine perfume.”

That “journey” continues with a detailed explanation in the Perfumer & Flavorist [PDF]. It’s expected to be a hot topic of discussion at the 2014 World Perfumery Congress in Deauville, France [June 10 – 12], where the publication will be distributed to all participants.

However, Mrs. Ramsay-Brackstone is determined to demystify the scientific complexity found in the article and make the ancient find relevant to everyday lovers of perfume.

Later this month, in line with the third anniversary of the underwater excavation and the 150th anniversary of the shipwreck, The Bermuda Perfumery will make the Piesse & Lubin perfume available to smell. The Perfumery will also showcase a reproduction of the fragrance following the original formula using today’s versions of the ingredients.

Bermuda residents and visitors will be able to experience the replicas and better understand the history of perfume and the story of the Mary Celestia.

Meantime, the incredible history of this particular wreck and its defining role in the U.S. Civil War has made the Mary Celestia the subject of a documentary produced by LookBermuda and PBS member station South Carolina Educational Television. Production is recently underway.

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  1. Photos: 150-Year-Old Perfume Unveiled | | July 3, 2014
  1. road runner says:

    Something smells fishy.