Are you or would you like to become a “vintage hunter” ?

I’ve noticed several new non-fiction TV shows (presumably) which feature one or more people seeking various kinds of “hidden treasures.” One such show is “Toy Hunters,” on the Travel Channel (in the USA). What we see on this show is a person, Jordan Hembrough, who sells mostly vintage toys (often from the 60s through 90s, it seems), looking over toy collections and making offers. Sometimes he won’t buy a toy, even if he thinks he can make a profit, because of the high cost. Instead, he offers to take it on a consignment basis, usually to take it to a toy show. While watching these kinds of shows, I’ve wondered if this idea would work with fragrances.

Whether or not such an idea would make a successful TV, I have considered the apparent differences. What follows here are my thoughts on the subject, the first being that “vintage” can mean strange things in the fragrance world. For example, there seem to be quite a few people seeking “vintage” M7, Dior Homme, and Dior Homme Intense. Another thing is that it’s not uncommon to see some very old fragrance I’ve never heard of before sell for quite a bit of money on ebay. I wonder who these people are and why they are bidding so high. Then again I sometimes see a fragrance that seems to be popular sell for very little there. If this is not due to a relatively small group of collectors involved, I can’t think of another good explanation.

I know one person who supposedly goes to yard sales, thrift shops, etc. and then sells them on ebay, or at least tries to. She sets what she thinks is a low starting bid, but in some cases the fragrance just sits there, week after week, with no bidders. Now if these bottles cost her a dollar or two, she would certainly make a reasonable profit, but I have no idea what her costs are. So, from what I’ve seen, the fragrance “vintage”‘ market can be quite an unpredictable place. That is why I decided to buy such fragrances on ebay if I think I will like them, rather than to make huge profits. My best purchases (to me) have been when I purchased several fragrances as a lot, rather than individual ones, but those situations are not especially common.

What I’ve seen so far is that splash bottles are usually fine, so that is not something I avoid, except for a few very popular ones (I’ve read a few accounts of getting mini splash bottles that had “turned” but again those were ones like Antaeus or Egoiste). And on the other hand I’ve had some sealed spray bottles leak or evaporate slowly. And while I can’t say for sure if there were loss of some top notes, I haven’t had any issues with the drydowns. One of my major goals has been to distinguish between vintage and new bottles (or boxes), when there have been reformulations. Right now, if you go to ebay, you will see quite a few bottles of Acteur by Azzaro for sale, for instance. How can you tell the difference?

One thing you must not do is to trust the seller. I have seen many examples of the claim of “vintage’ when in fact this was not the case. Another thing to look for is the estimate (big “e”) symbol that is often on the boxes of fragrances made from the early/mid 90s to the present. If the company is only selling the fragrance in the USA (or makes boxes specifically for the US market), then a new box may not even have it. However, this is a good general guide. In the case of Acteur, however, this is not a good guide. Instead, what you see is that the vintage bottle has “90% vol.” printed on the front, along with 100 ml and 3.4 FL. OZ. The new formulation simply does not have “90% vol.” printed. Another thing you will notice is that the newer liquid is a pale greenish color while the original is a deep yellowish/brownish color, though sometimes with pictures color differences can be deceiving.

Lastly, you will often find that new formulations only come in the 100 ml size (sometimes 75 ml or 125 ml, depending upon what the original was). In the case of Nicole Miller for Men, it seems that the reformulations were all in the 75 ml size. If I am not sure, and there is a difference in terms of who made the fragrance, I ask the seller to read me what it says on the bottom of the label (on the bottle usually). Some companies that have done their share of reformulations are EA Fragrances, Parlux Fragrances, and Five Star Fragrances. Though I like some fragrances made by these companies, I would not buy a reformulation made by them unless I sampled it first. So, if you see mini bottles, very large bottles (8 ounces or more), or the 30 ml size, that is usually vintage (50 ml size is probably more likely to be vintage as well). And obviously splash bottles are usually vintage, since they were popular 20+ years ago but that is no longer the case. With Caron’s men’s fragrances (at least), many seem to have been reformulated in the 125 ml (or larger, especially Caron Pour un Homme), whereas the originals were more likely to be 100 ml.

Of course, these are the most general of guidelines and are not always correct, but I think they can “get you started” on your vintage hunt. One thing I’ve learned is not to bid too high because if you have patience you can usually get a very good deal, though if you want to make sure you get a bottle before prices go “through the roof,” you may not mind paying a bit more. And while you can make some money if you find an expensive fragrance selling for very little at a garage sale, regardless of whether it is “vintage” or not, there are many fakes of the popular recent fragrances, whereas there aren’t many with vintage (By Man by D&G seems to be the most obvious example). If you have any questions about how to vintage hunt fragrances, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll respond if I have any ideas.

Note: Over at http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com, a comment was made that I find inconsistent with my experiences buying vintage fragrances on ebay:

“It takes little effort to fill an old bottle [of Tabu] with the current formula and empty a vial of patchouli oil into it, and post it for sale as the real thing on ebay, at a premium. But that couldn’t happen with any vintage fragrance, because the world of vintage fragrance is blessed by the total absence of hucksters and frauds.”

First of all, I’ve won spray bottles of Tabu (some sealed by the manufacturer) very inepensively on ebay. Secondly, since I knew the sealed spray ones were legitimate, I could compare the formulation to splash bottles, and there was no difference (and all the bottles I won were very cheap). Thirdly, most of these sellers sell all kinds of things and not just scents. Many seem to just buy some cheap things at a garage sale that look “vintage” and hope for the best listing them on ebay. They would have no idea that patchouli oil is needed to make it smell more legitimate (and I doubt this is the case because I have tried new Tabu and the opening is awful – how is adding some patchouli oil going to change that?). Lastly, I’ll mention that I have bought a huge number of vintage splash bottles on ebay (meaning other than Tabu) and they were all clearly vintage formulations. I don’t doubt there are some fakers on ebay, and that’s I why I won’t buy something like Patou Pour Homme there, considering the prices it commands these days (and thus too much of an incentive to do something unethical), but there are so many half filled splash vintage bottles that come up on ebay it’s obvious that the overwhelming majority of seller are not buying some dollar store scent with the same color and filling the bottles up to the top. This is especially true for women’s “drug store” ones like Tabu, and in fact I’d say that if you think you’ll like vintage Tabu this is the safest vintage scent to buy on ebay.

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