In which we take an excursion into perfume history

This is not really a vintage perfume blog but I want to share this very special thing that my friend Jo gave me a few months ago. It is a bottle of ‘Goya No 5’, and it had belonged to her grandmother. It was one of three perfumes she owned the time of her death in 1988.

Goya No 5? It turned out to be unexpectedly difficult to find information about the company and the perfume. 1000 Fragrances and the more encyclopedic Cleopatra’s Boudoir, normally my go-to sites for this kind of thing, were no help. Perfume Intelligence is more useful, telling us that the company was owned by an English entrepreneur called Douglas Collins, who established several perfume companies from the 1930s to the 1960s, and died in 1972. ‘Goya’ was the name he gave to the company he owned from 1937. The company did not adopt any kind of exotic Spanish aesthetic, because Collins, oddly enough, had not heard of the famous Spanish artist.

The company does sound very English. Over many years it brought out quite appealing-sounding perfumes, like Gardenia (1937) and Heather (also 1937), and several that suggest that Collins was of a playful or superstitious disposition (or thought his customers might be): Lucky Thimbles (1952), Roulette (1952), Lucky Number (1956), Great Expectations (date unknown). There was a host of others, some with names that would be well suited to the celebuscents of today, such as Light Heart (date unknown), Black Rose (1955), Disturb (1961), and Renegade (1975). But Perfume Intelligence is silent on when No 5 was launched.

Happily, there is a wonderful book by Carol Dyhouse called Glamour: Women, History, Feminism which mentions Goya. Dyhouse references an advertisement from 1952 which proclaimed that Goya No 5 was ‘the perfume for mink-coated evenings.’ My idea of a mink coat perfume would be something like those wonderful old film-noir Lanvins which I have never smelled (but would love to): My Sin, Scandal, Pretexte. Dark, sexy and animalic.

Is Goya No 5 dark, sexy and animalic? Nope, not not a bit. It is a light, sheer, herbal cologne. Perfect as an after-bath splash or for dabbing on a handkerchief. Even before I’d done the research on Goya I was expecting something with more presence, because the cross-hatched effect of the diagonal ridges on the glass make the bottle very striking. But the perfume is modest and unassuming. Jo remembers her grandmother as a modest and unassuming person too. Financially well off (and indeed one of her other perfumes was a Lanvin), her family background was relatively humble.

It is odd that the perfume does not match its image, but according to Dyhouse, Douglas Collins had a way of marketing his inexpensive scents towards women who (he believed) dreamed of fur coats and high-glamour lifestyles. Perhaps he was a poorly educated, working class man who grew up wishing he could have put some romance into the lives of his mother and sisters. I’d love to know.

You do see a few Goya perfumes floating around on eBay occasionally, and Black Rose has a a bit of an internet presence, including two reviews on Basenotes. Personally I’d love to try a perfume called Lucky Thimbles. That sounds adorable. It would be funny, wouldn’t it, if it turned out to be dark, sexy and animalic?

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12 thoughts on “In which we take an excursion into perfume history

  1. I like the idea you propose – that his aim was to make women of modest means able to feel glamorous about their perfumes. My maternal as well as my paternal grandmother would have been such women – never able to afford the expensive stuff, and I hope there was something nice on the market for them as well back in the days. I’ll have to ask my mother next time I talk to her if my grandmothers liked perfume and spent money on it and if yes, what they wore.

    1. Thanks, yes, it is always worth talking to your family about their lives and histories. I wish I had done more of that with my Mum. Now I don’t have much to pass on to my kids about her.

      Carol Dyhouse mentions those perfumes by Grossmith – Phul-Nana and Hasu-no-Hana and so on – and says that although very exotic, they were originally quite cheap. Perfumes for servant girls, apparently. (This was in the first few decades of the c.20) It amuses me so much that they have been revived now at the high end of the market and sell for astronomical prices. ‘Twas not always so!

  2. Obscure vintage perfume! How exciting. There’s a kind of excitement to discovering scents that were well-known and popular, that have connections to people in our pasts – and a different kind of excitement to discovering scents that very few people know about.

    Lucky Thimbles is such a fascinating name for a fragrance… what does it mean? what does it smell like? I think I’m blowing my own mind here.

    1. I wondered, after a moment’s Googling, if ‘Lucky Thimbles’ is (was) a game? It is fascinating because the name seems to take us back to a completely different era, when thimbles were common in every household, and when simple games were, in a pre-television/computer era, a more common pass time.

      Thanks for your comment Mals. What is nice about the Goya story is that it reminds us that when we think about vintage perfume we tend to focus on the bigger, high-end brands, and the brands that survive today. We forget about these smaller brands. We complain today about the number of scents on the market, but Goya put out about 25-30 perfumes in 40 years or so, and it was just one company. Perhaps the perfumes only cost a shilling or so, and would not have been advertised in the high-end magazines that we tend to use today as evidence of perfume use.

  3. If I’m allowed to interject a bit of perfume history on your page, at the wake of Chanel No.5’s success there were quite a few perfumes following the numerical pattern indeed, some even being called No.5 themselves. It seems Goya is one of them, the most famous example being Molyneux’s. The composition being in a relevant vein had nothing to do with it, but the ease of ordering foreign sounding perfume just by raising the fingers of your hand had plenty to do with it, especially by soldiers abroad during the war buying a memento for their sweethearts back home.

    1. Thanks perfumeshrine, Yes, I skirted around the issue of the No 5 because I did not know much about it, except to assume that no-one can trademark the phrase ‘No 5’ by itself.

      I love that story about the American soldiers queuing up to buy Chanel No 5, and raising five fingers at the counter when they got there. But somewhere recently I read that they queued up just as much at the Guerlain shop too. There, I’ll bet, they really would have a struggle with the perfume names!

  4. AnneMarie,

    I’m with you on that bottle: love those cross-hatched ridges and it’s nipped-in waist. Worth owning it for that reason alone!

    1. Thanks Suzanne, yes, it certainly is glamourous. Now you mention the bottle again, the diagonal lines remind me of the pelts on that lady’s fur stole, in the picture above. I can’t stand the thought of the fur trade, but have to admit, the looks divine.

  5. I came across this site while looking for the perfumes I grew up with in the 50s and 60s, in a town in the middle of the Karoo in South Africa. Perfumes were bought in a pharmacy, or “the chemist” as we called it then. My mother loved Potter & Moore Lavender and Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass was popular with some of my friends’ mothers. I was 12 years old in 1959 and my friends and I doused ourselves in Californian Poppy and about six varieties of Goya perfumes. They were all sold in small bottles and cost about 4 times the price of an ice-cream parfait, to give you an idea. Californian Poppy came in a small rectangular bottle with a red pointed cap and the Goya ones in round ribbed bottles, about one centimetre in diameter and about five centimetres tall. Each fragrance had another colour cap and there was also a tin of talcum powder matching each one, if you could afford it of course. I don’t remember the names now, apart from Gardenia, No 5 and Black Rose. Other beauty products I remember from that time, are Three Flowers lipstick in a red and gold striped tube and Cutex nail polish in Pearl Pink. I’m making scrapbooks of the decades of my life, so I’m constantly on the web looking for pictures of beauty products, music and anything else I remember or recognise. Having a ball! Illa

    1. Hi illa, thanks for dropping by. All those brands feature strongly in our collective perfume memories don’t they? Yardley and Lentheric were also widely available when I was growing up in a small city in Australia in the 70s. For some reason I don’t remember Coty so much. But I’m pretty certain my mother wore Cutex Pearl Pink.

      We too called the pharmacy ‘the chemist’ and that is still the most commonly used term here.

      I’m glad you are preserving your memories in tangible form. I suppose you might have already come across these sites already, but just in case:

      http://yesterdaysperfume.typepad.com/
      http://miniatureperfumeshoppe.com/

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