The Not So Holy Grail — Factice or Fiction

This Post is from Diane of Dragonfly Scent Me. She has an amazing collection of vintage perfumes, many of which she sells samples of on eBay, as well a lot of other great fragrances, and she has graciously agreed to share her knowledge about vintage and how to spot a factice with us all, plus a bonus tip at the end!

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Many of us have been there……you see an amazing vintage bottle of perfume you have been waiting months to show up on that wonderful place of bargains and hard to find items ~ Ebay ~ only to receive the bottle & find out the juice is water or alcohol & you have a factice or simply an empty beautiful bottle. Your heart sinks and knots form in your stomach. You feel angry….ripped off…duped…by these sellers that count on the fact that the buyers don’t know any better. But more often then not, sellers aren’t educated on what a factice or Dummy bottle is. Now, factices can be very collectible and very valuable, but to the perfume junkie looking for that next fix of pure parfum heaven….a factice is a huge letdown. So having learned the hard way and having been on the receiving end of factices both due to blatant deceit or oversight on the seller’s part, I’d like to take a moment and write up a guide on to how to spot a factice and what to ask sellers to find out if the bottle you’re drooling over is indeed a factice.

First off, all factices should be listed in the collectible bottles section as they are not perfume. However……perfume may be listed in the collectible bottles category as the seller may be focusing on the value of the bottle which happens to have its original contents. Most honest sellers who are selling an Empty bottle or factice will often fill the bottle with colored liquid to show off the beauty of the bottles…facets, etching, etc….and most of these sellers do 2 things that help you know right away they are selling an EMPTY — bright colored water that looks nothing like perfume (purple, blue, green and red) and they openly state the bottle is empty and is filled with colored water for display purposes only. OK, of course this is easy…..you have a good seller who knows not to dupe people. But what about the seller who adds a perfect amber color liquid the exact same shade as that of the perfume and never says its NOT perfume, or never says it is filled with water, alcohol and not the original contents of the bottle? Here are some guides to actual factual perfume.

First of all, look for discoloration around the stopper and neck of bottle. If the bottle looks pristine and incredibly clean, it is most likely a factice. Vintage perfumes, due to the oils, often discolor the inside neck of the bottle and stopper and leaves residue even if its still sealed!! If the stopper and neck are perfectly clear clean glass, this might be a hint it’s a factice.

I can not stress enough ~ Ask questions, ask questions and ask more questions about the item you’re interested in. The seller should be happy to answer any and all questions openly and honestly. If not, you’ve got trouble on your hands. The first question to ask each and every time, if the bottle is not sealed IS: “Is this the original contents of the bottle, or did you put in colored water or alcohol in the bottle to showcase it?” This question is especially helpful if the perfume is listed in the collectible bottles category as opposed to the perfume category. This question will help you avoid the con artists out there. This happened to me. The seller NEVER said it WAS perfume but also never revealed the bottle was filled with colored water added to about 1 ml of perfume left in the bottle, and it was the exact color of the perfume. This was a pure case of deception, and I got my money back through Paypal, but it took a great deal of effort. Of course, if someone is out to scam you and they don’t answer honestly you can still be duped but hopefully the rest of the clues and questions will help avoid buying a factice or an empty.

If the bottle listed is sealed with the original contents the next question to ask is: “Is the word factice or dummy labeled, etched, or scratched into the bottle?” A Dummy or factice will always be labeled as such — usually in a manner that’s impossible to remove. Many bottles havee etched or scratched into the glass the word DUMMY or the word FACTICE. The most common places are the back of the bottle, side of the bottle or the bottom of the bottle. However (here’s one that threw me), vintage Guerlain & Balenciaga bottles are often marked dummy on the back of the label that is on the front of the bottle. The only way to see the word dummy is by looking through the back of the bottle and seeing the back of the label on the front of the bottle. This would be easy for anyone, seller or otherwise, to overlook. If the pictures on the auction aren’t clear or are not close up, ask the seller, “What does the stopper look like where it goes in the bottle? Is there any discoloration or residue there or is it pristine & clean?” Water and alcohol will not leave residue or discolor the bottle in any way as it is free of oils.

I once received a sealed factice Guerlain Baccarat bottle — Yep an honest to goodness Baccarat Stamped bottle — that was also a dummy and said so only on the back of the label glued to the front of the bottle. The seller had no idea the bottle was a dummy and neither did I until i got the bottle, which, by the way, prompted me to write this article — hoping you won’t have to make the same mistakes I have. So ask the seller if the word dummy or factice can be seen through the back of the bottle on the back of the label.

Now, I once received a Guerlain factice sealed with a Baccarat stamp on the bottom of the bottle. Probably worth a heck of a lot of money but I wanted the PERFUME….WAH!!! It was the original contents and the seller had no idea this was a factice, and neither did I, until i got the bottle and happened to see throught the perfume looking at the back of the bottle there was dummy on the label facing the back of the bottle. Had I asked more questions of the seller I might have realized this was a factice and could have saved the seller and myself time. They truly had no idea the bottle was a factice and happily took the bottle back. I will buy from this seller any day of the week!! The seller was Justeclecta2. All sellers should be as accommodating & honest as they are!

Another clue to vintage scents is perfume color and the issue of “floaters.” If there seems to be floaters in the bottle, it is a good sign. In vintage parfum bottles, floaters are excellent evidence the contents are actually perfume, not water or alcohol. The oils often thicken due to age and evaporation. The fragrance congeals a bit leaving small oil balls in the juice. This doesn’t always happen though, so a lack of floaters does not mean the juice isn’t parfum. Also, very old parfums almost always darken in color sometimes to a black pitch. This is a whole other vintage issue to explore, but if it’s a really old scent that has been discontinued for a long time, often the juice will not be the original color but slightly darker. If it looks likes its new it may be a factice since the colored juice will not change shade. Again….ask if dummy or factice is anywhere on the bottle and seen by looking at the back of the label. Ask the seller, “Please shake the bottle a bit….is there any residue or dark floaters in the bottle?” Don’t worry if there isn’t, but it does happen sometimes. So if there is, you know its not water. If there isn’t floaters you need to ask more questions.

Another important question to ask the seller, “is there any scent?” Of course YOU CAN’T smell the bottle but the seller can. Even if a bottle is sealed and never been opened, there will be the perfume’s scent at the stopper of the bottle. A factice has no scent of course. I have many sealed parfum bottles, and they all smell of the parfum. Even my Givenchy Le De, which is a very mild light parfum and\not very old, has a scent at the stopper. A factice will smell like nothing at all. Nothing, nada! The only time there may not be scent emanating around the stopper is if it has a wax or paper seal……which brings me to my last point. I have yet to see a factice with the stopper sealed with wax or paper. Why wax seal a bottle that has no valuable contents? Right!

So in summary:

  1. Ask the seller outright if the contents are original….if so….ask where they got the bottle…..Ask if they put water or alcohol in the bottle
  2. Ask if it’s marked dummy anywhere on the bottle, including on the secret spot ~ the back of the label seen through the back of the bottle
  3. Look for a paper or wax seal…..a cord isn’t good enough. often factices will have been sealed to look like a new unopened bottle but not sealed with paper or wax which protects from leakage & air getting in the bottle
  4. If the bottle is not sealed with wax paper or wax ask if it has a scent around the stopper
  5. Look for discoloration around the neck & stopper of the bottle….if none it may be a factice
  6. Look for darkened juice and possibly floaters.
  7. Hope these tips will help make your vintage searches more successful

Added tip for how to get a stuck stopper out — Run the neck of the bottle where the stopper goes in with the hottest water you can…be careful not to wet the label, you wouldn’t want to damage it. Next, hold the bottle UPRIGHT with a towel & using a hair dryer as close to the glass as it will get — it can even touch the glass — blow dry the neck of the bottle. You want to make sure you blow dry the the whole neck but each spot should be maintained for a while, up to 30 seconds, and then turn the bottle a bit & continue. Using a towel or cloth, gently try to turn the stopper as you also pull up a bit. Remember…..stopper is frickin hot….so don’t burn your hands. If the stopper is not loose, use a bit of rubbing alcohol around the stopper. You can use a pipette to get alcohol all around the stopper. Blow dry again. I have yet to have a bottle that defied the blow dryer….

  • John says:

    What if you buy a factice that was shipped empty, and you want to fill it up again—what do you suggest? I’ve been toying with the idea of finding a like colored alcoholic beverage to fill it with since I won’t have to worry about the water turning bad or going rancid. My only fear is that during the hot summer months, will the bottle explode? Don’t laugh, a bottle of White Shoulders in my collection did just that back in the 90s. I’ve heard that using ionized water is good, but would like some really good ideas to duplicate the color of the original fragance while keeping the water as clean as possible. thanks!

  • Diane says:

    yes alcohol & water can become cloudy but its not the norm. Plus Water & alcohol DO NOT leave residue around the stopper & neck of a bottle. its the dried up thickened oils that do that. The point of the article was to help people looking to get a vintage bottle of perfume not mistakenly buy a factice or empty bottle. Of course not ALL vintage scents get cloudy or darken….but since it does happen quite a bit it is just one more helpful clue. Sometimes one clue is all that is needed. Sometimes it takes going through a few possibilities before one turns up to be a deciding factor. I just hope I have helped people not make the mistakes I have made. As for scents turning & spoiling….as Judith said….That’s a whole other story & unfortunately a crap shoot.

  • Victoria says:

    I agree with you overall, however water and alcohol do cloud and darken, if they are contaminated. Cloudiness in the parfum depends more on the materials used and what era the parfum is from, how it was stored. It is not a certainty that pure parfum will be darker and cloudier decades after its production. But, yes, some minor cloudiness and minor darkening would not prevent it from being wearable.

  • Diane says:

    True Floaters are not always a good sign…but its also not necessarily a bad sign. Maybe floaters is a bad term…..but I have very old parfums that are either cloudy when you shake them …..As a matter of fact almost all my really old parfums have a bit of this & they are all perfect smellling & I have gotten perfume clear as bell that was foul as you can imagine & had turned beyond belief….think vinegar….and others which are dark cloudy when shaken that are still gorgeous smelling.

    The main point was that…..water & alcohol doesn’t cloud or darken with age & pure parfums eventually do.

  • Victoria says:

    Great article! However, I would like to warn that if one is buying perfume for wearing, the presence of floaters is not a good sign at all. Properly matured and filtered perfumes should not contain them (or if so, they should be very minor,) especially in anything post 1920s. If floaters are present, it could be because of contamination (especially if the bottle was opened).

    I would also say that vintage fragrances are very fragile. Keep them in the fridge (this was recommended to me at the Osmotheque; just be sure to wrap bottles/boxes in plastic to prevent refrigerator scents from penetrating them), or else they start turning within months of opening.

  • minette says:

    hi, diane! saw lots of dragonflies this fall and thought of you each time.

    thank you for the wonderful, useful post. hope you’ll be contributing more.

    -minette (mkk)

  • Diane says:

    Chhezwhiz
    the bottles are either marked factice or Dummy
    both the same thing…..A bottle used in a store as a display with colored water or alcohol to look like it has the perfume in it.

    Many factices ARE grossly oversized, some are baccarat But factices can come in normal sizes. i have a dummy nahema bottle 5 1/4 inches tall….the one ounce size. I bought it, knowing it was a dummy, but i needed a Nahema bottle to put my Nahema parfum in….

    bottle has the exact gold lettering as the real deal but the bottom of the bottle has dummy scratched in it & is acid etched ~ Copyright ~ bottle made in france….
    you would not see that on the bottom of a real Guerlain parfum bottle ūüôā

    but at least my nahema has a nice place to reside rather than some nameless decant bottle
    ūüôĀ

  • Cheezwiz says:

    Thanks for the great post Diane! I have yet to venture into the world of vintage scents, but your tips are a lifesaver! I had no idea factices were always marked as such. I also had no idea that factices were made the same size as regular perfume bottles (tricky!) – I’ve only seen the ginormous ones on display in stores.

  • Emotenote says:

    Diane,

    Thanks for this fascinating post. Not only does it contain very helpful advice, but it also gives me a new word to use around my DH who fancies himself Word God. Factice, Factice, Factice….
    It also makes me want to call my MIL, the garage sale queen, to start on the lookout.

  • Diane says:

    A friend of mine who buys ALOT of Vintage scents read it in a perfume magazine & told me about this great trick! Wish I had known about it long ago. Someone on MUA posted she had a stuck stopper & I told her this trick & she said it worked like a charm! She didn’t even have to use alcohol….just hot water. Yipeee!!!

  • violetnoir says:

    Thank you, Diane. All of the information that you gave us with is beyond helpful.

    How did you discover the hair dryer trick? It’s brilliant!

    Hugs!

  • March says:

    Wow — Diane, this was so interesting!!! I had no idea about any of this … I have bought things that were spoiled, but factices never crossed my radar.

    Great information about getting the stopper out, too!

    The silliest things I have done: bought empty atomizers (bad French translation on my part), bought POSTCARD of fragrance (bad translation again, but such a deal!:-")

  • Maria B. says:

    Diane, thank you for sharing your hard-won knowledge. I’m very leery of buying vintage perfume for other reasons. I grew up in hot, bright, humid Miami, where fragrances can go from new to unusable in a couple of years. (My mother and I didn’t know about the damage caused by sunlight.)

    Thank goodness there are wonderful, perfume-obsessed people like you and Patty who are willing to share your decanted treasures with us. (*)

  • annE says:

    Thanks so much for the great tips! I’m often tempted by vintage bottles, and this information was invaluable (although I’ve been lucky so far).

  • Teri says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I had seen the word ‘factice’ used in ebay ads, but had not a clue what that meant. Obviously I could have looked it up in a dictionary – lol – but it’s so much nicer to have it explained by someone ‘in the know’.

  • tmp00 says:

    Diane-

    Great, informative post! Makes me want to run out and look at some factices!

    The blow-dryer tip is a winner; one of those tips that makes me want to slap my forehead and say “why didn’t I think of that…”

  • Diane says:

    Flor
    Oh…Let me know how it goes!!!
    If you need any help or have any other questions please feel free to email me
    [email protected]

  • Flor says:

    Such good advice! Thanks for the article. The tip about the stopper is excellent. I’m going to try it out when I get home tonight. Thanks!

  • Elle says:

    Excellent, priceless advice! Thanks!!! I had no idea that some factices are marked as such on the back of the label.

  • Ellen says:

    Diane: WONDERFUL article! Not being a vintage collector, I had never thought about this, but now I feel forewarned is forearmed! You are such a great E-bay seller yourself and it’s great to have the benefit of your expertise. Patty: Thanks for having Diane guest-write, too!

  • Diane says:

    Hi Camille sorry this happened to you. I have lost a few good vintage bottles trying to get a stopper out until I started using the blow dryer technique. When I say hot water…..I just met hot water from the tap.
    Also, to all those reading this ~ make sure the bottle is room temp. If you just received a vintage bottle in the mail…open it to find a stuck stopper & its been out in the cold mail box in january….let it warm up first before trying to get the stopper out. Glass doesn’t like going from one temp extreme to the other!

  • Camilla says:

    Thanks for the tip on the blow dryer. I recently lost a beautiful vintage Guerlain bottle trying to unstop it with too hot water:( Luck & quick thinking saved the contents, but the bottle cracked, fell apart in my hands.) So if you try to unstop any bottle, please be very careful.

  • Judith says:

    Wonderful post, full of extraordinarily useful information! As you know, I love vintage perfume, but I have been extremely lucky so far and have never bought a factice unknowingly (I have gotten some pretty spoiled perfume, but that’s another story):). It has been PURE dumb luck, though, because the only question I have asked is the first one (is it perfume or water) and I didn’t even do that until your unfortunate experience! So I am very grateful to you for sharing your knowledge–and you can be sure I will make use of it in the future!!!
    PS There are some other excellent vintage sellers like Justeclecta2 who will give money back if they are wrong about the contents; I know theimportsguy promises this. Would they were all like that!!

  • Silvia says:

    So thorough ! Thank you for a most useful post, makes you want to go on ebay immediately and put it all into practice.

  • Leopoldo says:

    Brilliant post, though a little too enabling! I’m probably going to end up on a vintage hunt at some point now. Aaargh says my bank account.

    Thanks Diane! @};[email protected]};[email protected]};-