The New York Times, Sept. 28, 1890, p.17:|
MAKING ATTAR OF ROSESTHE GARDEN VALLEY OF THE BALKAN MOUNTAINS.
HOW THE PRECIOUS OIL IS DISTILLED FROM THE BLOSSOMS--
HOW THE MARKET IS CONTROLLED.
About the origin and prices of this valuable production from the queen of flowers the most fabulous stories used to prevail. Peopled fancied it to be a product of India or Persia and valued it--"every drop a ducat."
To be sure, it is obtained in those distant lands of Asia, but otto of roses (more properly "attar" from the Persian atar, fragrance,) which finds its way into the commerce of Europe is prepared in the valleys of the Balkans.
The essence is indeed high in price, but it is still far below that given to it in the imagination of the general public. And since the country producing this concentrated scent of the rose belongs in the front rank with those "interesting regions" which form an element in the Oriental question, it may perhaps be justifiable to give publicity to a study of attar of roses, made upon the spot.
When the wanderer on the only Balkan highway passable for wagons, the Schipka Pass, so often mentioned in the last Turko-Russian war, (1877-78,) descends to the south, the entrancing valley of Kasanlik spreads out before him, those fields so richly blessed by nature, in which Bulgarian rose oil is made. Writers of travel exhaust themselves in enthusiastic descriptions of the magic charm of the valley basin, in which Kasanlik, the City of Roses, the Pearl of Thrace, with its many minarets, lies embedded between rose fields in groves of nut trees and chestnut gardens as if in one of nature's magnificent parks.
The attar of roses reaching European and American trade is almost entirely a product of Southern Bulgaria, the attar of the real Orient, India, being consumed in that country itself, while the product in Southern France obtained from the Rosa provincialis is indeed of excellent quality, but is not only much dearer than the Bulgarian, but is obtained in such small quantities that it furnishes but the smallest portion of the consumption in the country of its production.
A similar statement may be made in regard to recent attempts in some parts of Germany to produce attar, which at best only give minimum results without much weight, since it takes at least 2,000 kilogrammes, and generally far more, sometimes even twice as much, of rose leaves for the production of a single kilogramme of attar of roses.
Besides, two material conditions are wanting for obtaining rose oil in Germany in competition with the Bulgarian, viz., the same kind of soil and the same kind of roses. The first can probably not be obtained in an artificial way, and the attempt to introduce stalks of the Roumelian rose into Germany has been made, but their export from Bulgaria was at once forbidden by the Turkish Government.
It is reported that attempts have recently been made to produce attar in the Caucasus, but they will very likely not be successful, for experiments of a similar kind made at Brussa, in Asia Minor, under the most favorable conditions, at the instigation of the Turkish Government, have had no success. And yet, here there was evidently every reason to hope for one--favorable climatic conditions and employment of rose stalks imported from Bulgaria, whose planting and care were confided to fugitives from Bulgaria who were thoroughly well acquainted with the agricultural industry.
The Balkans are the "Hamus" of old; Bulgaria to the south of the Balkans is ancient Thrace, with the capital, Hadrianopolis, City of Hadrian, to-day called Adrianople, as Philippopel, City of Philip, is the capital of present Eastern Roumelia, and Sofia that of Northern Bulgaria.
Roumelia, in Turkish Rumili, Romanland, and in order to distinguish it from the Greek province of the same name north of Gulf of Corinth, called also "East Roumelia," is that part of Bulgaria south of the Balkan Mountains; the separative designation "Bulgaria" and "East Roumelia"--the latter the diplomatic creation of the Berlin Congress in 1878--sounds, however, very inharmonious to the Bulgarian patriots, as they only wish to hear of the two provinces, North and South Bulgaria.
The rose culture of East Roumelia (South Bulgaria) extends over more than 140 districts, which are scattered in a circuit of from five to six days' journeys, whose centre is Kasanlik. The name of that city, situated 340 meters above the sea, and of its district, is like so many Oriental names, written in different ways--Kasanlik, Kazanlik, Kissanlik, Kyzanlik, Kezanlik, (the final syllable also lyk;) it is usually written Kasanlik in English, because the word is so pronounced. The older Turkish form is Kysanlik, the newer with the Bulgarians is Kasanlyk.
The Turkish word "Kasan" means "kettle," and "lik" city, (so literally "kettle-city" or "city in the kettle," whereas Kyzanlik would mean "city of children.")
The Rosa moschala, which serves principally for making the Bulgarian attar of roses, reaches its blooming time in May and June. It thrives best on hills exposed to the sun which are covered with a sufficient layer of thin clay soil. The rose bushes, when full grown, reach the height of six and one-half feet, are planted in rows about eighteen inches apart lengthwise and three feet sideways, and must be attended to very carefully from Autumn until the time of gathering.
As a rule, attar which is obtained in the higher situated villages is of a higher freezing temperature and stronger, but at the same time coarser, odor than that obtained on the plain, which shows a lower freezing point and has a finer, milder scent; so it is in the latter respect to be preferred to the product of the higher districts. So these different kinds of attar have to be combined in order to furnish a really faultless quality, satisfying all claims. To accomplish this manipulation, great experience and a perfect knowledge of the article are requisite, and particularly so when large quantities are to be prepared.
The result of the attar of roses harvest depends upon the weather prevailing during distillation, supposing of course that the buds have not sensibly suffered by frosts, continued dryness, &c. Keeping this fact clearly before us, it is very evident that it is all humbug to name prices for new attar even before or at the beginning of distillation, as many dealers often like to do, in order to give themselves the appearance of being well informed and to secure the orders of consumers beforehand. The truth is that the prices are always fixed after the termination of distillation, generally in July, but perhaps even as late as August, between producers and exporters of the attar, the chief of which are German houses.
Cool and rainy weather is the most favorable for the distillation of attar of roses, as it prevents too quick and simultaneous blooming of the buds by the warm, dry weather, thus extending the time of gathering and so enabling the employment of all the gradually-developing blossoms, in consequence of which the crop is larger. The influence of weather conditions on the results of distillation is important. In the most favorable case 2,000 kilogrammes of petals are necessary for obtaining one kilogramme of attar, but under the most unfavorable conditions even 4,600 kilogrammes may be required.
It is comprehensible that to obtain such quantities of light petals of a simple rose large stretches of land, fields and gardens of great extent, must be devoted to the culture of rose bushes, and that consequently distilling apparatus must be erected very numerously. The flowers must be gathered as soon as possible before sunrise, to prevent the warmth from withdrawing the ethereal attar and its disappearing on the blossom.
There is not, in all of South Bulgaria, a single factory for making attar of roses, and there cannot be, for, aside from the cost, the great distance and insufficient means of transportation would result in the escape of the fragrant contents of the rose petals on the way from bush to retort. The peasants profit right from the fields, making the attar a house industry, and selling the ready product only after the harvest.
It is just as untenable when it is affirmed by Bulgarian exporters that they have rented the rose fields in the best situation from the owners themselves. The only thing which conscientious exporter could do in that direction would be to assure themselves the refusal of the finest sorts by making advances on their harvest to respectable producers whose bushes give the best product.
The distillation of Bulgarian attar of roses is accomplished in the following manner: The full-blown petals are gathered before sunrise at the time of distillation, but only in the quantity which can be made use of the day of picking. The distillation apparatus consists of a simple tinned retort from which proceed a long, somewhat coiled tube through a tub constantly filled with fresh water, and which empties into a large flask. Several stills of this kind usually stand on simple platforms of stone near, if possible, a brook under a shady tree; the fuel used is wood, which formerly, under Turkish rule, every peasant could fell without charge, but which now must be paid for, thereby increasing the cost of production considerably, as a great deal of it is consumed.
The retort holds, according to the size of the apparatus, from 12 to 25 kilogrammes of roses, which are watered with about double the quantity of water; the whole is forced for about a half hour by a quick fire, the distillate being caught in the flask at the orifice of the cooling tube, when the attar gradually separates from the water and appears on its surface, where it is removed by means of a narrow tin tube or spoon. The water is used once more for distillation and finally furnishes "rose water," which finds its way into trade principally at Constantinople, where it obtains relatively high prices, since it is very much employed in the Oriental cuisine and in the manufacture of candy.
As soon as a sufficent quantity of attar has been removed from the retort, it is filled into round, flat copper bottles, tinned without and within, called estagnons, their close necks being hermetically sealed with solder. These estagnons are made in Kazanlik and vicinity and hold from one-half to three kilogrammes.
The harvest being over, the establishment of prices, as already observed, is proceeded with on the basis of the amount produced. According to old-established custom whole districts are in the habit of giving their attar together, not without long negotiations between producers and buyers, and after settlements have been concluded in the majority of the districts excelling in quantity and quality, large amounts of the mountain and valley harvest being thus assured for preparing the quality suitable for market, the price is fixed for the attar, which has not yet been offered to purchasers.
But alas! all the distilling apparatus are not placed in the open air, but many of them, in carefully covered places, have also to serve the distallation of secretly-added oil of geranium to the roses. The oil of geranium, or oil of idris, mostly used in the adulteration of attar, is obtained in the East Indies, in the neighborhood of Surat. The odor of the products of separated distillations differs very much, because at the gathering more or less of injurious grasses and weeds are mixed in and distilled without being selected.
Now, in spite of the fact that the Government puts a protective tax against adulteration of 200 per cent. of its value upon oil of geranium in the rose districts, unscrupulous shippers are able to smuggle in large lots of that material for their dishonest purposes. There formerly rested on the Roumelian attar, besides, a tax of a tithe, an export duty of 8 per cent., but it has been reduced to 1 per cent., the former tithe not having been collected in East Roumelia for many years, but instead of it a ground tax, according to production.
The average yearly product of the Bulgarian attar harvest may be estimated at from 1,600 to 1,700 kilogrammes; in good years, as, for instance, in 1879 and 1885, there is made about 2,500 kilogrammes, and in bad ones, like 1882, injured by cold, hail, or continued heat, scarcely 800 kilogrammes, whereas particularly good years, like 1866, yield about 3,000 kilogrammes. The prosperity of a place in South Bulgaria is very likely estimated according to the number of kilogrammes of attar of roses it produces.
The great depot for the ready product is Kazanlik, whither it is brought, mostly on horses, sometimes also by vehicles, from there to be forwarded by wagon to a station of the East Roumelian Railway, and then by the latter, via Adrianople, to Constantinople, whence it reaches the trade of Europe. When the Balkan peninsula was still in need of the iron spine of a railway the attar had to undergo the whole journey from Kazanlik to Constantinople on horseback or in wagons, and in unsafe times a military escort was a precaution often enjoined.
Attar of roses has the peculiarity even at a very high temperature to stiffen, or, more properly, to congeal, to a cloudy mass of numberless small crystals, or even freeze in a perfectly clear, transparent way, so that the greenish yellow (in old age deep golden) liquid then appears crossed with fine silvery hairs or glistening needle-shaped crystals shooting into one another. Many consumers of attar are still of the erroneous opinion that its goodness and merit are to be measured by its higher or lower degree of congealing. Now, a strong addition of oil of geranium certainly decreases the freezing temperature of attar; but this can be artificially raised as desired by the employment of other means.
It is well known that the substance giving the congealing property, stearopten, is perfectly odorless, and consequently much of this substance in a quantity of attar means a correspondingly less amount of perfume therein, and the odor of attar of roses is, of course, for the consumer the decisive factor which determines its value. For, as wine is judged by the tongue, so attar is only to be estimated by the sense of smell, and really best in union with articles for whose preparation it has served. So, for example, one will be far less able to judge the purity, fullness, and richness of attar of roses by smelling the article itself than by trying essences and certain kinds of snuffs perfumed with it.
Chemistry has so far found no means of testing attar of roses for its purity, and all schemes which have thus far appeared have proved deceitful and delusive.
As regards the price of attar, the result of the harvest has not always been the determining thing, but many other factors play a part in it, as, for instance, the needs of the market at the time, the smaller or larger amount of the previous year's stock on hand, &c. The quotations for attar of roses move in sharp curves up and down. The highest point in fifteen years (1875 to 1889) was reached in 1882, at about $300 per kilogramme; the lowest in 1889, $140.
TIME Magazine, September 14, 1953, p. 99:|
BUSINESS ABROAD: King of Perfume
...Pierre Wertheimer, a man so shy that few have ever heard of him (he permits no photographs), is the world's perfume king. He owns the Bourjois and Chanel companies, bosses 3,000 employees in plants from Rochester, N.Y. to London, sells more bottles of quality perfume than anyone else in the business.
Trouble in Grasse. Last week not everything in the $30 million-a-year French perfume industry smelled sweet to Wertheimer... the quiet town of Grasse, near the Mediterranean, whose 18 distilling plants supply the French perfume industry with most of its flower essences... was harvesting a bumper crop of 1,320,000 lbs. of jasmine blossoms. This could only cause trouble because: 1) there was already a surplus left over from last year; 2) cut-rate jasmine essences from Italy, Spain and Holland have been cutting into the Grasse market; and 3) some natural essences (violet, lilac, lily of the valley) have been driven from the market by cheaper and better synthetic scents made in Germany and Switzerland.
But these troubles scarcely ruffled Chanel No. 5's No. 1 man. Along with other Paris perfumers last month, he agreed to underwrite the Grasse industry by paying "fair prices" for the essential oils. Keeping prices up is a habit in the industry. When the Laniel government issued a decree forbidding price-fixing last month, the Syndicat de la Parfumerie intervened with the authorities and got themselves exempted.*
Evening in Paris. Pierre Wertheimer, who for all his personal shyness is a supersalesman, thinks that there is nothing wrong with the perfume business that hard-hitting promotion will not cure.
He was among the first perfumers to take to the radio in the U.S., as early as 1923 plugged face powder on his Evening in Paris program. He then brought out a perfume by the same name, sold it at first in the U.S., later introduced it in Paris. Today, at $3 an ounce in Paris and $12.50 in the U.S., it is his biggest seller...
Top Smeller. His quality control is achieved by the grand nez (great nose), who sniffs and tests all the ingredients that go into the top-secret formulas. Wertheimer's grand nez is 72-year-old Ernest Beaux, who created Chanel No. 5 for Designer Gabrielle ["Coco"] Chanel 33 years ago, when she wanted a new perfume for a style show. Beaux turned up with two series of scents, one numbered from 1 to 5, the other from 20 to 24. Highly superstitious, Mlle. Chanel picked No. 5, because her collection was to be shown on the fifth day of the fifth month. Later she went into the perfume business, and in 1924 Wertheimer bought her out.
In testing the 30-odd ingredients of a perfume such as Chanel No. 5, not all the smells that waft up to the Great Nose are pleasant. To "fix" the perfume by uniting other ingredients, perfumers use such sour or fetid-smelling substances as musk, castoreum (made from beaver's testicles), ambergris (a secretion in the sperm whale intestine), and civet glands. Explains Beaux: "Pepper and salt don't taste pleasantly when taken alone, but the enhance the taste of a dish." Beaux gives each essence the nose test because some scents will last after a week of exposure, while others, for some unknown reason, will last only a few hours. When he is creating a new perfume he does no sniffing, simply jots down a formula, claims he knows exactly what the final result will smell like. Says Beaux: "It is like writing music. Each component has a definite tonal value... I can compose a waltz or a funeral march."
Wertheimer has no present plans for Beaux to create any new perfumes, since it takes years of work and $100,000 in promotion to establish a new brand. All the major perfumers rely on one famous brand for 75% to 80% of their business. Says Wertheimer: "If you have one excellent perfume, you've got all you could possibly want." Two are good enough for him.
* For a bottle of perfume retailing at 1,000 francs in Paris, the ingredients cost only about 150 francs. Other cost items: the bottle itself, 100 francs; taxes, 270; advertising, 50; retailer's profit, 330; manufacturer's profit, 100.