Street View: 3 Supplement
Address: 160 Regent Street
In 1862, the German poet and author Julius Rodenberg wrote a book about his visit to London, Tag und Nacht in London (online here) in which he describes the streets, the markets and the people of the City. When he explains what could be seen in Regent Street he relates how in the afternoon the nobility and gentry come in their carriages (which he likens to four-poster beds on wheels) to gaze at the goods on offer behind the large shop windows – and to be seen themselves of course. According to Rodenberg, Regent Street is the street of fashion and luxury that smells of spring flowers and a jockey club. The latter not suprising with all the horse-drawn carriages, but spring flowers? But read on and it becomes clear that the fragrant smells emanate from the perfumery shop of Piver where inside the walls of gold and brown the glass scent-bottles and soft gloves are what catch your eye.
Rodenberg refers to the shop of L.T. Piver, a company that had started life in France in 1774 as a small business that sold perfumed gloves. Michel Adam Piver was the founder, later succeeded by his cousin Paul Guillaume Dissey. In 1813 Louis-Toussaint Piver became a partner and after Dissey had died, L.T.’s initials were added to the company name, which it kept even when he was succeeded by Alphonse. Eventually, the firm had shops all over the fashionable world and from the 1840s also in London. The first batch of Tallis Street Views (1839) still shows Gosnell, John and Co., perfumers to the Royal Family, at number 160, but in 1847 when the Supplement Street Views came out, Piver had moved in. According to the records kept on “alien arrivals” [don’t worry, they were not from Mars, alien was used where we would nowadays say foreign], Alphonse Piver came over from France via Dover in 1849 and again in 1851. He did not live in London; the shop in Regent Street was managed by Jules or Charles Lauvergnat. In the 1851 census, it is Jules who lives above the shop; in 1861 it is Charles and his wife Eliza; and in 1871 Jules is back with wife Amelia. By 1880, Piver no longer had a shop in Regent Street and we find an advertisement for their stock of gloves that could be bought at “a large discount” at Peter Robinson’s in Oxford Street.(1) The 1881 census gives “being rebuilt” for number 160.
But the firm continued to flourish in France, bringing out new scents on a regular basis and also improving the processes of making the perfumes. In 1874, for instance, the London Gazette of 6 March lists a patent for Alphonse Piver of no. 10, Boulevard de Strasbourg, for the invention of “improvements in the distillation of essential oils or perfumes”. And in the paper of 18 May 1877, Alphonse receives a patent for “a new process of manufacturing alcohols by a methodical and endless manner with wines and fermented juices of any kind by means of new or improved apparatuses suitably disposed for the purpose”. Already in 1860, Eugène Rimmel, another great perfumer, describes a process invented by Piver “to extract the aroma of flowers by the pneumatic principle” whereby “a strong current of air is forced, by means of an air-pump, into a receiver filled with fresh flowers, and passes into a cylinder containing grease in a liquefied state, which is kept in constant motion”.(2) You can read the whole process here. I found this picture on Wikipedia Commons of one of Piver’s factories in Aubervilliers where they made their cosmetic products.
The gloves Piver sold were Jouvin’s patent French kid gloves and according to an advertisement in The Observer of 19 May, 1850, Piver had the exclusive sale of these gloves in the UK. Jouvin had received a gold medal for his gloves at the 1849 Paris Exhibition “for the quality and great perfection of his make”. Because they were so popular, counterfeits were being made and buyers were urged to check that their gloves had the stamp “Brevet d’Invention Gants Jouvin”.
The fancy scent bottles that so attracted Julius Rodenberg and their modern successors can still be found in large numbers by searching the internet, but I thought these two small pots more appealing. They were salvaged from the shipwreck of the SS Republic, a steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane while on its way from New York to New Orleans. The passengers and crew fortunately escaped, but the valuable cargo of gold and silver coins sank to the bottom. In 2003-2004 some 51,000 coins were salvaged, along with 14,000 artefacts, among which 50 stoneware pots in two sizes, transfer-printed with Piver’s name.
The Piver firm advertised in many newspapers, books and magazines, far too many to show here, but below a small selection.
The Piver firm still exists and you can read more on their history on their website http://www.piver.com/
(1) The Graphic, 11 September 1880.
(2) “M. Rimmel on Perfumery” in The Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science, 1860.