TREASURES IN YOUR ATTIC: Evening in Paris perfume sets vary widely in value

Helaine and Joe tell readers what's valuable and what's merely old:

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am wondering if this "Evening in Paris" set is worth anything. The large bottle in the set is full, but the small one is empty -- and the box is original.

Thank you, S. L. B., Port Saint Lucie, Fla.

Dear S. L. B:

People seem to have wildly varying feelings about "Evening in Paris" perfume and its related products -- things such as cologne, dusting powder, and compacts.

In fact, if you search the Web, tons of opinions will show up from "I hate it!" to "I love it!"

"Evening in Paris" or "Soir De Paris," as it is now known, was made by Bourjois of France and it first appeared in the United States in 1929. The scent is generally termed "sweet" with "woodsy" undertones and it was compounded from jasmine, ylang-ylang, Turkish rose, violet, peach, cedar, vanilla, musk and bergamot essences.

Bergamot is derived from the Bergamot orange, which is a citrus fruit shaped something like a pear. The fruit is very sour and the oil derived from it is used in Earl Gray tea, candy making, aromatherapy (to treat depression), and of course, perfume. Ylang-Ylang, on the other hand, is from the flower of the cananga odorata tree. The unusual name is derived from Tagalog "ilang-ilan," which means "rare."

Bourjois was the creation of Alexandre Napoleon Bourjois who formulated a superior makeup for the theater circa 1863. His invention was a powder blush called "Pastel Joues," which became a big success and the "foundation" for a company that is still in business.

When it came out, "Evening in Paris" could be purchased in cobalt blue bottles in dime stores for 25 cents a bottle or in Baccarat crystal bottles with glass stoppers in upscale department stores for considerably more. With this broad marketing strategy, "Evening in Paris" became known as "The Most Famous Fragrance in the World."

It was the sort of fragrance that young girls bought as their first "adult" perfume, and many grown women liked it as well. Many children of the 1930s, '40s and '50s bought "Evening in Paris" as presents for their mothers and grandmothers because the 25-cent price tag made it a purchase that could be made with their weekly allowance money.

Many a mother received "Evening in Paris" and effusively thanked the thoughtful child who gave it while promising to wear the perfume on "special occasions" that never came. Unopened bottles of "Evening in Paris" often turn up in estates as do sets that may contain a number of items that can range from perfume and eau de cologne to dusting powder, and little purse bottles with tassels on the cap.

Collectors are very interested in these sets and in single bottles of "Evening in Paris." It has been reported that some women buy the old bottles because they want to use the perfume ("Soir de Paris" has been reformulated by Chanel and some people seem to prefer the original scent). It should be noted that collectors also like the bottle holders shaped like the Eiffel Tower, a high-heeled shoe, or a champagne bucket.

In any event, "Evening in Paris" bottles need to have caps that are in good condition and examples that are full or nearly full demand something of a premium.

The set belonging to S. L. B. appears to be from the 1950s and for insurance purposes is worth between $45 and $60 if everything is in good order.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.