Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun: Adulteration of Essential Oils for Perfumery - Sophisticated Trickery

I was looking for vintage aromatics on eBay, and came across the ad, below. I didn't save the image, so I googled and found the one above.   It seems that the firm of Magnus Mabee and Reynard was sued for adulterating their oils in 1914, and they lost.  The history of the herb and spice trade, and then the essential oils/absolutes/attars trade have historically been rife with adulteration.  I learned about this when as an undergraduate, completing studies in economic botany I found out that the word "sophistication" had its roots in this price-gouging, false-advertising practice.  From Dictionary.com: 


adjective (after what you would expect, i.e., worldly), comes:

3.deceptive; misleading.

and sophisticate -

verb (used with object)
3. to make less natural, simple, or ingenuous; make worldly-wise.
4. to alter; pervert: to sophisticate a meaning beyond recognition. 

Here's the recent ad that sparked this blog post (note: it is no longer viewable on eBay):

Antique Early 1900's Bottle from Magnus, Mabee, and Reynard eBay http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=170855254303 

Very RARE very early 1900's bottle This bottle is from the Magnus, Mabee, & Reynard company-Importers and Manufacturers in New York, U.S.A.

This is a 4 OZ Bottle       The label also says Purity and Strength      OIL CAJEPUT Tenth Revision
The bottle was made before the screw on caps and THE ORIGINAL CORK IS VERY MUCH INTACT!.
The history of Magnus, Mabee, and Reynard shows that they were sued in Federal Court "U.S. v. Magnus. Mabee, & Reynard" for adulterating their pure oils.
In court they pleaded guilty and were fined $150. I will include the paperwork. The suit covered the ADULTERATION AND MISBRANDING OF OIL
This is court document F.D. No. 3594 issued March 5th 1914. This bottle of Oil of Cajeput may or may not have been a part of this discovery of misbranding and adulteration
but I will include copies of the documents I found just for conversational sake and for a bit of the history of the company
Cool Bottle, Great Condition, UNIQUE History!

Cajeput is such an inexpensive oil, ditto rosemary.  Imagine the adulteration that can go on in expensive oils like rose, tuberose, etc.  We've all heard stories of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d oils, tweaked and tinkered oils, and outright false advertising.  

This problem is particularly problematic for natural perfumers.  Not only do we have to source the highest grade/best smelling oils, we need to provide our customers and clients with a sense of security and trust that what they are buying is 100% natural.

The natural perfumer needs to train their nose, find reputable suppliers and work diligently to source 100% natural oils.  The recent trend towards buying 'blends' has me particularly concerned.  Whether an accord blend from a supplier, or a scent doppelganger, e.g., strawberry, raspberry, the chance of adulteration by a sophisticate is pretty high.  Hundreds of years of history have proven that the singular oils/herbs/spices are subject to adulteration, so premade compounds seem even more susceptible to this practice.  If the seller can't supply you with a COA (actually this might not cover compounds) or some sort of certified, sworn-to statement about the ingredients, DON'T BUY IT.  That's just me, and I'm really wary of sophisticates ;-)

What do you think? As a natural perfumer or customer, I'm hoping you are diligent and educated about this subject, and that you take care to avoid bunk oils/blends.

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