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Q: What is a "smelling pistol"? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   9 Comments )
Question  
Subject: What is a "smelling pistol"?
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: gren-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 27 Jul 2004 09:51 PDT
Expires: 26 Aug 2004 09:51 PDT
Question ID: 379720
What is a "smelling pistol"?  It's one of the items pilfered by Samuel
Putnam Flint, see this transcription of an 1835 article in The Man (as
reprinted from The Boston Post):
<http://peninsulators.org/TheMan/shaver.html>
Answer  
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
Answered By: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 14:50 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
 
gren --

Thanks again for your comment.  In order to make the answer and my
reasoning "official" and close the question, I will consolidate, adapt
and post here the information in my comments.  I will also describe my
search strategy for you.

According to the circumstantial, but strong, evidence, the term
"smelling pistol" seems very likely to be an unusual, early American
translation of the much older French term "pistolet  parfum."  Here
is the logical progression by which I reached this conclusion:

1. A French art auction website contains an image of an early
predecessor of a perfume atomizer that it describes as a "pistolet 
parfum":
Iencheres.com: Mokins Pistolet
 http://www.iencheres.com/art/lot.cfm?lotID=8222&style=portail 

2.   According to my French-English dictionary, "pistolet" means both
"pistol" (handgun) and "sprayer" (spray gun) in English:

"pistolet .  .  . 1. Pistol (revolver) .  .  .2.  Sprayer,
spraying-gun  .  .  .   ."
Source:  "Larousse Modern Dictionary,"  by Marguerite-Marie Dubois,
McGraw-Hill (1960)

 
3.  The website of the Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris, whose
English-version Web page was apparently not machine-translated, uses
the word "perfume pistol" in referring to a objet d'art that is likely
similar to the object pictured on the Iencheres.com site linked above.
 Here is that description:

"From the entrance a clockwise tour takes one round the small,
intimate rooms, the contents of which are clearly but discreetly
described on a label, up to the attic where display cabinets contain
extraordinary objets d'art: a perfume pistol, toilet articles, inlaid
boxes, sewing cases, cigar cutters and wrought metalwork scissors."
Paris Tourism: Musee Cognacq-Jay
http://www.paris-tourism.com/hotels/object.php?idContent=122


4.  The 19th use of the word "smelling" as an adjective used to
describe a perfume container is confirmed in an entry in the Oxford
English Dictionary, as follows:
"Smelling-bottle --  a phial or small bottle for containing
smelling-salts or perfume ready for use."

That entry includes a few early-to-mid 1800s examples of that usage,
but none of a later date.
Source:  "Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Vol II," 
Oxford University Press (1971) at page 270.


5. The only relevant result for a Google search using the terms
"smelling pistol" is a link to the list you have cited of items that
juxtaposes a "smelling pistol" with a bottle of cologne.


Based on all of the above, I am reasonably confident that the
extremely unusual phrase "smelling pistol" is intended to be a
translation of the older French phrase, "pistolet  parfum," which
certainly refers to a small dispenser of perfume that is the
forerunner of an atomizer.



Search Strategy:

I first checked the Oxford English Dictionary and came up with the
somewhat similar phrase, "smelling bottle," cited above.

Then, after some floundering around with unsuccessful Google searches,
the following search led me to the phrase "perfume pistol" in the
description of an objet d'art cited above:
"perfume pistol"
://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&q=%22perfume+pistol%22

I then went to my French dictionary for a French translation of
"pistol" and used the following search to find the French site with
the image of the object in question:
pistolet parfum
://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&q=pistolet+parfum

I then used a variety of Google searches with variations of the most
relevant English and French words in order to determine as confidently
as possible that there are no other good possibilities for alternative
solutions to this mystery.


As I said above, I am reasonably confident that we now have the answer
to this fascinating question.  If anything is unclear, please ask for
clarification before rating the answer.


markj-ga
gren-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.00
I'm very happy with this answer, I'm pretty confident it's correct.  The
"smelling pistol" concept has been bugging me for some time now, so it's good
to have it cleared up.

Comments  
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: aj999-ga on 27 Jul 2004 10:16 PDT
 
Just a guess - an atomizer for perfume.  You know, one of those things
with the bulb you squeeze, and a tube to the perfume bottle?  The fact
that it was listed right after the bottle of cologne made me think of
it.
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 11:02 PDT
 
I think that aj999-ga may be right.  The Oxford English Dictionary
includes the following entry:

"smelling-bottle, a phial or small bottle for containing
smelling-salts or perfume ready for use."

I also includes a few early-to-mid 1800s examples of that usage, but
none of a later date.

markj-ga
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: gren-ga on 27 Jul 2004 11:17 PDT
 
Atomizer is a good guess, and I've heard of smelling bottles-- so that
takes care of the "smelling" part.  It's the "pistol" part that's really
thrown me.  I've seen various things made in pistol shape before, it's
a fairly popular motif-- even candy containers etc-- but I just can't make
the connection with smelling.  An atomizer in the shape of a pistol??
You pull the "trigger" and it shoots smells?  Hard to believe.
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 11:19 PDT
 
Note this reference to a "perfume pistol" in a description of the
collection in a French museum:

"From the entrance a clockwise tour takes one round the small,
intimate rooms, the contents of which are clearly but discreetly
described on a label, up to the attic where display cabinets contain
extraordinary objets d'art: a perfume pistol, toilet articles, inlaid
boxes, sewing cases, cigar cutters and wrought metalwork scissors."

http://www.paris-tourism.com/hotels/object.php?idContent=122

markj-ga

markj-ga
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 11:28 PDT
 
And here's an image of a pistolet  parfum ("perfume pistol")

http://www.iencheres.com/art/lot.cfm?lotID=8222&style=portail

markj-ga
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 12:02 PDT
 
I would be much more confident if I knew the French language, but
here's some logical basis for a conclusion that your "smelling pistol"
is a pistolet  parfum:

1. According to my French-English dictionary, "pistolet" means both
"pistol" (handgun) and "sprayer" (spray gun) in English;

2. The French museum's site linked above, whose English-version Web
page was apparently not machine-translated, uses the word "perfume
pistol" in referring to a objet d'art that is likely similar to the
object pictured on the other page I linked above, which is described
as a "pistolet  parfum."

3. "Smelling bottle" is an archaic English word for a small vial of perfume.

4.  The only relevant result for a Google search using the terms terms
"smelling pistol" is a link to the list of items that juxtaposes a
"smelling pistol" with a bottle of cologne.

Thus, it seems to me like "smelling pistol" is most likely an unusual
American English translation of  "pistolet  parfum."

But I can't prove it.  Further complicating the matter, is that the
"atomizer" was apparently not invented until late in the 19th century,
so this device must have been a dispenser rather than an atomizer.


markj-ga
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: gren-ga on 27 Jul 2004 12:18 PDT
 
markj-ga, I think you are right.  Although the French pistolet  parfum
shown in the iencheres.com catalogue is much earlier, I'm a believer it's
the same thing.  The shape is a bit pistolish too, and there's the double
meaning of pistolet-- it's all pointing to the same answer.  You can post
the answer with some degree of confidence I'd say.
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 12:21 PDT
 
gren --

Thanks very much for your comment.  I have to leave my "post" for a
couple of hours, but I will post my information as an answer by this
evening. Thanks again.

markj-ga
Subject: Re: What is a "smelling pistol"?
From: markj-ga on 27 Jul 2004 17:29 PDT
 
gren --

Thanks much for the five stars, the kind words and the tip.

markj-ga

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