As a graduate student I always loved the serendipity associated with research–when a random reference leads to an Aladdin’s cave of fascinating information. It’s been years since I left the halls of academia, but I’m still a student (read, a geek!) at heart. So when I spotted a mention of E.J. Parry’s Encyclopedia of Perfumery in Nigel Groom’s The New Perfume Handbook, I made it a point to check it out. My reward was a recipe for Armenian paper, which I would like to share with you and to add to Bois de Jasmin’s collection of antique perfume recipes. Armenian paper is a home scent created in the 19th century by entrepreneur Auguste Ponsot and pharmacist Henri Riviere and sold as a natural air sanitizer. With its exotic and mysterious cachet Armenia was a perfect marketing spin for the incense based on benzoin, a resin redolent of sweet vanilla and spices.
Papier d’Arménie is still popular in France, where it is sold as small booklets of deliciously perfumed paper. “Tear out a page, light it up and feel your worries melt away,” I was told by a pharmacist in Grasse. On our shores I’ve spotted Papier d’Arménie at Aedes and Beautyhabit, but by and large I wear it on my skin in the form of Bois d’Arménie. When perfumer Annick Menardo was working on a modern Guerlain perfume, she turned to Armenian paper for inspiration. Bois d’Arménie smells of vanilla beans, incense ashes and dried roses petals. For a warmer vanilla incense veil I don Ormonde Jayne Tolu, a fragrance that plays up the spicy facets of benzoin with cinnamon and amber.
Parry’s recipe for Armenian paper is not hard to duplicate, provided you have the necessary balsamic materials as well as the thin absorbent paper. I’ve skipped potassium nitrate, figuring that if it’s used for such disparate ends as food preservation and the making of gun powder, I better have something more precise than “sufficient” quantities before I plunge into my experiments. My paper burned well without it, although it turned to ashes much faster than commercial Armenian paper. The perfume was perceptible, if soft and ethereal. However, the mixture of frankincense and balsams smelled beautiful enough to be worn as perfume, and that experiment I’ll be sure to revisit.
“Make an alcoholic solution from 2 parts of each of frankincense, styrax and gum benzoin, and 1/2 part each of balsam of Peru and balsam of Tolu, with 5 parts of 90% alcohol. Add to this sufficient of a solution of potassium nitrate in water to enable the paper to burn freely. Soak the absorbent paper in this mixture, drain, allow to dry and cut into convenient strips.” From E.J. Parry Encyclopedia of Perfumery, 1925 as quoted by Nigel Groom in The New Perfume Handbook, 1997.
Recommended reading: about styrax, benzoin, Peru balsam and Tolu balsam. Most of these materials can purchased from Enfleurage, a reputable essential oil supplier based in New York.
Photograph of Incense Smoke by Vanessa Pike-Russell via Flickr, some rights reserved.