In the early part of 1996, while preparations were underway to produce the first World of Aromatherapy Conference as the President of NAHA, a fascinating letter arrived at my office describing a Rose oil that has been in the possession of one family since the early 1930s. This prized possession was taken into bomb shelters with the family’s canary when the sirens went off in their town. No other item was ever taken into the shelters and in the words of the family this is the story of this precious oil. This oil was sold to me and I still have it in my collection.
Dear Jeanne Rose,
I would like to share a story with you that you may find interesting. I grew up in a small German village. During the war, in the early 30s when the air raid sirens went off, my parents would gather the children, the family canary and a wooden box with a handle on top and off we would go to the public shelter. The shelter was only a block away, it was all made of stone and was several hundred years old. I’m not sure, but I think it used to be a wine cellar. It is still standing today. While we waited out the raid my father would tell us stories, of his travels, of the world. He had spent time in France in the early 3’s, before the war.
It was during this time that he purchased one of his most prized possessions, several pints of Rose essential oil. This was what was packed away in the heavy wooden box we took with us to the shelter. It was the only valuable we took with us, and it came on every visit. As an adult, I have had thoughts of what I would take from my house if a disaster arose. It would be mementos, pictures, letters and the like. I’m sure there was a reason my father bought the oil, but he never told, and I never thought to ask. As a child, I never questioned why the obvious valuables were left behind, and the box would accompany us. He claimed it was an investment, but he never sold it and it is still in the family. I think it may have reminded him of happier times, of his youth perhaps. He would always tell us of the tons of rose petals that went into the making of the oil. I would sit with my sisters and pretend to be sleeping on pillows of rose petals rather than in the dark, damp shelter.
He passed away in the 50s. At this time, the oil was divided among the children, it was his legacy. I have continued the legacy and have given my own daughters some of the oil. What I have left is in an unusual, old brown bottle with a glass stopper.
I do use aromatherapy, so I know that it is rare to have such an old oil, especially one kept in less than ideal conditions. Let me tell you this one is still quite potent; a quarter of a drop will last all week. Its strength is important to me; the oil has traveled from France to Germany to New York, where I now live. It has lasted at least 70 years and will out-last me. With it, I have given my daughters some sense of their family history. I am sharing this story with you now, because I feel it is an important one. Maybe you know of some others, or maybe you know some history that may help me understand where the oil came from back in France and why it was so significant to my father. If you do please let me know.
Thank you. Helga R. 6/24/96
*When recently asked about how this oil stood up to the test of time, Ms Rose replied, “That Rose grown in France and from Germany is now a hundred years old, I had it tested years ago via GCMS and it was real and it still is an amazing deep rich smell. Think of a tomato that is not ripe vs one that is ripe – this is the difference between a perfectly collected and distilled Rose and the product we have today. Yes, it is lovely.“
Rose 1930: The story of an old scent.
By Jeanne Rose with Judy Komatsu
*Asked by Sharon Houghton on May 7, 2019