The Elusive Abishag – A Perfume for a King’s Bedwarmer and a giveaway

Wednesday - 6 February 2013

(This is a cross-blog event, see the bottom of the post for the link to Elise Pearlstine’s post)

According to the Old Testament, David,was a  young and vibrant man (boy actually) who defeated Goliath with his slingshot and was crowned King for his effort.  However, the Old Testament will also remark upon King David’s in his old age, when, as a frail elder, he found it hard to sleep because he was always cold.

The solution? Hire a hot-blooded (literally, not in the sexual sense) young woman to be his “bedwarmer”, to cuddle in and bring his body temperature up so he could sleep. Many interpretations of the relationships between David, Batsheba and Solomon, Batsheba and Abishag sharing what was called “half wife” duties in the Bible, but this blog is only going to focus on the  modern-day perfume, not the backstory.

Elderly King David and Abishag 1879 painting  Pedro Americo

Elderly King David and Abishag 1879 painting Pedro Americo

Abishag was that girl chosen for the bedwarmer role and immortalized in a perfume in the late 20th century.  I’ve seen many posts over the years bemoaning the disappearance of the perfume from the shelves of Israeli Museum and other worldwide outlets that carried it.  In 1990, as part of their exhibit Cosmetics in Ancient Times, the Israeli Museum commissioned a couture line* of perfumes honoring Abishag. It was discontinued a few years later.

I was lucky enough to win a bottle of Abishag eau de parfum on eBay, a tiny vial, beautifully packaged and in pristine condition.  I have a collection of Israeli perfumes, most by Judith Muller, so I was happy to add this to the display case.

2.5ml Abishag eau de parfum

2.5ml Abishag eau de parfum

Many hours were spent searching for information on the perfumer and the notes attributed to Abishag perfume. First I wrote to the Israeli Museum two times and got no answer. I also contacted an Israeli perfume scientist whom I knew was in the business in 1990, but he had no more information on it.

Information on the Internet indicates that Teva Cosmetics in Israel contracted with a perfumer at the Dutch IFF (International Fragrance and Flavors). I ran into dead ends trying to track those sources down also.  So the mystery remains about what Abishag smells like. I will share some very interesting information about all the Abishag products and then my impressions.

2.5ml Abishag eau de parfum in folded cutout box

2.5ml Abishag eau de parfum in folded cutout box

I did luck upon an archived, by-subscription-only site that had the original press release and realized that my tiny bottle was one of a number of products in the Abishag couture line.

*For those unfamiliar with the term “couture line” of perfume it means that the perfume is supported by a line of accessory fragranced materials.

I discovered:

The fragrance is bottled in a flask similar in design to a biblical phial and comes as a potion, a sachet of herbs, scented soaps and miniatures, as well as regular size bottles.

The 50mi parfum contained in a replica of an antique design sells for $70;

the pomade packaged in a small ivory-like ceramic box retails at $45 for 17ml;

the 150g soap engraved with an ancient stamp retails at $7.00;

the sachet for $10

and a small 2.5ml bottle for $3.00. (what I won)

Distribution currently stands at specialty boutiques including the gift shop at the Israel Museum but will be widely distributed abroad and in duty free outlets.

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)

“New fragrance launch in Israel.” Cosmetics International 25 Jan. 1990: 7. General OneFile. Web.

My general impressions of the eau de parfum will be muted by the fact that I can’t share with you what I believe some of the notes are because I’m not familiar with synthetic aromachemicals that are used in perfumery. It is a very soft, powdery, orris-laden scent.  I detect the strong synth musk that is often used in modern perfumes and laundry detergents, the “white musk” type.  There is a slight Chanel No. 5-type aldehydic opening that quicky gives way to the fake orris and musk.  It is definitely a “little girl” or “young lady” innocent scent.  I can imagine this wafting from some baby products, in a toned-down variation.

I wonder if the perfume was bolder? I’ll wager that the soaps, sachets and pomades are tamer, like the eau de parfum.

I shared a little of the eau de parfum with Elise Pearlstine of Bellyflowers Perfumes, and she is blogging about her impressions at http://bellyflowers.blogspot.com/2013/02/abishag-story-of-perfume.html Please visit her blog to read what she feels about this legendary perfume.

There is a giveaway for a tiny (1/2ml) decant of my bottle if you leave a comment and anything (if at all) you know about Abishag.  Perhaps this is your first time reading about this legendary, elusive, discontinued, or perhaps you’re one of those haunted by a bottle you had a few decades ago and wish to experience it again.  Leave your comment before 11:59PM Thursday Feb. 6, 2013.  The randomly-chosen winner will be announced here and via private email on Friday.

32 thoughts on “The Elusive Abishag – A Perfume for a King’s Bedwarmer and a giveaway

  1. Simone

    I remember you speaking about this elusive perfume before-perhaps in a NP thread & it has intrigued me ever since. It’s a shame it can’t be tracked down & worse still-that it’s been discontinued.

    Reply
  2. Yvonne Steiner

    Fascinating! The meaning of Abishag is “my father is a wanderer,” as if to allude to Israel’s years in the desert; and yet there she (Israel) is, comforting the King. Could it be a foreshadow of the Messianic Kingdom?

    Reply
  3. Susan

    I also remember Anya mentioning this perfume not too long ago.
    It seems that there is a moderate amount of interest in it with folks searching for a bottle on line. Ah, the mystique of fragrance…
    Ayala Sender, a natural perfumer talks about her love of the fragrance and it being the most influential for her in an interview that she gave for Sniffapalooza Mag online.
    I would love to experience it!

    Reply
  4. Aba

    First I heard of Abishag was from you Anya when you first posted about the bottle you had won. I immediately googled to see if I could find any information about the perfume and found the post Susan referred to by Ayala but nothing else so far. I also have a couple of Judith Muller’s perfumes which I bid for on ebay. I have a 60 ml bottle of Bathsheba Exotic Oriental and minature bottles of Bathsheba Woody Modern and Shiloh. I went through a phase of intense curiosity about vintage perfumes and spent a lot of hours on ebay searching for good deals – alas I had to suspend my quest because they tend to be very expensive!!!

    Reply
  5. Hemla

    I’m afraid I have nothing to add regarding information on Abishag, but maybe the guild can have a theme where everyone creates perfumes based on whichever chosen character they would like… can be cool

    Hemla

    Reply
  6. stella

    from a classical point of view:
    [343] David was now in years, and his body, by length of time, was become cold, and benumbed, insomuch that he could get no heat by covering himself with many clothes; and when the physicians came together, they agreed to this advice, that a beautiful virgin, chosen out of the whole country, should sleep by the king’s side, and that this damsel would communicate heat to him, and be a remedy against his numbness. Now there was found in the city one woman, of a superior beauty to all other women, (her name was Abishag,) who, sleeping with the king, did no more than communicate warmth to him, for he was so old that he could not know her as a husband knows his wife. But of this woman we shall speak more presently.

    Flavius Josephus. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by. William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895.

    SHUNEM (LXX. Σωμάν: Eth.Σωμανιτής, Eth. Σωμανῖτις) a village of Palestine celebrated as the birthplace of Abishag (1 Kings, 1.3), and for the miracle of Elisha. (2 Kings, iv.) It was situated in Issachar (Josh. 19.18; LXX. Σουνάμ), near Gilboa, to the north; for when Saul and the Israelites were encamped in Gilboa, the Philistines pitched in Shunem, so that he had to pass through their lines to come to Endor. (1 Sam. 28.4.) Eusebius mentions a village named Sanim, in the borders of Sebaste, in the district of Acrabattene, which cannot be identical with this. But the Subem (Σουβήμ) of the same author, which he places v. M. P. south of Mount Tabor, corresponds very well with the site of the modern village of Sôlam, which still marks the site of ancient Shunem. It is a miserable village, situated above the plain of Esdraelon, on the road between Jenîn and Nazareth, about 1 1/2 hour north of Zer‘ín, ancient Jezreel, on the steep slope of the western spur of Little Hermon (Ed-Dŭhy).

    [G.W]
    Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, illustrated by numerous engravings on wood. William Smith, LLD. London. Walton and Maberly, Upper Gower Street and Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row; John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1854.

    Discussing what influenced her as a perfumer she says:

    “But the most influential perfume on me was Abishag, a long discontinued perfume that was exclusive to the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem. It was the first perfume I bought for myself, at the ripe age of 17. I lived off miniatures, saving up for the big ancient Roman-glass bottle they had, but by the time that happened it disappeared. Abishag was a resinous cross between chypre and oriental, with top notes that were sharp and almost revolting (they smelled like a certain species of little black beetles, kind of apple-like and quite overwhelming)– the most similar thing to it are the top notes of Private Collection. The base was very rich with labdanum and just magical. The closest thing to it is perhaps a combination of Tabu and Villoresi’s Incensi, layered with Private Collection on the top. I never managed to find out who the perfumer was or any other information about it.”

    Reply
  7. Anya Post author

    The winner of the decant of Abishag is Yvonne Steiner. Congratulations, Yvonne. I’ll write you privately so you can send me your address.

    Anya

    Reply
    1. Yvonne Steiner

      Anya,
      I couldn’t be more surprised, thrilled, and even honored to be coming into possession of the very elusive Abishag! Anya, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m so completely excited to be able to experience the fragrance and will cherish it always. THANK YOU!!! (all smiles here!!!)
      Yvonne

      Reply
    2. Yvonne Steiner

      Anya,
      I received the Abishag and wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed it and appreciate your generosity. I LOVE IT!!! The scent is complex; and, it’s completely obvious someone put a lot of thought into its development. I’m honored to have my very own sample. THANK YOU!!! I’ll treasure it always!!! 🙂
      Yvonne
      Ha’LEVONAH – Frankincense Store

      Reply
  8. Dana

    I am so glad that someone with an experienced nose can finally critique this fragrance. My tiny vial looks very similar to yours.

    Reply
  9. B.Powell

    This story of King David’s Bed warmer is very interesting to me as a preacher and as a woman that I am looking behind the text to discover a deeper meaning for her role in king David’s life.

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

    I love this perfum. I have been looking for it for years! I can’t wear many perfums but this perfect!

    Reply
  11. Jennifer

    I still have a small amount of the “solid” perfume that came in antique-look stone jar. I broke the top but even after 22 years, it smells divine.

    Reply
  12. Abishag

    Oooh Blimey!why didnt i see this post earlier?!to win this elusive perfume?*wailing*
    That is my name right there,i am a Ghanaian from West Africa,Africa who is a christian(Jehovah”s Witness).
    in Ghana most Christian parent lean towards giving Bible names to their children to reflect their religiousity so the story goes that when i was born due to my extreme beauty(yes my parents said so),they decided to name me after the character Abishag as found in the Bible book of 1Kings 1:1-4 because the New World Translation describes her as ‘beautiful in extreme’.
    The next mention of Abishag is when Adonijah asked for her hand in marriage even as she was the King’s wife(Solomon).It was this request that confirmed to Solomon that Adonijah was still very much interested in his throne if he had the audacity to ask for the King’s wife then he was as well asking for the King’s throne(1King’s 2:20-25).haha,i love my name very very much so i know all about it.
    However,in my country it a very very unique &kinda weird name to a lot of people so as i grew,i leaned towards using another also on my Birth certificate.
    somebody,anybody tell me there is a souvenir for me after this very long essay i have written about myself.
    I am sooo excited to know that a perfume was created in my honor*cue dancing*
    Somebody make my dream come thru by telling me i would be recieving this priceless collection in my mail sooooonn? Anya?Anyone?waiting……
    Unfor

    Reply
    1. Erica S

      Hello sister,

      Alas, I don’t have any precious perfumed oils for you, but I am just beginning to experiment with making natural perfumes and am delighted to see your post from the other side of the globe (I am in Juneau, Alaska). How interesting about your name! (And the biblical story, as well). Will have to see how she is referred to in the 2013 NWT 🙂 (perhaps not as poetically). Haha….

      Here’s my fb page if you’d like to msg me there!

      https://www.facebook.com/erica.simonson

      Reply
      1. Abishag

        Hello! Good to hear from you. Unfortunately I’m not on Facebook, can I find you on instagram, twitter or linked in? These are the social networks I use.
        Thanks and hope to hear from you soon…

        Reply
  13. Patricia Smith

    Jan 15, 2014
    RE: Abishag Perfume
    I was in Israel in the spring of 1994 and while visiting the Garden of Gethsemane gift store, I picked up a tiny bottle of the most enchanting fragrance my senses had ever had the pleasure of taking in. As a student of the Word of God, I was very familiar with the Biblical details of Abishag as the bed warmer for King David as he became ancient of days. Due to the fact that my tour bus was wanting to leave, I quickly grabbed up this tiny, but costly, little bottle of perfume. After I put some on, I began to experience many compliments on the fragrance and wished I had purchased the larger bottle, even though it was extremely expensive for my budget at that time. After returning to America, I continued to receive compliments about the elusive and mysterious fragrance and it opened the door to explain the story of Abishag and King David and the road to finding the true Messiah. Needless to say, I was heart broken when after the bottle was empty, it somehow disappeared and I was never able to find it. If I had known the fragrance would disappear on me as easily as the empty bottle itself, I would have locked it away in a safe where it could not be taken away. Since that time, I have searched off and on for the perfume by “online” visits of the many gift shops and perfumeries throughout Israel. Yesterday I again started an internet search for it, when one of the gift shops suggested I perform a “Google Images” search and if I would forward the found picture of the bottle, they in turn could possibly find the perfume for me. Needless to say I was very excited and literally let out a little squeal of delight when I found your site and there in front of my eyes was an image of the same little bottle of Abishag perfume that I had found in Israel around 20 years ago and that had eluded me all these years since. Even though readings seem to point out that this perfume has since been discontinued, I am hoping a perfumer/fragrance chemist may be able to break down the make up of the perfume and restore the fragrance that has haunted my senses all these years. If you should know where I can purchase Abishag today, I would be genuinely grateful and appreciative.
    Shalom,
    Patricia Smith
    Wichita, KS.
    USA

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      I am also searching for Abishag. I received it as a gift in 1989 and made some purchases several times from the Israel Museum. It is one of the most exquisite fragrances ever made. I wish Judith Muller would oblige us and bring it back.

      Reply
  14. Patricia Smith

    Jennifer,
    To go into all the details would be far too long so I will shorten the feedback I was given at the time of my purchase of Abishag……
    The original recipe of the mixing instructions and the contents list was found in one of the clay jars recovered from the caves of Qumran. The said recipe is still housed within the Israel Museum along with all the other writings and jars. Because this perfume recipe actually belongs to the Descendants of King David and specifically the Jewish people, I would think, due to the high number of requests for the perfume, that any Perfumer of Jewish lineage could have access to it and reproduce the perfume for us. Maybe if we contacted a local Israeli perfumer (or maybe even Anya??) and inform them of this possibility, they would look into the matter further and possibly remake it and place the perfume back on the market. I know I would be thrilled as I know many others would be likewise.

    Reply
  15. Roberta

    I have the flask with a resin like cream almost gone. I loved abishag perfume. Jill Ervaise at the university of Pennsylvania was a museum crurator when the university hosted an antiquities exhibit, where I first got my abishag from.
    I’ve also posted on several perfumery type sites since the early 2000’s, in my search…to no avail.
    The Taya company was purchased or merged with a German company that makes flavorings and other scents in the US … I lost the trail and gave up hope of ever finding Abishag again. I’ve sent samples to several on line perfumers and spent money to have a replica made, but what they ent back was not abishag. Please let me know if you find the best smell in the world?
    Thanks.
    Roberta

    Reply
  16. Evelin Harsfai

    Hi
    My mom have one tiny bottle of abishag,she keep it in secrer,and use it just for very very special days,this why she still have a bit after 30 years..i was wondering,that maybe i can find somewhere one more bottle,i want to give it to her for birthsday.can you help me where can i buy it?
    Thank you

    Reply
  17. malca

    Since some 25 years ago, I can still remember the smell of Abishag. I’m going to Israel in May . Could you please tell me where I could purchase Abishag.Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Good luck finding this perfum anywhere. It has been discontinued for over 20 years but I have a small stash hidden so well I can’t find it when I need it. LOL

      Reply
  18. Elena

    Thanks to Google I found that page, not sure if anyone would read this 5 years after the latest post. 🙂
    I own 2 bottles and I absolutely love it, saving for extremely special occasions. I’ve been searching for information since late 90s, and I’ve been trying to purchase another one since then. I do not see that as a young girl perfume. On my skin it is very deep, warm and bitter, very sexual and feminine, even magical. I’ve been also looking for anything close to that with no luck. Unfortunately perfumes don’t live long lives – so I will have to use it finally just not to waste it completely before it “dies”.

    Reply
  19. Elena

    Actually I saw older replies on the top – usually there are latest comments on the top. So its been less than a year, good 🙂

    Reply

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