Murray & Lanman Florida Water ~ fragrance review

Florida WaterLanman & Murray trade card (circa 1881)Florida Water

'Candy and flowers, dear,' Ellen had said time and again, 'and perhaps a book of poetry or an album or a small bottle of Florida water are the only things a lady may accept from a gentleman.'

— Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

When Scarlett O'Hara received this advice from her mother (during her fictional girlhood, leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War), Florida water had already been a popular variant on Eau de Cologne for several decades. The New York-based company Murray & Lanman first began to produce and sell a trademarked Florida Water in 1808. The firm has undergone a few name changes over the past two centuries, but it still exists; and, now known as Lanman & Kemp, it still offers this classic item.

The Lanman & Kemp website lists multiple uses for its Florida Water, including a treatment for "jangled nerves" and a suggestion for "boudoir daintiness." I don't know how long this particular list has been in existence, but it delights my vintage-loving soul, and so does the label on the Florida Water bottle: a rococo arrangement of flower garlands, parrots, a medieval-style troubadour serenading his lady-love, and a cascading fountain. Florida water's name alludes to Florida as the supposed location of the "Fountain of Youth," which explains the latter detail.

Traditional recipes for Florida Water combine citrus notes (bergamot, lemon, neroli) with spicy notes (cloves, cinnamon) and an occasional floral accent (jasmine, rose). I doubt that Murray & Lanman still uses any natural ingredients in its Florida Water formula, but this product smells surprisingly good for something so budget-friendly. It starts with a lemon-bergamot note that has a pleasantly astringent bite. In a few minutes, the citrus quiets down a bit, and the clove and cinnamon become evident, but even on the hottest of days, these notes stay comfortably subtle. I notice some neroli peeking out from the clean, spicy dry down, and maybe just a touch of rose or some other soft floral note. It's a scent that could easily be worn by women or men of all ages. I've been splashing it on directly from the bottle, or applying it to my neck and wrists with a cotton ball. It would also give an extra-cooling sensation if it were stored in the refrigerator. It's a cologne formulation, so its fragrance fades within the hour; but it's a pleasure while it lasts, and it's tempting to reapply.

While I was writing this, I remembered Angela's review of Jean Naté; I suppose Murray & Lanman Florida Water is Jean Naté for someone with an obsession for Victoriana. I like the way it looks on a shelf in the bathroom, and I love the way it feels and smells on a steamy day. Many, many things have changed since the mid-nineteenth century, but the need to stay cool and fresh in the summer hasn't changed.

I purchased my bottle of Murray & Lanman Florida Water at a local drugstore; it's also available through Amazon. Prices vary, but you shouldn't pay more than $5 for a 7.5 oz. bottle.

Note: top center image is a Murray & Lanman trade card (circa 1881) from the Lanman & Kemp website.

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51 Comments

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  1. freskagirl says:

    Sounds like I might need a bottle of this! I am liking a wee touch of spice with my citrus, even in the summer. And I love the look of that bottle, too.

    • Jessica says:

      Freska, I can get bored with straight-up citrus, but that spicy note makes it fun for me… just like a good cocktail! ;)
      And the bottle is perfect; the label design doesn’t seem to have changed much, if at all, over the past century. I hope the company never gets the crazy idea of “updating” it, either!

  2. Did you know that this is also used in witchcraft and brujeria for ritual cleansings, offerings & purification? Before anyone gets the wrong idea…NO…I am NOT into that. It is a part of my Latin Carribean culture that I have no desire to be a part of. Also, just saw a 7.5 oz bottle on Amazon for $3.39. :-)

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Carlos… I did read that, but I don’t know much about witchcraft/voodoo etc., so I thought I’d pass on that issue for now. I wonder what the original connection was!

      • Wordbird says:

        Perhaps it’s to do with offering things of high quality and value to deities? Traditionally Eaux de Cologne were used to cleanse and refresh, but they are costly and sophisticated compared to soap and water. So they are a higher-quality and higher-status cleanser to offer the gods.
        Does that make sense? I’m guessing here, not speaking from authority or experience. I’d love to know the truth.

        • Wordbird says:

          Plus, of course, I’d love to try the fragrance! I love a spicy note in Eau de Cologne, it cuts the citrus just enough to make things interesting but still remain cool and refreshing.

          And is there anything nicer than re-spritzing with some nice cool Eau de Cologne on a hot hot day? Ah! cools you right down.

          • Jessica says:

            Wordbird, I have no idea, either! Maybe you’re right. And you’re definitely right about re-applying eau de cologne on a hot, humid day… aaah.

  3. zeezee says:

    Ah, so *that* is Florida water! I’d heard the name and seen the bottle, but never put the two together somehow. Speaking of brujería, I do remember a Peruvian friend recommended breathing through a handkerchief soaked in the stuff to help with my sorroche/altitude sickness. That and chewing coca leaves. Don’t think either did much, but it was a nice gesture.

    A propos of absolutely nothing, Gone with the Wind always strikes me as a Bollywood-esque epos. Anyone familiar with the movie Mother India? You’re sure to see the similarities in melodrama – only GwtW lacks the random outbursts of song & dance. Which is a pity, really.

    • Jessica says:

      A musical Gone with the Wind… I bet *someone* has tried this by now! That would really be over the top. ;)

      • Yes, David Selznick did try to turn it into a musical, but it was a total failure.

        • Jessica says:

          I can see why. It really would have been too much of a good thing!

  4. mjr says:

    Thanks for your review, Jessica. I love reading reviews in the cheap thrills and/or items of historic/cultural interest categories. I’ve always been curious about this but never got up the courage to sniff it. I actually have an unopened bottle of this that I picked up in the LatAm section at my grocery store…. Loved the look of that bottle and I had to have it. Guess it’s time to bust it open!
    And I just want to add I’m not very concerned with how this Florida water may or may not factor into cleansing rituals, witchcraft or otherwise – unless someone is an expert here who can fill in the facts.

    • Jessica says:

      MJR, I looked at this product in various drugstores for years before I finally bought a bottle. I thought I’d just keep it on the shelf and admire it, but then I really ended up enjoying the actual fragrance! I often spot it in the Latin American section of drugstores in the NYC area, too.

      • mjr says:

        Wow, I just tested this and it’s really marvelous. Mine was in the fridge so I just doused a hankerchief and applied liberally. On my skin, the clove really stands out, which I love because I have several wonderful citrus-heavy colognes already.
        Can’t wait to douse my sweetie with this when he gets back from his research trip in Mexico City. There he recently picked 100ml of a cheapie cologne ($3) scented with Agave nectar. I hope he brings it home!

  5. olenska says:

    One of life’s little luxuries, as magnificent for its scent as for its cheapness. A bottle each of this and Superior 70 Bay Rum, and you’ve covered the essentials for less than a sawbuck.

    • Jessica says:

      Ah… traditional bay rum. I wonder, has Kevin ever reviewed that? If not, he should!

      • olenska says:

        Oh, yes, please! :) After reading others’ justified complaints, I’m amazed that the makers of Florida Water and Superior 70 treat their product so casually as to package them in plastic. Seriously, they could charge triple the current cost and put it in glass, and we would still be getting an inconceivable bargain.

  6. Absolute Scentualist says:

    Thanks for this review, Jessica. This sounds so bright and refreshing. I’ll have to look for it the next time I’m at a shop that would likely carry it.

    More info about Florida Water and its spiritual uses can be found here:
    http://www.newageinfo.com/waters-for-spellcasting.htm

    I have quite an interest in spiritual practices and religions of the world, and found the recipe for another water called Kananga Water, which also sounds gorgeous for a cologne as well with the primary floral notes of ylang ylang, rose, cassie and orris along with the storax, civet, grain musk (?) and tonka. It sounds really lovely, too, though I can’t imagine all the ingredients are that easy to come by.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks, AS! That writer’s recipes for Florida water and Kananga water both sound like they would smell wonderful… let me go see if I have any civet oil lying around. Kidding, kidding. Definitely hard to come by. ;)

  7. 50_Roses says:

    I first tried Florida water many years ago during my impecunious college days. I thought it was lovely, way better than one would expect for the price, and the label and bottle were beautiful. The thing that annoys me the most, and the main reason I have not bought it in a long time, is that the bottles I see on the shelves today are plastic, not glass as they once were. I really detest plastic bottles for fragrance, as the scent always seems to take on a plasticky note which I dislike, besides which the plastic feels flimsy. I think if you are going to go for the Victoriana, you should use glass, as there was no such thing as plastic in the 19th century.

    • mjr says:

      I agree, 50_Roses. That’s the one thing I can’t stand about it. Every time I handle the bottle I end up wishing it were glass!

      • Jessica says:

        Ah, glass would be much more authentic… I can see why it would be impractical (fragile, heavy, expensive), but yes, that would be nice!

        • 50_Roses says:

          They were glass until relatively recently. When I first bought a bottle in the late 80′s, it was glass, as were subsequent bottles. I am not sure when they switched to plastic, but I first noticed the change perhaps 10 years ago.

          • RusticDove says:

            Aw, I have to say it’s very disappointing to find out the bottles are plastic. Oh well.

  8. kaos.geo says:

    “I suppose Murray & Lanman Florida Water is Jean Naté for someone with an obsession for Victoriana. ”

    Sold! :-)

  9. George Sand Devotee says:

    What an elegantly written review Jessica, it was a pleasure to read!
    Sounds perfect in high summer when any girl is having her Blanch DuBois moment!
    I live in London, but luckily I have American friends visiting in two weeks, so I will send them along to the drug store with haste.
    Have a lovely summer, with best wishes to Robin and all at NST.

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you, GS Devotee! Glad you enjoyed it. And yes, Ms. DuBois is another hot-weather role model… take a cool bath, have a cool drink, splash on some scent!

  10. This is so adorable! I love the bottle and all things vintage. It sounds really refreshing for summer too. Thanks for the review! :)

    • Jessica says:

      Devilbunnies, thanks! It’s a nice (and cheap) little indulgence!

  11. Thanna says:

    Lovely review! I’ve heard of Florida Water but don’t remember ever hearing a description of the scent. A citrus with a bit of spice would be a nice addition to my wardrobe of summery eaux. That bottle is fabulous!

    • Jessica says:

      Thanna, I first read GWTW when I was eleven, and I wondered for a long time what Florida water might smell like! However, I eventually bought it for myself. Not a gift from a suitor. ;)

  12. These are probably the most beautiful bottles I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the Florida Water smells great but I would buy it just for the bottles. They would look perfect in my bathroom. I’m going to have to make a trip to the pharmacy! :)

    • Jessica says:

      Perfumegirl10, It really is an antique-looking bottle (even though it’s plastic!), with a wonderful label! so detailed!

  13. RusticDove says:

    This made me chuckle out loud: “boudoir daintiness.” I don’t even know what that means. hehe

    • Jessica says:

      Me neither, but now I know how to get it, thanks to Florida Water! ;)

    • Marsha says:

      I think it means “I was wearing a leather mini-skirt accessorized with stainless steel chains when we first met, but now that I have admitted you to the inner sanctum of my bedroom, you can see by the dainty toilet water and extensive velvet upholstery that I am unlikely to hurt you- unless you ask nicely :) “.

      I remember as a kid reading GWTW and wondering what Florida water was. I assumed it was some kind of cologne, but I wasn’t sure. Nice to have the question answered. But can a lady accept other perfumes from a gentleman, and still be a lady? Could I receive Silver Iris Mist while being courted, and retain my virtue?

      • 50_Roses says:

        Sure, as long as you are not a Southern belle in antebellum Georgia. The rules have (thankfully) changed since 1861.

        • Marsha says:

          But a good Southern Belle always pays attention, and looks for the loopholes. Did Mama say what a lady could accept from a man who wasn’t a gentleman? She did not. Is Rhett a gentleman? Definitely not. Lesson- don’t date gentlemen, and you can accept whatever trinkets delight your greedy little heart Scarlett!

      • RusticDove says:

        Oh, I think you may be right Marsha – thanks for the explanation. ;-)

        • Jessica says:

          Yes, thank you! And, of course, Scarlett did accept that divine green Paris hat from Mr. Butler.

  14. wondermelmo says:

    I might have to get some just for nostalgia’s sake – it instantly reminds me of my grandmother. She would never bathe without sprinkling some in her bathwater. Just seeing this bottle is reassurance and comfort.

    • Jessica says:

      Wondermelmo, A happy memory is a wonderful reason to use any fragrance!

  15. Marsha says:

    I couldn’t help but go to the company website and take a look around…

    If I’m reading it correctly, they do sell the Florida Water in GLASS bottles- at $35.00 for a dozen bottles. Now, I’m just guessing, but that must mean that some store out there is selling them individually. Although, I can picture a 12 pack sitting in my refrigerator like a batch of wine bottles. And as hot as it’s been, I bet I could go through the lot. And even if I can’t, it would be fun to the looks on friends/family’s faces when they open the fridge door and see nothing but perfume bottles.

    That would cement my reputation. All I’d need to complete the picture would be a bottle of champagne. Very Bombshell Style!

    • RusticDove says:

      Sounds perfectly reasonable to me! :-D

      • Jessica says:

        Marsha, You could even find a wine-rack sort of apparatus to store them. Fancy!

  16. George Sand Devotee says:

    So now we are on the subject of lady-like behaviour, I know American belles are not supposed to wear white shoes after Labour Day, but when does the season start? Was discusssing this with English friends but couldn’t for the life of me remember when you were supposed to commence!

    • 50_Roses says:

      I think it is Memorial Day (the last Monday in May). So essentially, it is June, July, and August, with a few extra days on either end.

      • Jessica says:

        50_Roses is correct! That’s what I’ve always heard: Memorial Day to Labor Day. I don’t actually own any white clothing or white shoes, but if I did, I’d follow the rule. ;)

        • 50_Roses says:

          The rule does not apply, however, to nurses, tennis players, or brides.

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