Lightyears Collection
Bint El Sudan
W.J. Bush & Co.
(1920)

NOTE: When I first acquired a bottle of Bint El Sudan, I knew nothing of its history and wrote my article based on a small knowledge of W.J. Bush & Co. and some surmised about this perfume. Some time after the first version of my story appeared, I was contacted by Mr. Tony Bate, grandson of Eric Burgess, a W.J. Bush & Co. salesman for 50 years and the "instigator" of Bint El Sudan. Mr. Bate provided me with some fascinating information about his grandfather — and the history of Bint El Sudan — which I have used to revise this article.

Photo of Eric Burgess
Eric Burgess, "instigator" of Bint El Sudan perfume.
Click
to enlarge

Photo of 'Bint El Sudan' perfume by W.J. Bush & Co.

Bint El Sudan, non-alcoholic perfume
by W.J. Bush & Co.

The story of Bint El Sudan perfume starts with a young Englishman, Eric Burgess (1891-1977) who, at the age of 16, joined the firm of W.J. Bush & Co. where his father was to become a director.

Starting as a "tea boy" (gofer), Eric Burgess soon became a commission salesman. Having been educated in Geneva where the family had a home, Burgess had gained a reputation for fluency in languages. W.J. Bush & Co. made good use of this talent by sending him to foreign lands. Between 1919 and 1920, Eric Burgess found himself in the Sudan.

The story that follows appears to have been told by Burgess himself in several versions. The basic outline is as follows: One blazingly hot day in Khartoum, a band of men "looking like brigands from Omdurman" crowed into the small office of W.J. Bush & Co's local representative. After squatting on the floor and serving tea, they produced a number of vials of exotic fragrance materials. Their desire was to have them made into a perfume.

Burgess delivered these vials to the W.J. Bush & Co. laboratories where they were blended into a fragrance — that was too costly for the market! Substitutions were made and a sensible price point was achieved. Bint El Sudan was born!

Introduced in 1920, Bint El Sudan became an amazing hit with its fame spreading east across Africa and west across the Arab Middle East. In keeping with the prohibition enforced by some Muslims, Bint El Sudan was manufactured without alcohol. It's heavy aroma never found favor in Europe but, in the warmer climates where stronger fragrances were favored, Bint El Sudan became a runaway best seller. In time it became the world's best selling, non alcoholic perfume and as recently as the early 1970's, some claim that Bint El Sudan was the world's best selling perfume without exception.

The name Bint El Sudan and the artwork on the bottle are closely connected. "Bint" is Arabic for "daughter" or "maiden" — hence "Bint El Sudan" becomes "Daughter of Sudan", "Sudanese Maiden" or "Sudanese Girl". As to the young woman on the bottle, the artwork was prepared from a photograph Burgess, an amateur photographer, had taken of three Sudanese teenagers (princesses, according to Burgess family tradition) clothed in elephant hair skirts.

The fame of Bint El Sudan became such that it drew counterfeiters who sometimes substituted kerosene for the genuine fragrance. Eric Burgess himself was personally responsible for crackdowns on counterfeiters who, when caught in a British territory, were likely to find themselves jailed.

Today replicas of Bint El Sudan perfume oil are widely available on the internet.

In 1961, W.J. Bush & Co. was sold to Albright & Wilson. In 1966, Albright & Wilson sold it and it became the "Bush" in Bush Boake Allen which, in 2000, became part of International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF).

Click to enlarge
Photo of 'Bint El Sudan' perfume by W.J. Bush & Co.

Bint El Sudan, Side View
Click to enlarge
Photo of 'Bint El Sudan' perfume by W.J. Bush & Co.

Bint El Sudan, Side View
Click to enlarge
Photo of 'Bint El Sudan' perfume by W.J. Bush & Co.

Bint El Sudan, Side View
Click to enlarge
Photo of 'Bint El Sudan' perfume by W.J. Bush & Co.

Bint El Sudan, Side View

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  • E. Ekunwe, 05/15/2017. why do people use his perfume.And what make it significant.

    — —

  • Pius e Pius jnr, 05/15/2017. It's more like am using Bint el Sudan for the very first time,
    but I wanted to clear a statement by the salesman I bought from which he
    said " Bint el Sudan is likely gonno attract ladies to it user" please how
    true is this claim? Is anything unnatural attached to the perfume?

    ANSWER: No.
  • Prof. Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, Ph.D., 05/04/2017. I am very familiar with Bush Boake Allen company, as my late
    father Haj Ibrahim Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, famed with the nickname
    "Albarbary" who was a renowned perfumer in his own rights with a popular
    herbal and perfumery store in Khartoum, and later on founded the first
    Sudanese perfumery and fruit syrups factory in Khartoum North, named OTICO
    (Orient Trading and Industrial Company). In my childhood and early youth,
    I used to go daily to the store and then the factory. After graduating
    from the University of Khartoum, I joined the company as Manager for
    Foreign Trade. From the time of the store and then the factory, we used
    to be visited by Sales Representative from Bush Boake Allen. In 1969 I
    visited with the Company in the UK coming from Grasse France, where I was
    met at the Victoria Train Station and taken to the company where I had
    orientation and was kindly looked after and dined during my stay in
    London.
    I feel extremely nostalgic with these memories; and how excited we used to
    feel when opening newly arriving boxes, pails and drums with essences in
    them. If I recall, after I left the company to work for the University of
    Khartoum, I think, my late brother Mohamed Almahdy, General Manager of
    OTICO initiated legal action against Bush Boake Allen for infringement on
    the copy rights of one of our products, for which I had personally
    designed the label.
    I have been living in Boston,USA since 1980 when I came as a graduate
    student and got recruited, before finishing, as a Professor by Boston
    University, where I taught Technology Transfer; and since 1989 we
    established a technology transfer alliance company to transfer safe and
    useful technologies to developing countries: AIM International, Inc.
    (www.aiminternational.us).

    Ironically, I still yearn to those days of blending perfumes and coming up
    with exotic fragrances. Up till these days, I blend perfumes for myself
    and for members of my family. I have a specifically one perfume of my
    creation that I would love to explore its potentials as a fragrance and a
    name, which I feel would be a real "HIT".

    I feel I have written too much, but that is expected, given my excitement
    due to a long history with perfumes and fruit drinks.

    Thank you for availing this opportunity to allow me to reflect on the
    past.

    With my best regards.

    Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, Ph.D.
  • Nick Evans at IFF, 11/14/2008.
    Bint el Sudan perfume is still the top selling perfume in Africa
    today. Most of it comming out of the original WJ Bush plant in Kano, Northern Nigeria.