Fakes and Forgeries

A faked Arthaud Feuille.

This fascinating field, is a minefield for the unwary collector. Much of what’s sold on online auction sites or in flea markets in France, is faked or incorrectly described one way or the other. Many of the rarest absinthe spoons (and other items such as fountains and spoon-holders) have been reproduced as modern replicas. There is nothing at all wrong with this of course – if replicas are clearly marked as such. However unscrupulous sellers occasionally try to pass them off as originals. Fortunately they are easy to recognize, and will only fool a beginner.

More dangerous are outright fakes, made with the intention to deceive. These can be hard to distinguish from originals, especially just on the basis of photographs. Since individual absinthe spoons can be worth several thousand dollars, the potential for profit on the counterfeiter’s side is obvious. There are several very active makers of faked absinthe spoons in France, who are continually refining their skills. It’s for this reason that I generally don’t post detailed guidelines for distinguishing faked from genuine spoons on my website – I along with a few French collectors did this in the past, and then found that the counterfeiters were improving their product and eliminating their mistakes in response to the information we had so helpfully given them! The danger with fakes of course is that once they get into circulation they are sold and resold, and may eventually be offered in good faith by less knowledgeable sellers unaware that they are not the real thing.

An orange juice strainer, often mistaken for an absinthe brouilleur.

The word “absinthe” is something of a magic bullet for a French antique dealer – it instantly increases the value of the associated antique ten or twenty fold. So unsurprisingly, items made for use with other liqueurs of the period – quinquinas, bitters, gentianes – are often hopefully described as absinthe antiques. Even more commonly, items made after 1920 for the pastis market, are sold as absinthe period antiques. Almost all the so-called “absinthe fountains” on the market were in reality made for use with pastis in the 1930’s.

So in summary, as in all fields of antique collecting, caveat emptor. Buy only from someone you trust, with the requisite specialist expertise. As with all fields of antiques, new collectors in particular should exercise great caution in buying, particularly if they are offered what appears to be a “bargain”. Rare absinthe spoons are traded within a fairly small body of knowledgeable collectors and dealers, who are well aware of their value. A spoon from an unknown source offered at well below market value may well be faked. Below is a small selection of some of the more commonly found fakes and forgeries.

An Arthaud Feuille made by another manufacturer with a faked poincon.

A faked Coquille St Jacques grille.

A new creation rather than a copy of an original design.

Faked absinthiana includes pyrogenes, pitchers, saucers, bottles – the only limit is the imagination of the corrupt dealer, and the ingenuity of the counterfeiter. Faux-amis (literally false friends) is a French term referring to items – usually perforated spoons – that look like they might be connected to absinthe, but are not.

Closeup photos of a typical imitation spoon at left and above. Unlike 99% of genuine spoons, this spoon is moulded, not die-stamped. Tell-tale imperfections from the moulding can be seen in the enlarged images. Like many fakes, it’s made of a soft, heavy metal with a dull grey colour – probably a lead alloy. The poincon (moulded, not stamped as it would always be on a genuine spoon) reads “Etain” (Tin), which doesn’t correspond to the actual material used. Sham spoons like these are widely sold by unscrupulous dealers.

At left, three empty Pernod Fils bottles sold on eBay. Note the middle bottle in particular. At right, the exact same bottle, offered for sale a month later, but now sealed and filled with a mysterious greenish liquid…

A bottle probably refilled and resealed in the 1940’s, when old bottles were often reused due to a post-war shortage of glass.

A crude fake of the famous Absinthe Delizy et Doistau “Bulldog” pitcher.

All the above faked spoons and brouilleurs are presumed made by the same manufacturer in Poitiers. They vary in quality – the spoons are better than the brouilleurs – but are notable for their apparently aged patina. These are some of the most widely distributed frauds, especially on online auction sites.

A fairly widely sold faked pyrogene. Giveaways are the unnaturally bright gold border, and the crude application of the blue ring at the top.

These replicas, made for a dinner service sold by a Parisian department store in the 1970’s and 1980’s, are often sold as authentic bistrot items from the absinthe era.

A dangerous faux-amis, that has confused even experienced collectors. This is a tuna or tomato server, not an absinthe spoon. Warning signs are that the spoon is too small and too ornately worked, and lacks the characteristic notch in the handle typical of genuine absinthe spoons.

A problematic spoon. Although the downward pointing tip is found on some genuine absinthe spoons, the balance on the glass is wrong, and the overall design here makes it more likely that this is some sort of specialist server, rather than an absinthe spoon although the possibility cannot be entirely discounted.

At left – A typical tuna server. These are often optimistically described as absinthe spoons.

Despite the seller offering it as an absinthe spoon, this is nothing more than an elaborate bottle-opener.

Genuine absinthe fountains are rare and expensive – as a result, unscrupulous or ignorant vendors frequently try and pass-off later pastis fountains, or even worse, perfume dispensers from the 1960’s, as the real thing.
Old carafes are increasingly found ‘enhanced’ with absinthe branding etched on the glass.

A selection of perfume dispensers, made in the 1960’s and ’70’s, and often sold today as absinthe fountains. Not only have these dispensers nothing to do with absinthe (or liquor of any kind), but they cannot even be pressed into service as an improvised fountain today – the taps are often placed too low to fit a glass underneath, the spigot seals are invariably plastic, and the drip, designed to fill a perfume bottle, is usually too slow.

A curious coincidence: this flask has a dual mouth very similar to some absinthe carafes, but Eau Oxygéneé has nothing to do with Cusenier’s famous brand – rather, it’s the French word for hydrogen peroxide. This is a piece of apothecary glassware, rather than an absinthe-related item.

A small dual mouthed ‘absinthe’ carafe: in fact this is an olive-oil flask, missing its stopper.

Three bogus carafes: the carafes themselves are genuine, but the etched absinthe publicity markings (which potentially increase their value 50-fold) have been added recently. These dangerous fakes are believed to have originated in Switzerland. Regrettably, some of them have been listed as genuine in one of the standard reference works, which has given them an entirely spurious veneer of authenticity. Collectors should exercise great caution in buying any glassware etched with absinthe-related markings.