Guguss and the Vaud Referendum

Guguss was produced and edited by the remarkable Genevois, Louis Bron, a larger than life (literally – he weighed nearly 150kg) bon vivant, satirist, politician and publisher. This ground-breaking satirical journal was first published in Geneva in 1894, featuring a tight integration of handwritten text and hard-hitting caricatures by Albert Gantner (under the name Polyte). Guguss exposed cant and hypocrisy wherever Bron found it and attracted a devoted readership of over 25000, who eagerly awaited the new edition distributed at bars and cafés every Saturday. A passionate devotee of La Feé Verte, Bron ensured that Guguss was at the forefront of the fight to save absinthe from prohibition, and in the years from 1905 many articles and sometimes entire issues of the magazine were devoted to attacking the prohibitionist movement, and to campaigning in favour of absinthe, invariably nicknamed coueste by Bron. Printed in Saint Gervais, where Bron was for a time the honourary mayor, Guguss was an ephemeral publication produced on cheap paper, and surviving runs of the journal are very rare (and missing even from most Swiss institutional libraries). The extracts below show Guguss’ reaction to the uproar generated by the Lanfray murders, and the subsequent referendum in the canton of Vaud, the first serious legislative attempt to ban absinthe in Switzerland. The temperance movement seized on the horrific Lanfray murders in Commugny to bolster their argument for the prohibition of the drink.

Guguss Vol 22 #4 11 Nov 1905Bron criticizes the temperance campaigners as interfering busybodies, always looking for the next target to attack, like Don Quichotte tilting at windmills. He complains that they interfere where they have no right to be, and simply rehash the details of the Lanfray murder in gruesome detail over and over again. He accuses the wine producers of being behind the anti-absinthe campaign, and describes how the local priests are in cahoots with them – he writes that if you ask a gathering of priests at lunch for a bible none will have one on him – ask them for a corkscrew though, and every one, without exception, will produce one from his pocket. He speaks about the virtues of drinking absinthe in moderation – he himself has only one a day – and points out that many people have been killed in the name of religion, without drinking absinthe at all!

Guguss Vol 22 #518 Nov 1905Bron mocks the teetotaling women who are flocking to sign the Vaud anti-absinthe petition – why not ask drunkards to sign a petition banning tea or coffee!. He asks why they seek to destroy the absinthe industry which provides so many jobs – why not prohibit the car industry, because people die in accidents? And absinthe has made Switzerland internationally renowned for something other than cheese!

Guguss Vol 22 #7 2 Dec 1905Even the advertisers in Guguss – like this Brasserie mocked the scapegoating of absinthe.

Guguss Vol 23 #519 May 1906Bron mocks the fact that by a vote of 126 to 40 in the Vaud Cantonal council from 1 January 1907 the sale of absinthe in cafés would be prohibited, but wholesale sales would still be permitted – better then to drink your absinthe straight from the barrel he suggests!

Guguss Vol 23 #7 2 Jun 1906 The full page caricature by Gantner that accompanied this article graphically shows how the Swiss wine producers (and the manufacturers of rival apéritifs) conspired to ensure absinthe’s downfall. Coueste was Genevois patois for absinthe – the title means “Absinthe – Vaud wine (wrestling) match”.

Guguss Vol 23 #1818 Aug 1906This article laments the recent rise in the cost of both absinthe and coincidentally of milk (already relatively expensive in Geneva). Bron is sure that only profiteers will benefit, not small producers.

Guguss Vol 23 #2322 Sept 1906This entire issue -printed in absinthe green – was devoted to the Vaud referendum scheduled for the following day, Sunday the 23rd 1906. Bron makes a final impassioned plea for the survival of the Green Fairy. He emphasizes that banning absinthe will not end alcoholism, but will just drive drinking underground, where it will be harder to control. He predicts – accurately – that clandestine producers will immediately step in to fill the vacuum left by the prohibition of the legal product. Following Bron’s polemic, a series of satirical verses contrasts the virtues of absinthe and chamomile tea, the favoured drink of the temperance campaigners.

Guguss Vol 23 #2429 Sept 1906Reflecting the result of the Vaud referendum – an overwhelming vote to ban absinthe – this powerful caricature by Gantner accompanying Bron’s article shows the helpless Green Fairy – also a symbol of Swiss liberty and free-trade – being ravished by a maniacal prohibitionist.

Guguss Vol 23 #256 Oct 1906Bron using very colourful language, laments the shock result of the Vaud referendum, which resulted in a ban on the Green Fairy. He mocks the absurd lengths temperance campaigners will go to demonize the drink, even force-feeding absinthe to chickens, so that children in schools can be shown t


Illustrations and drawings that Louis Bron, the editor of Le Guguss commissioned from the cartoonist Gantner amongst others, were widely reproduced in postcard form.

If the reign of terror against absinthe succeeds, will beer, wine and other alcohols be next?

In 1906-7, the cantons of Vaud and Geneva both prohibited the wholesale distribution of absinthe.

With absinthe banned and now no longer available, asserts this anti-prohibition card, illegal and far more dangerous alcohols like benzine would soon take its place. The card is a visual pun, based on the French proverb: “Chassé par la porte, il revient par la fenêtre.”

Anti prohibition mock mourning card for “Blanche Laverte”.

Absinthe vs. Croix Bleue: Civil War in Switzerland.