Echoes of La Fée Verte

~ The Absinthe Encyclopedia - CHAPTER VIII ~

Banned for almost a century until its recent revival, absinthe is something of a “living fossil”, a coelecanth amongst drinks, able to magically transport us back to the glittering world of Paris and the Belle Epoque, a world of bohemian musicians and writers, of the Moulin Rouge and the cafes of Montmartre, a world of starving struggling artists and glittering courtesans. All that remains today of this fabled era are the ghosts of the Green Fairy… absinthe antiques and absinthiana… slotted spoons for holding the sugar cube, dose- marked glasses, advertising carafes, matchstrikers or pyrogenes for the grande marques, absinthe advertising posters, manufacturers catalogues and postcards… echoes of L’Heure Verte (The Green Hour) a century ago.

Collecting Absinthe Antiques

Collecting Absinthe Antiques

Few fields are more fascinating and rewarding than collecting absinthe antiques. Long cherished by knowledgeable collectors in France and Switzerland, the accessories of the absinthe era are now also avidly collected in the US and Canada, the UK, Australia and Japan. As English language reference sources become more available, so this pool of collectors will continue to increase. This is a rapidly growing and uniquely fascinating arena: anything high quality you buy should not only retain its value, but consistently increase in value in the years ahead. Additionally the re-legalisation of absinthe in France and Switzerland – and, most recently, in the USA, the explosive growth of the worldwide absinthe market, and the prominent role accorded to absinthe in films like Moulin Rouge have all increased demand for the antiques of the pre-ban period. Prices, especially for exceptional items, continue to rise...

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Absinthe Spoons

Absinthe Spoons

The quintessential absinthe accoutrement are perforated spoons for holding the sugar cube over the glass. Usually made from plated brass, tin or nickel, they are found in an extraordinarily wide range of designs. This section includes some particularly interesting spoons including an undocumented absinthe spoon made in the USA circa 1910, the so-called Boulenger spoon, an unusually heavy silverplate Les Trous, a fine publicity spoon for Absinthe Pernot, and a very beautiful and scarce Les Feuilles #20. Les Grillagées & Les Grilles Absinthe “grilles” were an alternative to the perforated spoon, and gave the manufacturer even more freedom of design. A central platform, supported by three or four legs, held the sugar cube. Although their use was never widespread in France, they were popular in Switzerland, and most surviving examples are of Swiss origin (these are also known as Les Rondes). Les Cuillères Longues Generally a scarce category of...

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Absinthe Glasses

Absinthe Glasses

Absinthe glasses fall into two categories – ordinary bistrot glasses of the era, which could have been used for absinthe, but which were also used for wine, cordials and other apéritifs; and glasses specifically made for use with absinthe, usually with a clear demarcation to indicate the size of the dose. It’s the latter category that is eagerly collected. These glasses are never cut crystal: they were made for everyday use in busy bars, so low cost and ruggedness was a priority. They are usually heavy, and often quite crudely hand blown, something which only adds to their charm as far as the keen collector is concerned. A large wide mouthed, dose-marked glass used in the east of France. An unusual sand-moulded reservoir glass. Small publicity glasses for Absinthe Barnoud with two different lettering styles. Pontarlier glasses Pontarlier style reservoir glasses take their name from their appearance in this...

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Absinthe Brouilleurs

Absinthe Brouilleurs

Used as an occasional alternative to the perforated spoon, the brouilleur, or mixer was a small metal or glass bowl that sat on top of the glass. When it was filled with water it automatically dripped sugared water into the dose at the required rate. More elaborate versions had a separate platform to hold the sugar cube, and one famous model – the Cusenier “Auto Verseur” added a further refinement – an oscillating see-saw to control the dripping water.   Bloch Brouilleurs The amateurs of absinthe “with sugar” have in general the habit of dissolving the piece of sugar intended to generally moderate the taste of their apéritif with a simple café spoon and other times on special spoons, flat and pierced with holes. In all cases, with these various ways of preparing, it is extremely difficult to carry out a slow and progressive dissolving of the sugar, and...

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Absinthe topettes

Absinthe topettes

Topettes, often with marks indicating individual doses, were used to measure small amounts of absinthe, sufficient for a table or a single...

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Absinthe Carafes

Absinthe Carafes

Carafes held the ice water for diluting absinthe, they were – and are – an essential part of the accoutrements associated with the pouring ritual. The most desirable are those with specific advertising for the leading absinthe marques. Three carafes from the period between 1910 to 1920. An unusual blown glass ice-carafe, with an internal reservoir (accessible from the side) in which one could place ice cubes, to keep the water in the carafe chilled. Judging by the heavy base, prominent pontil mark, slightly irregular lip and occasional bubbles in the glass, it probably dates from the 1890’s or earlier. A unique very early ice carafe for Absinthe Georgette with brass fittings and a screw off lid to access the ice chamber in the base. Circa 1880 to...

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Absinthe Pichets

Absinthe Pichets

Recent research indicates that these types of figural pitchers, characterised by an extremely small spout, were intended for use with absinthe. Keller & Guérin made several different types at St Clement, as did the majolica works at Sarreguemines. A majolica water pitcher made by Keller & Guérin at their factory in Saint Clement in the shape of a Marabou stork. The extremely small hole in the beak (only about two millimeters in diameter) indicates that this pitcher was probably made primarily for use with absinthe, as does the fact that examples are recorded with the brand mark Absinthe Oxygéneé. Later versions of this same pitcher carried publicity for Anis Amourette, an absinthe-like substitute made by Pernod-Hemard in the 1920’s. This example is in unusually fine condition and dates from around 1890. A remarkable St Clement barbotine pitcher in the shape of a grasshopper. Dating from around 1910, this is...

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Absinthe Bistrot Matchstrikers

Absinthe Bistrot Matchstrikers

Porcelain matchstrikers, known as “Pyrogene” after one of the major manufacturers, were a feature of every bistrot table. Many carried advertising for the leading absinthe marques. The striking surface was usually ridged porcelain or occasionally a wooden insert. La Parisienne la meilleures des Absinthes. Distillerie H. Bazinet Absinthe National tricolor pyrogenes. Dornier-Tuller Extrait d’Absinthe Fleurier & Pontarlier. Absinthe Non Oxygénée Veillesse Naturelle A.Junod, Pontarlier. Absinthe Berger Maisons à Couvet Suisse Marseille, Buenos-Aires. Absinthe Bell Matchstrikers The firm of A. Marchand & Cie in Aix-en-Provence made publicity pyrogenes with a bell, to summon the waiter, concealed in the...

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Absinthe Fountains

Absinthe Fountains

These impressive artefacts stood on the counter in larger bars and bistrots, and enabled several glasses of absinthe to be prepared simultaneously. The glass reservoir held a large block of ice and iced water which was channelled through between two and six spigots to the waiting absinthe glasses. The spigots could be finely calibrated so that the water fell into the glasses in the thinnest possible stream, or drop by drop. 4 robinette Absinthe Terminus Bienfaisante fountain with a hinged lid, topped by the famous “Coq.” 6-robinette Absinthe Legler-Pernod fountain with engraved glass and publicity on the base. Believed to be the only example with original glass still surviving. A 4 robinette fountain with elaborately etched glass, made for Henri Lanique, an absinthe distiller based in Metz. Particularly interesting is the clearly visible influence of the, then fashionable, interest in the art and crafts...

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Absinthe Alambics

Absinthe Alambics

Alambics designed for the distillation of absinthe are almost always based on a bain-marie system, so that the herb mass can be indirectly heated by steam, without risk of scorching. An unusually finely made 6 litre alambic dating from the first half of the 19th century, with an internal bain-marie, and the “col de cygne” rather charmingly finished with a swan’s head design. The maker’s mark “aux Camille esperon” has unfortunately not yet been identified. The Vichet...

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Bar Paraphernalia

Bar Paraphernalia

As absinthe was a flourishing industry during the Belle Epoque, the advertisements for absinthe brands were quite common. All kind of objects advertising absinthe brands were produced. A remarkable absinthe “Devil” bell, probably produced in Switzerland to promote the prohibitionist cause. A similar example is in the museum in Motiers. left and above – Bistrot inkwell in the form of a shoe, with advertising for Absinthe Deleule. 3 promotional tapis des cartes, used as a playing surface for bistrot card games. A circa 1900 Zanzibar with advertising for Absinthe Blanqui Coin operated slot machines (“machines a sous”) were first developed in the 1890’s and many of the most innovative manufacturers were French. There were dozens of varieties, some offered the chance to gamble – roulette, dice, card and ball-in-slot games were all popular – others were designed purely for entertainment with horoscopes, tests of strength, fortune telling, magic lanterns...

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Fakes and Forgeries

Fakes and Forgeries

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...

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Advertising Posters and Cartons

Advertising Posters and Cartons

The height of the absinthe boom in the late 19th century, coincided with the rise of the large lithographic advertising poster as a powerful commercial and artistic medium – pioneered by the work of Jules Chéret. Absinthe producers were quick to take advantage of this new advertising opportunity, and a range of largely art-nouveau influenced posters are shown on the following pages in a variety of formats, from multi-sheet billboard-sized versions to smaller card-backed printings designed for display in bars and bistrots. Anti-absinthe posters were produced by temperance organisations like the Ligue Nationale Contre L’Alcoolisme, while the pro-absinthe (anti-prohibitionist) forces followed suite with some remarkable posters of their own. The basic techniques for lithographic printing were first developed in the late eighteenth century, but were initially unsuited to large format poster production. Such posters as there were, were usually quite small and produced either by woodblock or simple metal...

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Original Artwork and Proofs

Original Artwork and Proofs

Preliminary sketches (or maquettes) in coloured inks, watercolour or oil crayon form a fascinating adjunct to the history of the poster, allowing us to see the artist’s first thoughts, and the gradual development of the final design. Generally maquettes like this would be commissioned by an advertising agency and then presented to the client for final approval, before the design was transferred to the polished limestone blocks for printing. A recent discovery – two preliminary sketches (or maquettes) in ink, pastel and watercolour for one of the most famous of all absinthe posters, Absinthe Blanqui’s smiling redhead, printed sometime between 1898 and 1901. The printer was L. Revon et Cie, situated in Paris at 93 Rue Oberkampf. The artist’s signature “Nover” is a mystery – no designer by that name is recorded. Since however the word is a palindrome of Revon, the assumption must be that the artist was...

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Absinthe Junod Three Sheet

Absinthe Junod Three Sheet

Designed for the very largest billboards or outdoor display areas, oversized large format posters were assembled from multiple sheets (the size of each individual sheet was a function of the size of the lithographic stone used to print it). This type of poster had a particularly low survival rate, as they were cumbersome to display and store, and were generally not documented and preserved by contemporary collectors. Shown above is probably the largest absinthe poster in existence, a previously unrecorded 3-sheet version of the famous Absinthe Junod poster by Misti. Each individual sheet measures 1.35m x 2m, giving a total size of 4m x 2m, or just over 13ft by 6ft 7.” A. Junod were one of the larger absinthe...

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Animals

Animals

Several rival manufacturers reworked Pernod’s ubiquitous design to feature their own products. The most successful of these spin-offs was this charming image designed by the Mourgue brothers for Absinthe Bourgeois, a mid-sized Pontarlier producer. The absinthe loving black cat became the symbol of the company, and was produced in several carton and poster formats, and also as a series of postcards. This carton, still in it’s original art nouveau style frame, shows what is believed to the earliest version of the design. The Absinthe Bourgeois label assured consumers not only that it was made entirely from herbal matter (ie, without artificial colouring), but also that it was “sans badiane” – made with green anise only, not star...

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Trade Invoices

Trade Invoices

The invoices of the major manufacturers, often illustrated with elaborate steel engravings, offer a wealth of information on brands, prices, packaging, trade practices and even trademark battles. Bitter trademark battles were fought between the market leader Maison Pernod Fils, and the many different companies that traded under variants of the Pernod name. The note on this invoice at left reads: “When a client asks for UN PERNOD, you absolutely have the right to serve him our brand ‘Jules Pernod’, which is our legally registered...

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Gustave Eiffel…and Absinthe Sorbet

Gustave Eiffel…and Absinthe Sorbet

A signed 1889 menu for a formal dinner honouring Gustave Eiffel, then at the pinnacle of his fame with the completion that year of the Eiffel Tower. After the entrées, a Sorbet a l’Absinthe was served as a palate cleanser. This is the first recorded reference to the use of absinthe in cooking, and also illustrates that absinthe still had a respectable image in society at this stage – by the end of the next decade it had been so demonized by the temperance movement that it’s inconceivable that it would have been served in any form at a prestigious dinner such as this one. Below is the pricelist for Liqueurs Cusenier Absinthe & Kirschs, produced for the Universal Exhibition that accompanied the opening of the Eiffel Tower in...

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