Category Archives: Publicity

Alcool de Menthe Américaine

Alcool de Menthe Américaine‘ by Henri Kling, published by Oertel (Hannover, s.d.)

Our story starts with a cover for a commercial song to promote an ‘American’ mint alcohol. Well, not very American as you will learn from the little fait divers we are about to tell.

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No one should be fearful of tropical fevers when in possession of l’Alcool de Menthe Américaine.

But first this. Mint alcohol is a solution of essential mint oil diluted in alcohol. Not the best of recipes if you ask me, but hey someone even invented menthol cigarettes.
According to a publicity from 1884 the menthe américaine could  treat cholera. It was also a mixture of the highest quality to stop epidemics, and a remedy for dyspepsia, stomach cramps, head aches, nausea, colonial fevers or in the event of one or other epidemic. Mmm, haven’t we seen similar effects for an alcoholic beverage before?

From ‘Feuille d’avis de Neuchatel’, August 14, 1884.

This advertisement tells us that the medicinal drink was an American creation by R. Hayrwardt & Cie from Burlington in the United States, and exclusively imported by Jules Lecoultre, who owned a drug store in Genève. Now this Burlington-origin was a clever find because there are over a thirty places called Burlington in the US. Hard thus to verify the credentials of the merchandise…

In 1893 the company of Jules Lecoultre (by then Bonnet et Cie) had to appear before the court. Its biggest rival Ricqlès, who was selling L’Alcool de Menthe de Ricqlès, accused Lecoultre of fraudulently inventing the American house ‘R. Hayrwardt & Cie’. And indeed, after having searched the whole USA no such firm was found. Nonetheless the court ruled that —although being unfair— it didn’t matter that the advertisement was not entirely truthful because this fabrication did not actually harm Ricqlès.

Judgment of May 20, 1893 in the case of Ricqlès against Bonnet & C°.

So the court was lenient: a little white lie about the origins of your product couldn’t harm anybody. However, when it came to winning medals, now that was an altogether other matter: only the strictest rules could be applied, as we’ll see next.

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At one point Jules Lecoultre and his then associate Bonnet raised billboards all over Geneva, showing off all their medals and certificates. But they shrewdly omitted to mention for which competition Alcool de Menthe Américaine had been admitted ‘hors concours’. Ricqlès also brought this to court and claimed that Lecoultre & Bonnet mislead the public in letting it believe that they had participated at the Parisian World fair, while in fact they had only received a silver medal. Their hors concours participation was at a much lower graded fair in Genève. The court ruled that this was indeed an act of unfair competition to falsely promote the superiority of a product. As a consequence, Bonnet & Cie had to adapt all of their billboards!

Medals were clearly very important in these days.

mentheThe polka Alcool de Menthe Américaine was composed by Henri Kling (1842 – 1918), a French-German horn virtuoso and  professor at the Conservatoire in Geneva. He was also a prolific composer but with a penchant for the lighter music.

His peculiar Kitchen Concert for piano, snare drum, funnel, forks, glasses, shovel, egg beaters, wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils was probably written as (a Christmas) entertainment for  children.

Let the kid in you enjoy Henri Kling’s culinary rhythms. Fascinating!

Dutch Cigarettes, Part 2: Wajang & TABA

Wajang Fox-Trot (I love you) by David Monnickendam published in 1930, The Netherlands.

In our sheet music collection we found a second Dutch song promoting cigarettes. Its colourful cover shows an Indonesian wayang puppet playing the saxophone, mixing East and West. Wayang kulit is the traditional puppet-shadow theatre in Indonesia. The Wajang cigarette brand was launched in 1930. From a Dutch newspaper announcement we learn that the Wajang Fox-Trot song was published in the same year.

An announcement for the Wajang Foxtrot in the ‘Nieuwe Apeldoornsche courant’,  May 22nd, 1930.

For centuries the Dutch had auctioned tobacco originating from the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Then, in the 19th century the tobacco trade and industry grew more important as the tobacco plants were cultivated in the Dutch colonies in Borneo, Sumatra and Java. It is during the Dutch East Indies colonial period that Effendi Frères (again this French chic!) produced the Wajang cigarettes. Just like Caravellis cigarettes, Wajang offered to their customers a collection of tobacco silks: black patches embroidered with a variety of wayang figures. There were different series of these Wajang silks included in the cigarette packs. A newspaper advert suggested to use them for decorating a tea cosy: You open the box and while the delicious scent of tobacco reaches you, you are greeted by the silk embroidered Wajang figurine, which lends itself beautifully to be used for all kinds of handicrafts.

Wajang advertisement in the ‘Leidsch Dagblad’, January 1930

Just as for the previous Caravellis post, the Wajang  back cover shows different ways to use the silks. My personal preference is the picture of the symbolic Dutch windmill hung before a tapestry of colonial Wajang silks.

Back cover of the sheet music Wajang Fox-Trot.

Some ladies were extremely handy with the tobacco silks: this elaborate sleeveless evening gown was made from 1.280 Wajang tobacco silks!

Sleeveless long evening gown, Source: Museum Rotterdam.

We even found a third Dutch sheet music cover in our collection  —from the same period— which promotes tobacco. It is called TABA-Marsch. A rather wealthy and haughty man is enjoying a cigar. His smoker’s paraphernalia is displayed on a side table. In the background, seemingly arising from the cigar smoke, looms a smiling tobacco labourer or koelie (coolie). The strong labourer carries a stick of tobacco leaves on his shoulder.

Taba-Marsch‘ by Louis Noiret & Kees Pruis, illustrated by Jacob Jansma, 1924.

It is a beautiful illustration but it strongly suggests the offensive colonial attitude of the Dutch at that time. The island archipelago of the Dutch East Indies (a Dutch colony, now Indonesia) was a society with huge class differences. The indigenous people and imported workforces had to live in neighbourhoods or kampongs divided and based on ethnicity. The coolies working on the plantations were contract labourers. Their rights, and more importantly all kinds of restrictions were established with the Koelie Ordonnantie (Coolie Ordinance) of 1880.

Three Chinese coolies, Javanese women and their superintendents on a tobacco plantation in Sumatra, ca 1900. (source: Rijksstudio)

The penal sanction was the most outrageous part of this Ordinance which stipulated that a plantation-owner could punish his coolies in any manner he saw fit, including fines. The reasons for punishing a coolie could be many, including laziness, insolence or desertion. Whipping thus became a common practice on the tobacco plantations of the Dutch East Indies. These type of sanctions were gradually abolished from 1931 onwards.

Poster for the TABA exhibition. Left: in 1923. Right: in 1924. Both illustrated by Jacob Jansma.

TABA was a large tobacco exhibition (1923 and 1924) held in Amsterdam. Jacob Jansma created the posters for it and used the same illustration for the sheet music. The reason for this exhibition was the malaise in the tobacco economy in Holland.

Tobacco traders in action in Amsterdam’s ‘Frascati’ marketing house (1927) (source: Rijkstudio)

During the First World War the Dutch economy had blossomed. Thanks to the Dutch neutrality and without foreign competition, the tobacco industry and trade had free rein on the national and international markets. But after WW1, the sudden decline in export and the foreign competition led to massive dismissals in Holland and in the colonies. Hence the TABA exhibitions in order to crank up the business.

A visualisation of the Paleis voor Huisvlijt to attract participants in 1923.

The 1923 TABA exhibition took place in a large hall, the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace for Popular Industriousness). Inspired by the Crystal Palace in London, it was made of glass and cast iron and it was likewise destroyed by fire much to the chagrin of the Amsterdammers. 

TABA exhibition in the ‘Paleis voor Volksvlijt’, Amsterdam, 1923.

In 1924 TABA moved to the RAI, a newly built ‘state of the art’ exhibition hall, but this event counted significantly less visitors.

Above: the RAI in 1929 (Beeldbank Amsterdam). Below: an artist’s impression of the RAI to lure foreign exhibitors to the TABA, by Waldmann (1924). (Beeldbank Amsterdam)

In 1925 a new attempt was made to move TABA back to the stylish Paleis voor Huisvlijt and to create an even greater event with lots of foreign exhibitors, but the enterprise failed before it even started.

Enough now for this post. Let’s move on to Tobacco Road with the Winter brothers. YEAH!

Dutch Cigarettes, Part 1: Caravellis

‘Caravellis Foxtrot’ by Han Beuker & A. De Kloek-Beuker. Publisher not mentioned, but likely the Mignot & De Block company from Eindhoven, The Netherlands (s.d., illustrator unknown).

The Caravellis Foxtrot was meant to promote cigarettes with that brand name. The expensive sheet music edition and the drawing of the elegant dancing couple strongly suggests that the publicity targeted a sophisticated (rich) public.

Even if the name suggests otherwise, Caravellis Frères was the trade name of a Dutch company that manufactured Egyptian-style cigarettes. At the turn of the century real Egyptian cigarettes, manufactured with Turkish tobacco in Egypt, were very popular with the richer part of the population. The production was predominantly done by Greek manufacturers who imported the tobacco from ‘Ottoman countries’ and created blends with ‘exquisite taste’. These Egyptian cigarettes were promoted as handmade, exclusive luxury items. And they were expensive. Accordingly the cigarettes were packed in colourful eye-catching boxes or tins. They were easily recognisable by their Egyptian iconography. This tin of Dimitrino cigarettes for example presents us an exotic scene of a lush woman lazily enjoying her smoke with a view on the Nile.

Other visuals for Egyptian cigarettes used architectural elements, sculptures or drawings from the land of the Pharaohs. The same iconography was being used on the covers of ‘oriental’ sheet music of the same period.

Egyptian Dream‘ by Font Palmarola (publisher unknown, Barcelona, s.d.)

The development of the tourist industry in Egypt promoted the Egyptian cigarettes. The well-to-do tourists brought the blended tobacco sticks home and thus introduced this novelty to the Western world.

Sur la route de Karnak‘ by Harry Sing, published by Gallet & Fils (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

The success of the Egyptian cigarettes prompted imitations all over the world. In the US these Egyptian-style copy-cats were mostly manufactured by (again) Greek entrepreneurs. No doubt, the most successful brand of these imitations was Camel. Not owned by a Greek, Camel cigarettes were no longer handmade and sold at an unbeatable price. Thanks to a teasing ad-campaign they stopped all competitors dead in their tracks.

In Holland a Dutch tobacco company, Mignot & De Block, produced Egyptian-style cigarettes using the name of a Greek-sounding manufacturer ‘Caravellis‘. The French ‘Frères‘ (Brothers) added some finesse to the lended trade name. This shrewd company surely must have sponsored or published the ‘Caravellis foxtrot‘ sheet music that appears at the start of this post. Caravellis sold their cigarettes in tin boxes, with the typical ‘Egyptian look’. It gave an exotic and luxurious atmosphere to the smoking of Caravellis cigarettes.

Tin of Caravellis Egyptian cigarettes.

The refined packaging came hand in hand with clever advertising, such as this from a 1925 newspaper.

Advert in a Dutch newspaper for Caravellis cigarettes
Caravellis Advert in a Dutch newspaper: With the 5 O’clock Tea (Source: ‘Nieuwe Leidsche Courant’, nov. 16, 1925)

To encourage customer loyalty Caravellis offered cigarette silks as a promotional gift. At that time it was common for tobacco companies to offer these ‘tobacco silks’ (or zijdjes in Dutch). They were small pieces of printed or woven satin, almost never silk, given away for free inside each packet or box. Sometimes the cigarette pack included only a coupon that one could trade for a silk. Mostly these silks were published as sets: images of beautiful women, flowers, birds, butterflies or sports. With the outbreak of the First World War military themes became all the rage. Inevitably, customers were urged to acquire albums in order to loyally collect the sets (and continue to buy Caravellis).

Tobacco silks from Kiazim Emin, another brand of Egyptian cigarettes during the Twenties.

But the Caravellis tobacco silks were rather unique in that they were miniature woven Persian rugs, nowadays collected as doll house carpets.

Tobacco silks from Caravellis: miniature Persian rugs. Source: Europeana collections.

The silks were popular during the Twenties amongst housewives who used to sew together the small silks into larger textiles such as tablecloths. Or one could get creative, and use the silks to decorate whatever came to mind.  If a house lady should ran out of ideas, she then could get inspired from the back cover of the sheet music, and start to decorate lampshades, hand bags or slippers… Exciting!

Back cover illustration of ‘Caravellis Foxtrot’.