Category Archives: Science & Industry

The French Panama Papers

Je Revois Paname‘ by Casimir Oberfeld & Albert Willemetz, Saint-Granier & Jean Le Seyeux, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Paname is French slang for Paris. The origin of the sobriquet is not clear but this one is the most credible: it was inspired by the Panama Affair, the largest corruption scandal of the 19th century. The affair broke out in 1892, discrediting the government and shaking the foundations of the Republic.

In 1879 Ferdinand de Lesseps had proposed the construction of a 75 km channel, similar to that of Suez, in the isthmus of Panama. The project was expected to last 12 years and cost 600 million francs. Work on the Panama canal began in 1882. But soon technical difficulties and the death toll from tropical diseases undermined the project. Moreover in 1884, the funds of the French Panama Canal Company had dried up while only one-tenth of the  excavations had been completed. To overcome this financial crisis Ferdinand de Lesseps himself proposed to float a lottery loan. This kind of loan was especially attractive to small savers who could always hope for an immediate premium when their numbers were drawn for payback.

La Gigolette du Panama‘ by P. Dumont, published by Repos (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Yves.

To obtain the approval of Parliament for the lottery loan, the instigators plotted a multi-million bribery campaign which would be managed by three men. One of them was the financier Baron Jacques de Reinach who would try to persuade the big fish. He distributed money between politicians, journalists and the haut monde so that they would embellish the company’s situation and support the lottery loan. The adventurer Emile Arton (Aaron by his real name) managed the smaller fry, minor politicians and provincial newspapers. Arton was a dubious entrepreneur, boasting a career of bankruptcies. The third man was Cornélius Herz, an American charlatan and the greatest rogue of the three. In the end he even managed to blackmail his associate de Reinach.

A lottery bond for the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, 1888.

In 1888 the lottery loan for 720.000 million francs was authorised. But by now the Panama Canal company had come in even more dire straits. Only a year later the company went bankrupt and some 800.000 French investors lost their savings. Many amongst them could ill afford to lose anything at all.

In 1892 the French anti-Semitic political daily, La Libre Parole, started the scandal with a series of articles. Its first source was a disgruntled banker who had quarrelled with de Lesseps. Almost daily the paper added bits and pieces to the story, accusing an ever-widening number of individuals. When other Paris papers followed suit, an official investigation was started. Baron de Reinach killed himself while Herz and Arton both made a run for it. In the song Les Aventures d’Arton it is hinted that the French government was not eager to arrest him, afraid of new revelations.

Arton ou Le retour de l’enfant prodigue‘ by G. Delatouche, melody from ‘Ton ton, ton ton, tontaine, ton ton’, published by Repos (Paris, 1895)

The owner of La Libre Parole was Edouard Drumont, a devout catholic and the principal propagator of anti-Semitism in France. His book La France Juive, with full-fledged diatribes against the Jews, may be regarded as the beginning of the anti-Semitic movement in France. Drumont used the fact that the three main fixers of the lottery loan were of Jewish descent as a battering ram. His continuous rabid articles fed the growing anti-Semitism in France which soon led to the Dreyfus affair (1894) in which Drumont was one of the most strident accusers.

In the light of this, it comes as no surprise that the eager money-grubbers on the sheet music cover ‘Les Aventures d’Arton’ are depicted with enlarged stereotypical Jewish traits.

Les aventures d’Arton‘ by Léo Lelièvre & Emile Spencer, published by Repos (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Yves. Source: gallica.fr.

In the end, a large number of ministers were accused of taking bribes leading to a corruption trial against Ferdinand de Lesseps and his son amongst others. More than a hundred members of parliament were also charged.

With the Panama Affair politicians were no longer trusted in the public eye. And this brings us back to the start of the story: in ‘Les Aventures d’Arton’, he is called a ‘Panamiste’. Tripoteurs Panamistes imply persons who do shady business:

Il fit remettre des listes,
Et donna plusieurs millions
Aux tripoteurs panamistes,
Panamistes, panamistes,
Et bientôt les souscriptions
Firent monter les actions.

According to chronicler Claude Duneton, the first people to use the nickname ‘Paname’ were market gardeners who had to pay a daily tax on the produce in their carts when they entered Paris. At first, around 1903, only politicians and rich Parisians were called Panamistes. Later, it was Paris —the city itself where these sharks lived— which was tagged Paname.

Gradually, in the second decade of the twentieth century, Paname became a more gentle nickname. Around 1917 the French soldiers affectively designated Paname as the city of their dreams. ‘Revoir Paname’ was their intimate desire in the trenches.

Tu le r’verras, Paname‘ by Albert Chantrier, Robert Dieudonné & Roger Myra, published by Halet (Paris, 1917) and illustrated by Nergetris.

The word Paname spread further after the end of the war, especially in the cabarets and music halls of the twenties and thirties.

O! Paname‘ by Vincent Scotto, Géo Koger & E. Audiffred, published by Foucret (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Jack Roberts.

Today, using the phrase “I’m going to see Paname” to express a longing for Paris is terribly old-fashioned.

Umm, old-fashioned?

Time to update the titles of our collection: ‘La meuf de Sept-cinq’.

La Femme de Paname‘ by St. Servan, A. Benoit & A. Danerty, published by Pêle-Mêle (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Germy.

Le Diable Noir

‘Le Diable Noir’ by Gaston De Lille, published by the author (Hénin-Liétard, sd).

The march ‘Le Diable Noir’ is a tribute to a French heavy artillery regiment during WW1. German soldiers allegedly nicknamed French gunners ‘Diables Noirs’, or Black Devils, referring to the colour of their uniform and also to the gunpowder that blackened their faces.

Thanks to Gaston Delille’s great-grandchild (active on Reddit as balfringRetro) we can listen to a recording of Le Diable Noir.

On this week’s sheet music cover we see a black devil sitting atop a red bomb, leering through his binoculars at a ruined city. The projectile has a childish steering wheel. The two telltale circular marks on the grenade let us guess it is a naive drawing of a French 400 mm artillery shell. These bomb types were fired from a railway gun, a large artillery piece or Howitzer, mounted on a specially designed railway wagon. They were the French answer to the German Big Bertha.

The 400 mm railway gun was first put into service during the battle at Verdun. The thing was so heavy and clumsy that it took two days to set it up.

Verdun! on ne passe pas‘ by René Mercier, Jack Cazol & Eugène Joullot, published by E. Joullot (Paris, sd) and illustrated by L. Prevel

The person responsible for manufacturing the ‘Obus 400‘ bomb was Albert Thomas. He was the French minister of Armaments during WW1. A socialist and pacifist, he had cooperated with Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist Party who was murdered in 1914. In this photo collage we see him proudly and lovingly presenting his 1.000 kg bomb.

‘J’ai Vu’, April 1916. Photo Collage by Hermann.

When the war broke out in August 1914, the French socialists had swallowed their anti-war resolutions to patriotically join the defence of their country. The left wing agreed to a political truce, the Union Sacrée, promising not to oppose the government during the war. Albert Thomas was the epitome of this Sacred Union: the pacifist had become a top manufacturer of weapons by modernising France’s munitions production. He retrieved half a million men already serving with the army, also recruited prisoners of war, refugees and women and put all these people to work to massively make ammunition. At the same time he tried to improve the working conditions in the arms industry, although with little immediate success. In 1917 the French Socialist Party left the Union Sacrée, and Albert Thomas resigned as minister of Armaments. His fight to optimise the war efforts had made him an outsider in his own party, where pacifism was again de rigueur.

What better way to finish this post than with the catching tune of ‘Ancient Combattant’, an ironic anti-war song by the Congolese Casimir Zoba: La bombe ce n’est pas bon, ce n’est pas bon: le diable noir cadavéré!

Marquer le pas, et 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

Tu ne sais pas que moi je suis ancien combattant
Moi je suis ancien combattant,
J’ai fait la guerre mondiaux
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de camarade oui
Dans la guerre mondiaux,
Il n’y a pas de pitié mon ami
J’ai tué Français,
J’ai tué Allemand
J’ai tué Anglais,
Moi j’ai tué Tché-co-slo-vaque
Marquer le pas, 1, 2
Ancien combattant
Mundasukiri

La guerre mondiaux
Ce n’est pas beau, ce n’est pas beau

Kina for your health, hic!

‘Kina-Cadet’ by Eugene Besançon, published by Vve Jules Iochem Paris, 1896, and illustrated by Ernest Buval.

The man looking rather ominously at his bitter is popular French actor, Ernest Coquelin (1848–1909). His older brother was also an actor, and that’s why Ernest was nicknamed Coquelin Cadet. The sheet music title proves that Coquelin Cadet —probably in an effort to turn his notoriety into money— lent his name to a beverage named Kina-Cadet. These quinine-based wines, or kina’s, were very popular during the fin de siècle as aperitif or as ‘medicinal’ wines.

The source of quinine is the bark of the cinchona or fever tree, native to the Andean tropical forests. The Quechua people grounded the cinchona bark into a fine powder that they used as a remedy against fever. The Jesuits in colonial Peru, having learned of this local use, introduced cinchona bark in Europe as a powerful antimalarial around 1640. Although according to some it was the wife of a Spanish viceroy to Peru, the countess of Chinchon, who brought it back with her after being cured of a fever by her Peruvian maid. In 1820 two French pharmacists isolated the active chemical compound, an alkaloid that they called quinine. From then on pure extracted quinine was used to treat malaria instead of the bark.

Image of a French publicity for Coopquina to increase the appetite
French publicity for Coopquina, a quinine concoction that ‘increases the appetite of young and old’.

As a result of 19th century European colonialism, the demand in quinine rose for colonials and soldiers stationed in malaria-infested areas. To make the bitter quinine more palatable it was mixed into a liquid, commonly gin (for the British). Or it was blended with fortified wine, herbs and spices (pour les Français). And of course today quinine still is a flavouring of tonic water, bitter lemon, vermouth, and cocktails.

According to Dubonnet, the French government even held  a contest in the 1840s, looking for a new drink that contained quinine and also could be enjoyed by the troops.

Left: ‘L’Or-Kina’ by Léon Froment & Achille Rouquet (publisher unknown, s.d.). Right: ‘Madaskina’ by G. Frecheville & P. Guiraud, published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, sd).

At the end of the 19th century the number of different quinine wines on the market exploded. To our delight, this commercial competition gave rise to songs and sheet music to promote some of these Kina brands.

‘Je vends du Kina-Tarascon’ by L. Delormel & L. Garnier, published by Répertoire Paulus (Paris, 1887) and illustrated by Faria (Source Gallica).

These quinine wines were not only sold in liquor stores but also in pharmacies. It was recommended to take at least one glass a day, and even a spoonful for children. The Kina tonic wines supposedly had invigorating effects…

The publicity above (for Marsala Kina) was illustrated by Ballester  using an ephemeral sculpture technique which we explained in an earlier post. Vouched for by a doctor Valiès, the advertisement tried to convince the potential user that kina wines were indeed medicinal. The fortified wine was infused with iron salts, quinine, kola, coca, tannins and iodine. It could be used against all kinds of diseases and was infallible to combat chlorosis, anaemia, tuberculosis, rheumatism, pale colours, states of languor and weight loss due to undernutrition, overwork, etc.

And doctor Valiès spared no expense to sell his wine…

We have found in our collection two other Kina covers which promote an Italian amaro: Ferro-China-Bisleri.

Left: Robur, a waltz by Zeno Mattei. Right: Romance, composed by M. Federico Albini and illustrated by A. Ripalta. Both published by Felice Bisleri (Milano, sd).

Ferro-China-Bisleri was the first bitter to claim having also infused iron salts within the quinine drink. Its label shows a lion in which mouth one reads ROBUR —signifying force in Latin, and phonetically evoking the roar of a lion. Signore Bisleri himself resembles a lion. He looks very determined and ferocious indeed.

Left: Volete la salute? (Do you want health?), publicity for Ferro-China-Bisleri. Right: Felice Bisleri, painted portrait by Antonino Gandolfo. (source Wikipedia)

Felice Bisleri had been a freedom fighter under Garibaldi before becoming an inventor and pharmacist. At the tender age of 14, he fled his home to enlist in the Volunteers Corps of Garibaldi. A year later he was decorated with a medal for Military Valour for having distinguished himself in a battle where he continued to fight despite being wounded. It appears that at this young age Bisleri perhaps already drank vigorously from his own Kina wine…

In the sixties and seventies tonic wines knew a revival.  Advertisements in women’s magazines and newspapers targeted a new clientele by promising that it was beneficial for ladies.

Left: ‘Kids are murder!‘, British advert for Santogen, a tonic wine that helps when kids drive you crazy. Right: Dutch advert for Pleegzuster Bloedwijn, a remedy against nervous conditions.

The publicity claimed that by consuming a few glasses a day of the ‘wonderful restorative’ one could avoid a nervous breakdown. One felt so comfortable and life became suddenly more bearable after drinking this ‘medicine’ with an alcohol percentage of 13.5%. 

Dear housewives or mothers, if you can’t cope any more with another day of drudgery, an empty house, doing the dishes and the same old dull household tasks while your husband has all the fun, don’t reach for the booze. Instead listen to Arno with his version of Mother’s Little Helpers and put your feet up.