Getting carded for absinthe

Given current prices of a decent verte or blanche here in the 21st century, it’s easy to develop a notion that absinthe was consumed exclusively by wealthy citizens who could afford high-end luxuries, stirring their costly green elixir in an expensive crystal glass with a silver spoon. While it’s true that there was a period in France (primarily during the mid-1800s) during which absinthe was the almost-exclusive purvey of ex-soldiers with healthy pensions, and wealthy bourgeoisie folks with a lot of francs to burn, the drink was within reach for all but the poorest members of society by the 1880s.

For the average working man, enjoying an absinthe didn’t necessitate clopping down to the finest cafe on the boulevard in a horse-drawn carriage and stepping out with a fancy walking-stick and wearing a cape (although, admittedly, that would have been my preferred entrance way back when); our local working-class hero could simply walk down to one of thousands of local cafes, fire up a pipe or a cigarette, and whet his appetite with a glass of the house brand absinthe while chatting with friends and locals the way he always did. To amuse themselves and to gamble away a few louis, there was an ever-growing assortment of bistro games becoming available all the time, but nothing could top the popularity of a good old-fashioned card game.

And to talk about ideal product placement: imagine having a captive audience of four or five people seated at a table for an hour or two, and having them continually staring down at your brand name while they entertained themselves, considering whether to raise the bet, draw another card, or punch Pierre in the face for winning the past three hands in a row.

Tapis de cartes, or “card carpets” such as the one pictured below, were an effective means of advertising, and were likely to have a longer lifespan than posters and flyers, although serving as a placemat in a bar does take its toll. Even the post-absinthe card carpets from the 1920s and 1930s advertising pastis and the like are fairly rare; finding a genuine absinthe-branded card mat from the pre-ban period is even more difficult to do. It’s nice to see that they still work their magic, though, as I can’t help but feel myself getting a little thirsty for a tasty verte just by looking at it.

Premier Fils tapis de carte, c. 1900

Fake it to make it

Never let it be said that there are no imaginative swindlers running amok in the world. Of course, I’d love to be able to say that and have it be true, but then again, we’d have very little to talk about if everyone were good boys and girls. That being said, if you’re going to be such a cutting-edge crook that you’re going to fake an antique absinthe bottle and label combination, you really should learn how to read first. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking silly when the glass seal on the bottle reads “Pernod Fils,” while the label itself reads “Premier Fils.”  Yes, yes, I know, there are only a few letters of difference there in the middle, but they do tend to be important.

It probably won’t be shocking to anyone to discover that the bottle pictured below was being sold on eBay recently. Oh how I do miss the relatively innocent days of endearing “ghosts in a jar” and “Mother Mary on toast” auctions on the ole’ Bay. What’s particularly said is that the bottle itself does appear to be a genuine 19th/early 20th century Pernod Fils bottle, and the “Premier Fils” label likewise also appears genuine (although this is more difficult to tell based on pictures alone). Unused vintage labels can be found without too much difficulty, though, so it’s likely that some unscrupulous person bought one of those and artificially aged and distressed it so that it would appear to be a time-worn antiquity. Of course, it isn’t necessarily the seller who did this (hey, it could even be a 100-year-old fake or gag, which would actually be appealing if proven), but one does wonder how it escaped his attention, or why he didn’t mention it in the auction description if he did in fact notice it.

In any case, it sold for 42 euros (about $65), which isn’t unreasonably high for an authentic Pernod Fils bottle without the label. Whether the buyer would have the heart to tear the presumably antique label off of it or not is something of a Sophie’s Choice, and I’m surely glad that my name isn’t Sophie.

But don’t call me Shirley, either.

Premier Fils label on Pernod Fils bottle

Pernod Fils bottle seal