The beautiful Liquor Cabinets

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“Liquor Cabinet: a box divided into compartments or small piece of
furniture containing small bottles and liqueur glasses” LAROUSSE dictionary.

We are glad to present you a work of art, an amazing liquor cabinet made by the famous cabinet maker Alphonse Tahan, official ébéniste de l’Empereur or master cabinet maker to Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugénie.

Liquor cabinets appeared in the 18 th century when they had an utilitarian use. Traveling by horse-drawn coaches took a long time! The mahogany boxes used to be simple, decorated with inlaid work and had handles. Within the cases there were 4, 6 or 8 small square golden glass-blown bottles and mostly 2 glasses.
The 19th century: the apogee
Eclecticism hadn’t waited till the Second Empire to let different sources of inspiration coexist and be superposed. The National Exhibitions of Industrial Products followed by the Universal Exhibitions, famous for ornamental design, greatly facilitated the fashion expansion. Consequently, the 19th century production evolved according to customers real particularities: the container and the contents diversified.
XVIIIth Trade Organization were dissolved which allowed the craftsmen to expand their activities into cabinet-makers and attracted the best craftsmen to create small furniture, liquor caddies
and diverse boxes.
With the advent of Empire and Restoration, liquor cabinet remain sober, rigorous and of great quality. A lot of refinement is given to the inner part of the set, whether it may be CREUSOT crystal, SAINT-LOUIS or especially BACCARAT. It may be cast or/and carved, have diamond points (cut) and large vertical or twisted sides. Legend says that the liquor cabinet was once displayed by George Sand in her famous lounge.
With the advent of the July Monarchy and the Second Empire later, France, ruled by the liberal middle-class opened up to a period of prosperity. The aristocratic and financial elite is at the origin of the increase in the number of ornamental objects, among which the widespread cabinets. Offering a liquor cabinet, as a wedding present, used to be custom and created a strong demand.
It led to the increase in the number of models and extended the variety of forms thanks to the most varied and rare materials. During that period, talented and creative craftsmen show perfectionism, imagination and ingenuity and give liquor cabinets and boxes various forms : round, oval, multifoils, octagonal etc… At the peak of the Second Empire craftsmen became real artists working achieving real state-of-the-art objects.
It was a time of large ornamental richness such as marquetry with the most diverse woods as well as copper, mother of pearl, tortoise shell and ivory inlay with stylistic ornaments. A central cartouche is often intended to engrave the initial letters of the consignee or the coats of arms of prestigious families.
Diversity and exceptional
Liquor cabinets have an amazing diversity: some are profusely curved and counter curved, combining sober and impressive forms, rose wood veneers, beautiful thuya burrs, maple, vivona, amboyna etc. Sober decoration applied to these new species enhances the natural wood texture. Strange designs are created by assembling the veneers and the forms are enlightened with copper and ivory threads. Liquor caddies are often adorned with gilt bronze moulding and richly chiseled decorations. Louis XV style handles and painted porcelain sheets may also be used.
Rarities are: musical boxes, caddy with mechanism (helical spring-loaded), revolvingdoor cabinets activated by wood gear, papier-mâché box (Pont-à-Mousson), crystal cabinet set in gilt bronze boxes.
Besides, glassworks such as BACCARAT (associated to SAINT LOUIS from 1830 to 1875), CLICHY, SEVRES, PANTIN… make decanters and glasses with diverse decorations: engraved by means of wheel or acid, sanded or gilded in fine gold.
Square-sided cut thick crystal carafes are also engraved and often gilded. The crystal of the cabinets are set in wooden or gilded bronze removable handles.
During the years 1835-1840 fashion colored crystal initially from Bohemia is also found in some liquor cabinet linings.
Time for workshops with only one master and few apprentices is over. Craftsmen have become real managers with a total number of workers sometimes reaching 600 people. Several “trade organization” are necessary.
Draughtsmen, carpenters, cabinetmakers, sculptors, varnishes as well as bronze casters, gilders or locksmiths have became specialized workers at a factory. Initially intended for a well-off clientele, liquor caddy and boxes, later have an increase of production due to the coming of mechanization and therefore democratization of those items. An original model may be used as a reference model to factory “mass” production which is made of less noble materials, at lower costs and thus more
In conclusion, tribute must be paid to the main manufacturers, whose creativity and skill do still appeal to us today and enable us to keep in touch with our heritage. Being the surviving evidence of an epoch and the bygone manufacturing techniques, most of these items come from prestigious Parisian workshops:
TAHAN Jean-Pierre succeeds his father Aphonse and manufactures cabinets and boxes.
Working from 1844 till 1879 as manufacturer and seller at several addresses.
“Tradesman of the Royal Court” since 1845 he became later (after 1855).
“Tradesman of the Emperor” (Napoleon III: 1852-1870) for whom he made a lot of pieces of furniture, liquor caddies and boxes.
– SORMANI Paul -worked till 1877- taken over by WIDOW P. SORMANI and SONS (manufacturing of lower quality)
– ANNEE Théodore – in 1863 hands over the business to COIGNARD, who continues the making of liqueurs cabinets and boxes.
– VERVELLE Ainé -worked until 1856 – taken over by VERVELLE-AUDOT
– DIEHL Charles-Guillaume – worked from 1840 to 1885
– LE RUTH – worked from 1860 till 1875
– GIROUX Alphonse -worked until 1867
Although less numerous in the provinces, a few manufacturers are worth being mentioned: BLACHE in Lyon, BARBIER in Dijon or GUIGNON in Aix. Ship liquors cabinets (namely in England) made throughout the 19th century were produced for naval officers and had more masculine look. Made of mahogany leadercovered, they had fitted handles and brass strengthening pieces appear on the
corner. The thick crystal inner part with several bottles had to 16 glasses. All of them are ordered functionally to ease transport.
XXth century
With English Tantalus destined to hold whisky bottles in the 1900’s, liquor cabinets became out-of-date. Around 1925 Art Deco precision and geometry emerged in France and were a must! Metal or “macassar“ stands for whisky bottles appeared.
Nowadays the liquor caddies are the greatest delight of collectors as their purpose is more decorative than utilitarian. Damage by time, liquor cabinets are given back an unsuspected beauty thanks to restoration techniques.
How to buy? Well, buy as you would for your pleasure. You must be taken by it!
Trust your feeling so that you can enjoy the emotional quality and inner life of an object. Judging a work of art only as an investment may lead you to mistakes (be sure that it is not crudely made imitation).
Having always had a passion, I do hope you will experience the same, and I really wish you have as much pleasure as me in discovering ancients objects and living in their presence.

Compliments to Mme Hélène d’Helmersen, the author of this text

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