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The monument to Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) in the Maximiliansplatz, Munich. (from the set ‘Monuments to Famous Scientists’).

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Musically Themed Liebig Cards – Part II

April 2021

Heroes from the operas of Wagner

As we said in last month’s display there were at least 76 sets of Liebig cards based on musical subjects and, of those, most sets consisted of six cards.  There are sets of cards showing opera houses with scenes from productions performed there such as those shown below.  There were also lives of composers and sets of operas by one composer.  Many sets on artistic subjects contain just one or two musically related images as do some of the puzzle cards. There were only a handful of sets showing ballets or ballet dancers.  There were more sets of operas than any other musical subject.  In the future we hope to show examples of some of the more unusual cards.

Renowned Opera Houses

Scenes from Six Operas

Die Zauberflöte. Opera in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). First performed 30 September 1791 at the Theater auf der Wieden, Vienna.

Le prophète. Opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). First performed 16 April 1849 at the Salle Le Peletier, Paris.

Saffo. Opera in three acts by Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867). First performed 29 November 1840 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

These attractive Liebig chromo card sets were collected avidly both in European countries and later in America.  The company used many methods to advertise their product with assorted newspaper adverts, postcards, recipe books, packs of playing cards, &c.  In order to assist serious collectors and dealers, numbered lists of the sets were eventually compiled with the blessing of the Liebig Company.  In Italy, the Fada and Sanguinetti lists – with F and S numbers – became the first internationally recognised catalogues.  These are updated as more information becomes available.

The majority of cards had backs printed with recipes using the extract, mainly for beef-tea, soups and sauces but sometimes for choicer delicacies such as fricasseed oysters or sole gratinée [as shown below].  Some backs had a small pen and ink drawing of a figure to one side.  Later, part of the back might contain a description of the scene shown on the front and, later still, only a description.  The J v Liebig signature in blue ink appeared stamped over all the backs to prove that it was a genuine Liebig product, as other companies and individuals fraudulently advertised their own versions of the Extract using the Liebig name.

Three different backs

The first 300 sets produced before 1891 are rare and fetch high prices.  They were not always in sets of six and are not listed in the main catalogues currently available.  The blue Liebig signature was clearly shown on the jar labels incorporated on the fronts and the signature overlaying the backs was a later addition.

A few sets of menu cards were printed which were much bigger in size than the normal cards (16½ x 11 cms) with a large blank space for a handwritten menu.  These sets often varied in their content in different languages.  Operas, composers, and opera houses featured on 5 sets of menus but never with more than three musical ones in the sets of six, the rest being of some other subject such as views or flowers.  There is just one in the Artists of the Theatre menu set which shows Patti full length as Aida, the others being English actors (from photographs) including Sir Henry Irving as Mathias in The Bells and Ellen Terry as Ophelia. The menus, which are rare and never distributed in Italy were far harder to track down and even today there is no complete listing. There were also smaller table cards (12½ x 9½ cms) to be used as place cards or mini menus.   These appear not to have included any musical subject nevertheless we show two below.

Two menu cards followed by two table cards.  The back of the first menu card shows the Liebig factory at Fray Bentos on the bank of the Uruguay River.

The Stages of Making a Liebig chromo card using a portrait of Justus von Liebig to illustrate the twelve-colour printing process.

© Jennie Bisset 2021.