Monday, April 22, 2013

Fred Ott's Snuff and Sneeze 1894

Frederick P. Ott (1860; New Jersey – October 24, 1936; West Orange, New Jersey) was an employee of Thomas Edison's laboratory in the 1890s.

Edison was then experimenting with the kinetoscope, an early version of the motion picture exhibition device.

Interior view of Kinetoscope with peephole viewer at top of cabinet

Fred Ott appears in one of the earliest surviving motion pictures Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze.

1894 Kinetoscope of Fred Ott taking a pinch of snuff and then sneezing, taken by Thomas Edison's laboratory

The Kinetoscope was an immediate success and by June 1, 1894 there were operating commercial venues in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Publicity or news photograph of San Francisco Kinetoscope parlor, ca. 1894–95

"I believe as I have always believed, that you control the most powerful instrument in the world for good or evil. Remember that you are servants of the public and never let the desire for money or power prevent you from giving to the public the best work of which you are capable. It is not the quantity of riches that count, it is the quality that produces happiness..." Thomas A. Edison

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Exposition Universelle Paris 1889

The Exposition Universelle of Paris in 1889 celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution.

The main symbol of the Fair was the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889, and served as the entrance arch to the Fair. Standing 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall, the Eiffel tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it claimed for the following 40 years.

Aerial view of Paris, France, from balloon, showing the Eiffel Tower in center foreground, taken during the Paris Exposition of 1889 by Alphonse Liébert (1826-1913/14).

The Eiffel tower took two years and three months to complete.

Eiffel Tower in October 1888

Construction of the Eiffel tower from 1887 to 1889

under the watchful eye of a very proud Gustav Eiffel.

Gustave Eiffel in 1888

Caricature of Gustave Eiffel comparing the Eiffel tower to the Pyramids.

Another marvel of engineering was the Machinery Hall, with a 111 meter span, the longest interior space in the world at the time, using a system of hinged arches made of steel or iron.

Central Dome of the Gallerie des Machines, Exposition Universelle de Paris, 1889, by Louis Béroud (1852-1930).

As the British journal Engineering wrote in its June 14, 1889 issue:

... the exhibition will be famous for four distinctive features. In the first place, for its buildings, especially the Eiffel tower and the Machinery Hall; in the second place, for its Colonial Exhibition, which for the first time brings vividly to the appreciation of the Frenchmen that they are masters of lands beyond the sea; 

The relative position of France in the World in 1881 as measured by size, area, population, exports and imports, revenues and national debt.

thirdly, it will be remembered for its great collection of war material, the most absorbing subject now-a-days, unfortunately, to governments if not to individuals; and fourthly, it will be remembered, and with good cause by many, for the extraordinary manner in which South American countries are represented. (p. 677)

The Machinery Hall from outside, 1889

In the U.S. section of the Machinery Hall, Thomas Edison ("the Wizard of Menlo Park")
exposed many of his inventions in person.

Thomas Edison in 1889

His new improved talking phonograph generated great excitement.

Fair-goers also tried out the telephone with transmissions from two bastions of French culture, the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique. (Watching people listening to operas on the telephone became a new form of entertainment.)

This would also be the first World Fair with lighting by electricity.

Along with the Exposition Universelle, the Buffalo Bill Show was in town to the great delight of all Parisians and visitors.

Advertising for the Wild West Show in Paris, Lyon and Marseille, 1889.

Buffalo Bill in Paris 1889

Buffalo Bill immortalized in meerschaum and amber

 As the correspondent for the New York Times wrote in his article dated May 18, 1889, all theaters in Paris were deserted.

...In front of the great Buffalo Bill Show the theaters will stand no earthly chance. Quite thirty thousand people were present at the Wild West opening today headed by President Carnot. The band mingled the "Marseillaise" with "Yankee Doodle".

Wild West Show cast with Buffalo Bill in 1890

Among the 32 million visitors who entered through the Dôme Central

or climbed up to the second floor of the Eiffel tower on the footsteps of French President Sadi Carnot,

of foreign dignitaries such as the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Shah of Persia, of luminaries such as Edison ("Like everyone else I’ve come to see the Eiffel Tower”),

View of the Eiffel tower and the grounds of the Exposition Universelle on the Champs de Mars with Seine and the Pont d'Iena in the foreground, Paris, presumably taken from a tethered balloon above the Trocadero, 1889.

of artists such as Whistler, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Seurat, 

Eiffel Tower, 1889, by Seurat

How many of those visitors stopped to admire the pipes and cheroot holders showcased by the best manufacturers in the world of 1889, we do not know.  

Clay Pipe especially made for the Exposition Universelle

Eiffel tower...

with a representation of a steam engine from the Exhibition

But the Report of the International Jury gives us a sense of the trends in the industry, the leaders in the field and the masterpieces they presented.

Before rewarding the best exhibitors in the Exposition, Monsieur Alfred Picard, the president of the Jury reviewed the history of tobacco pipe smoking:

"The use of the pipe had been wide spread in the West Indies, where tobacco originated, when the Portuguese introduced the pipe in Europe.

It was approximately around the same time, in 1560, that Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, brought back pipe and tobacco to France.

Jean Nicot presenting the tobacco plant to Queen Catherine de Medicis, the Grand Prior of the House of Lorraine and François II in 1561

For some time, however, tobacco was limited to snuff. It is only a few years later that the pipe began to be accepted. Initially this apparatus consisted of a long stem with a small silver bowl at the end, the type that Nicot ordered to be brought from Lisbon to Paris. Very soon afterwards, ouckas from the Orient as well as cadjans from Persia were imported at great cost.

However the pipe initially was smoked mostly among members of the lower class; its use spread mostly among sailors, soldiers, and the pipe was smoked in taverns.

Louis XIV in 1610.

Under Louis XIV, the government started to distribute tobacco to the troops on a regular basis, and almost every soldier had his pipe and his lighter. It is, as a matter of fact, during the war that the habit of smoking spread the most, especially when the war was in cold and humid countries. For example, during the conquest of Holland, Louvois [the Secretary of State for War under King of France Louis XIV] was more concerned about the supply of tobacco than food.

François Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois.

In France, the practice of smoking a pipe has spread rapidly since then, especially in the northern regions, but only workers and common people smoke in the street or in public spaces.

The pipe industry was introduced in France about forty years ago; M.M. Ganneval, Bondier and Donninger, whose brand GBD is known today around the world, were the first ones to establish this industry.

The first pipes manufactured in France were meerschaum pipes. As soon as they appeared, these pipes became very popular, since until then Austria and Germany had kept, so to speak, a monopoly on the manufacturing. The price of the French pipes was quite high, given the scarcity of workers, who were all foreigners and primarily viennese, secondly because of the difficulties met while transporting the raw material.

The French manufacturers trained apprentices who later became excellent workers. In addition, the advent of the railroads improved the situation.

And the popularity of the French products increased as the French workers, leaving behind the heavy and least graceful old styles, invented a complete series of gracious and light models, which were better adapted to the taste of the time.

Chemin de Fer-Tramway Decauville at the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889

Foreign manufacturers, in order to counter the French production whose special finish and cachet were very much in favor with smokers, chose to focus on lesser quality raw material, and thanks to cheap labor, were able to significantly lower their prices. This tactic was disastrous, since, by bringing to market products of lower quality that fooled the buyer with a good appearance, the buyer progressively lost his taste for beautiful meerschaum pipes that were in such demand in the early days.

As far as the manufacture of briar pipes, it is essentially a French industry and it has no fear of serious competition.

The first briar pipes date back to 1853. The first few models created were of great simplicity, but since then, the interest has reached such a level that, under the pressure of an ever growing demand and to satisfy the tastes and requirements of an even growing number of buyers, the models become more and more diverse.

The meerschaum pipe manufactured in Austria with raw material of common quality having lost its appeal, the briar pipes have been the primary beneficiary and the level of refinement brought to their manufacturing, with silver and even gold fittings, confirm beyond reasonable doubt the preference they enjoy among buyers worldwide.

Foreign manufacturing is centralized in Vienna (Austria), Ruhla (Saxe-Weimar) and Eisenach (Saxe).

Regarding briars, there are small workshops in Metz and Strasbourg (Alsace-Lorraine) and in Nuremberg (Bavaria).

In France the manufacturing of meerschaum pipes is only to be found in Paris and for the briar pipe, the two manufacturing centers are: Paris for the luxury pipes and Saint-Claude (Jura) for the more  common ones. There are still some minor manufacturers in Nancy, Châlons-Sur-Marne, Besançon, Bussang, Lunéville, Nîmes etc.

Saint-Claude in 1889

 There are three raw material primarily used for manufacturing pipes:

1. Meerschaum from Anatolia which is traded in Constantinople;
2. Amber from the Baltic shores;
3. Briar shipped from the Pyrénées, Corsica and Spain.

In addition to these raw materials the manufacturing of pipes uses quantities of other materials, but of lesser importance such as: horn of all kinds, ivory, bone, hardened rubber, iris, cherry and olive wood not counting the other key metals used for ornamentation:  copper, nickel, silver or gold.

The countries that France has to compete with are Austria and Germany; one has to add more recently the United States where manufacturing has begun but production remains limited and the number of workers dedicated to this industry is minimal.

In the various expositions where France has had to compete with foreign manufacturers, its superiority was confirmed unequivocally, based on the finish, taste and quality of the raw materials used and the large variety of models.

Pipe manufacturers in Paris employ children in very small numbers and as apprentices; no women are employed:

In Paris alone: Men 600; children: 35

For the other manufacturing centers, it is difficult to give even an approximate number of men, women and children employed. In Saint-Claude, the hub of standard production the number is 4,000.

Register of Commerce, Saint-Claude, 1887

Pipe manufacturing in Saint-Claude has grown considerably, and just to convince oneself, it suffices to mention that in that town, two major manufacturers specialize in pipe fittings ("garniture de pipes") and employ between 500 and 600 workers. The specialized machines and tools of this type of manufacturing have an approximate value of one million francs.


In Paris, workers rough and finish the pipes in their entirety; in Saint-Claude and other manufacturing centers where women are employed, the pipes once turned are placed in the care of the women for finishing and polishing.

Polishing workshop, Jeantet-David

Half of the employees are paid by the piece, the other half paid per work day. The choice is somewhat based on the worker's choice and the practices of the manufacturers.

A third work at home, the rest in the workshops.

In Paris where labor is very expensive, the average salary has grown from 7.50 francs per day in 1878 to 10 francs today.

In Saint-Claude the salaries have, over the past ten years, increased in similar proportions. Today,they are on average:

workers ….  5 to 6 francs
women……   3F50
children…….1F50 to 2F

The number of manufacturers in this industry can be placed at around one hundred, and production at 12 million francs a third for domestic consumption and two thirds for exports.

In summary, this industry has achieved significant progress in France. The manufacturers have improved their tooling and are in a much better position to respond to foreign competition, not only to address the needs of the domestic market but also the needs of all the countries around the world that relie upon France for this product.

The major manufacturers who participated in the Exposition in the French section are:

MM MARECHAL, RUCHON AND Co. who exhibited some very fine meerschaum and briar pipes; it is the second item that this company produces for the most part.

M SOMMER, who specializes in meerschaum pipes, has done a remarkable job and presented the Jury with pieces of sculpture and finish beyond reproach.


M JEANTET-DAVID from Saint-Claude who manufactures briar pipes in volume and in general all items branded Saint-Claude.

The three manufacturers have obtained a gold medal, the highest award in their industry.

 M GOETSCH who has also presented some very fine meerschaum pipes for which he received a silver medal.

Pipes in the Foreign sections

The foreign section had very few exhibitors of pipes and smoking articles; the only exhibitions of significance seen by the jury are:

In Austro-Hungaria, that of M RODOLPHE LICHTBLAU, who owns in Vienna one of the largest manufacturers for this item.

In the U.S. that of MM DEMUTH AND Co. from New York, who presented a very fine group of meerschaum and rosewood pipes. The artfully sculpted pipes and the smooth models with elegant shapes are comparable to the best products from the Viennese industry, who has now  found in MM Demuth and Co. a serious competitor, also protected by import duties close to prohibitive for imported pipes and their accessories.

Front page of a catalog from WDC dated after 1892

 MM Rodophe Lichtblau and Demuth and Co. received a gold medal.

In Russia the BERNSTEIN FRERES from Varsovia exhibited some amber accessories for smokers, of irreproachable finish and cheap prices. (Silver medal)

In others foreign sections, there was nothing much to report.

By 1889, the meerschaum and briar industry in France were about forty years old. So what do we know of the masterpieces the French carvers presented at the Exposition?

Thanks to some recent investigative work by Arjan de Haan, who came across an old photo of an extraordinary pipe, we are now in a position to answer that question. In the photo he discovered, the pipe was presented next to a gold medal from the 1889 Exposition.  Let us hear more about his exploration:

"It all started with finding a special french photograph with the image of a Cuirassier in gala uniform. 

This kind of photo is extremely rare so my interest was piqued. The pipe on the picture is made of meerschaum and is ‘dressed’ with a harness made of silver. Special about this photographs is that the photographer depicted next to the pipe a medal which it has won during an exhibition. This means it would have an important piece.


This pipe was familiar to me and after browsing through a few books I found it in the book of Ramazotti & Mamy. He stands there in full regalia depicted on page 82.

The caption under the photo gives us some interesting information. This pipe would have cost 800 gold francs around 1880. The pipe is 37 cm (15 inches) long and 14 cm (5.6 inches) high, and according to this text assembled with silver and gold.

Now, one could stop searching here, but the armor and the medal still raised questions. Some research on the internet gave the next clue. The type of helmet worn by the cuirassier is the type worn by the ‘Regiment des Cent Gardes’ in the third quarter of the 19th century.

This special regiment was founded in 1854 and its aim was to protect the Emperor (Napoleon III) and guarding the imperial palace. This regiment was not part of the Imperial Guard, but fell under the “Grand Marechal” of the imperial palace.

Napoleon III in the early years as Emperor of France. He is dressed in military uniform with a cloak of ermine. The imperial crown, scepter, and hand of justice are all within arm's reach.1855, by Winterhalter.

One of the pictures I found showed a helmet and breastplate. 


almost identical to the ones on the pipe, with the caption that this armour was worn by the commander of the “Cent Gardes”, Albert Verly. This was a great find, and with some further digging I found a picture of Colonel Baron Albert Jacques Verly on which he wears his cuirassiers equipment. 

Importantly, we now know what Alber Verly looked like, and as you might suspect is his effigy closely matches the pipe.

Albert Verly was born on January 5, 1815 as the son of a plantation owner in Kingston, Jamaica. After he studied in France he started his military career at the age of 18, in 1833. 

Le colonel Jacques-Albert Verly (1815-1883), commandant l'escadron des Cent-Gardes

He was a rising star in the French army and after positions in the cavalry and the hunters he becomes a member of the guides of the staff of the French Alps Army. He did this service along with the “Prince President”, the future Napoleon III. Because of this contact Albert Verly became a member of the “Cent Gardes” in May 1854, after Napoleon III came to the throne in 1852. In 1856 Verly was promoted to commander of the “Cent Gardes’.

« Le Peloton des étendards des Cent-Gardes revenant de la revue sur les Champs-Elysées » Huile sur toile 2,65 m x 4,17 m 1869

Albert Verly married a rich woman and stood at the center of social life during the Second Empire. He fought on the side of the emperor, made Baron of the Empire in 1867, Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1869, receiving numerous foreign decorations thereafter. And the close ties with the empire also brought Albert Verly’s fall. When in 1870 the Emperor was captured by the Prussians Verly was no longer needed and he was sent into retirement. He died in 1883.

Although much information about the meerschaum pipe has been recovered, two questions remain. Who made the pipe, and what does the medal mean? Fortunately, the image on the medal is fairly well visible and the strong suspicion that it was a French World Fair medal directed the search. The medal in question is a gold medal
from the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.



In my photo database I store images of meerschaum brands from pipe cases, and this provided the last link. A picture with the brand of the company ‘Sommer Frères’ based in Paris,

together with a stamp with the text, “Medailles d’ Or 1878, 1889, 1900

The gold medals were important to a company because they made the reputation of the brand. The pipe in the picture is one of the legs on which the reputation of Sommer Frères was built." 

Additional photos of this extraordinary meerschaum masterpiece demonstrate the masterful craftsmanship and refined elegance achieved by French carvers of the Sommer manufacture.

An equally spectacular pipe 12 inches (30cm) in length, 4 inches wide by 8 inches (20cm) high depicts a calvalry officer of Napoléon III's Imperial Guard.

This time it is carved out of briar...  


These two masterpieces are expression of the masterful craftsmanship and refined elegance that French meerschaum and briar carvers of those days became known for, 


that "je ne sais quoi"...