Who doesn’t enjoy a little sweet treat alongside their coffee or tea? For the French, that means a buttery biscuit made by the Lefève-Utile biscuit company, better known by its initials LU.
This fascinating, delicious item is part of Hagley Library’s extensive materials related to World’s Fairs. It’s a promotional album made upon the occasion of Lefève-Utile winning a Grand Prize, the first awarded to a French biscuit company, at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. Now part of the multi-national corporation Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods), Lefève-Utile started in 1846 in the French industrial port city of Nantes. It was named for founders Jean-Romain Lefèvre (1819-1883) and Pauline Isabelle Utile (1830-1922), who were business partners as well as spouses.
LU has always prided itself on the quality of its products, and this was reflected in the high-end treatment of its advertising and packaging in deluxe tins. You might recognize the brand because the well-known Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) made posters for the company featuring famous stage actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) that have been widely reproduced.
Inside, the album is a lavish affair. Fifty-nine embossed and color-printed gilt cards are nestled inside paper slots surrounded by swirling designs. They feature prominent figures from French society—actors, artists, composers, singers, dancers, writers, explorers—even Queen Ranavolona III of Madagascar (1861-1917)! Each card depicts the celebrity in action, with an accompanying photographic portrait. Underneath, there’s a signature and a short testimonial from the person anout their love of LU biscuits and offering the company their well wishes and congratulations.
For example, above is the actress Gabrielle Réjane (1856-1920)—a sometime friend and sometime rival of Sarah Bernhardt—in the first act of the 1893 play Madame San Gêne. Her quote says, “Tous les artistes sont gourmets; tout les gourmets doivent aimer les Petits-Buerres.” All artists are gourmands, and all gourmands should love Petits-Beurre biscuits.
In the card on the right, we see illustrator and poster artist Jules-Alexandre Grün (1868-1938) examining a color poster just pulled from the same sort of lithographic press that produced these chromolithographed cards. The company published the cards—a list of available cartes autographes appears at the front of the album—and originally lined the lids of biscuit tins as collectible premiums.
Hagley’s album features a special series of eight aviators with their planes, some with dates as late as 1909. Another extant series featured reproductions of paintings of Paris by Luigi Loir (1845-1916). This suggests that the albums were produced blank, to be filled in by card collectors. It is unclear whether they were sold already filled as complete sets.
Diane E. Bockrath is an Archivist at Hagley Museum and Library