The home of the Cartophilic Society of Great Britain

May 12 1803 – birthdate of Justus von Liebig

May 12 1803 – birthdate of Justus von Liebig

A tribute, by Patrick Marks

The nineteenth century saw a huge level of development in the food industry, with inventions from making cocoa more useable by Cornelius Van Houten to the development of products using the essence of meat, namely Liebig or as it was known in Britain, LEMCO.

The developer of Liebig as a product was the outcome of the work of Justus Von Liebig, who was a German scientist, born 1803 in Darmstadt. He studied agricultural and biological chemistry and became renowned in that field and he remains one of the principal founders of organic chemistry. He was very influential in a wide range of areas in chemistry and was highly respected by many eminent scientists of the period. Wikipedia carries a detailed story of his years as a scientist and is fascinating as it shows the way he and his colleagues developed rigorous and scientifically proven theories about plant and animal nutrition. Out of his work the concept of meat extract as a foodstuff arose. Originally it was touted as being very nutritious, but eventually it was recognised that claims of its nutritional value were revised and its benefits as a supplement in the form of a drink were to see it grow into the product which can still be obtained today.

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Justus von Liebig

Liebig was the first product to be produced using Liebig’s theory of nutrition for producing beef extract. He publicised his theory in the late 1840s, but for a number of years commercial production of the extract as a product affordable to the average consumer was not possible due to the cost of meat. In 1865 in conjunction with a Belgian engineer, George Giebert, Liebig set up production of cheap meat which was available in South America where the meat was often a by-product of the industry for hides. Fray Bentos in Uruguay was a centre of production of the beef and has since become ubiquitous as a named product which most of us will have eaten in our childhoods.

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Note how this card says “Usine a Fray Bentos”Usine means factory

Advertising using cards started in 1872, and continued for around 100 years with little interruption apart from the two World Wars. There must have been a large department involved in all the range of advertising material though the card sets were the most long lasting of the range of advertising the firm used, and they must have had a large department of staff working with print companies to develop the card series.


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Early card series were similar to the continental trade cards produced by printers to sell to numerous firms, shops and outlets, although some of the early series were also produced exclusively for Liebig. The firm didn’t just rely upon consumers picking up their cards when shopping, but developed a system of coupons by which purchasers of the firms product could send in for the latest series. This system worked for many decades until the firm ceased card issuing in the 1970s.

The firm had a major role in the use of cards as advertising and their cards soon became collectable by adult collectors as well as children. These collectors eventually began to catalogue the firm’s output as their collectable potential became obvious in the last couple of decades of the 19 th century.

The firm’s cards were also issued worldwide in a wide range of languages and some series were only issued in one language for a particular market such as Britain and other English speaking countries.

Although Liebig originally set up his firm’s office in London , it is a curious fact that fewer Liebig series were issued in Britain than most neighbouring countries in Europe. More series were issued in the USA than in Britain although there isn’t a clear statement on the cards whether they were for the British or American markets.

The cards remain very collectable and popular especially in Europe with collectors. In excess of 1000 sets were issued I believe. They are attractive series and would have been exciting for the collectors young and old as they were issued. The range of subject matters was immense. And the format of six cards to a set, set a trend followed by many other firms using cards as advertising, though none had the variety and staying power of Liebig.


Here are a few more cards from the English Language issues…

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