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Style Other / Ref.13311

Exceptional oak shop counter with a decoration depicting coffee and cocoa trade, circa 1880

Width: 94'' ½  240cm
Height: 39'' ⅜  100cm
Depth: 31'' ½  80cm

19th century.

This exceptional piece of furniture was made during the 1880 decade, and was especially ordered to be a shop’s counter. Made out of oak tree, it presents a really rich and original decoration sculpted in a more or less prominent relief, and depicts the cocoa and coffee trade.

The facade is cadenced by three niches in which are figured sculpted subjects. The one in the center, the biggest, is adorned with two women in high relief wearing a tunic in the antique style, turning their looks toward the spectator. Set in front of a sugar-cane field, they are sat on cocoa and coffee bales marked with initials : D/R for the coffee, IE/CE for the cocoa. They have with them a basket of cherry coffee – a term employed to name the un-roasted coffee bean – and another one filled with cocoa pods, which they are designating. Two smaller niches are framing the main one. Acting like mirrors, the are inhabited by a monk climbing a palm tree. The side panels are adorned with only one niche each, on which is figured a composition of elements reminding of the journey to the producer countries. One can see there, in front of a palm tree, a ship’s sail, barrels, an anchor, a paddle as well as bundles of merchandise where can be seen again the initials DL and DE.
The cut corners on our counter are adorned with one niche adorned with a trophy of cocoa pods where one can see the beads, held by a knotted ribbon. They were most certainly both crowned by a mascaron on the ledge, depicting an indigenous in relief, but only one is subsisting. The rest of the ledge presents a beautiful frieze in slight relief, drawing plants interlacings where one can recognize stylish coffee bush flowers.

The arrival of exotic beverages in Europe dates back from the first great discovery journeys of seafarers at the end of the 15th century. Facing a growing demand for chocolate, Europeans and in particular the Spanish army turned the indigenous of South America into slaves and exploited the African labor forces in order to reduce the costs. The beverage is popularized in France by Marie-Thérèse of Austria and her husband the king Louis XIV, who brought its consummation to Versailles. Nevertheless, it is only at the beginning of the 19th century that the first chocolate factories opened, in particular in England where Cadbury invented the first dark chocolate tablet in 1821. Seven years later, Van Houten invented the cocoa powder. The acceleration of industrialization during this period made the chocolate a common consummation good, under all his forms, before knowing his real boom at the end of the Second Empire. Regarding coffee, the beverage also knows a great success in Europe since the 17th century, after being brought back by Middle-East merchants. For this reason, Europeans colonists decided to introduce its culture to the New World, which became the main region for coffee production, ahead of Africa. Under Louis XIV’s reign, coffee grinders were made out of steel, but it is really during the 19th century that coffee grinders invaded all interiors, in particular the model from the Peugeot brothers company – the first model dating back from 1832.
During this period, a poor offering boosted the use of diverse substitutes with a close taste, like the chicory root. Regarding the cocoa, it was already produced with lots of defects : low quality cocoa, mixed with flours, lentils, peas, beans, potato starch, oils…