The Wonder Bean and the Wonder Tale

February 28, 2020

 Pagoda, Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, 1715. Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands.

 

Prince Perinet, or the Origins of the Pagoda (Le Prince Perinet, ou l’Origine des pagodes, 1730) is a fairy tale about porcelain set in the East Indies or Asia, the historical birthplace of fine ceramics. Prince Perinet rules over the Indies and has an enemy—Nortandose—on the neighboring Blue Island, which is also known as the Island of Porcelain. Nortandose has a penchant for collecting and for cruelty, making prisoners of those who cross him by transforming them into walking, talking porcelain objects. Vases, bowls, teapots, and cups send up a chorus of lament about their fragile plight as they languish imprisoned in his castle.

 

All is well in Prince Perinet’s human world until a curse cast upon him in infancy is fulfilled: Nortandose captures him, turns him into a teapot, and keeps him prisoner on the Island of Porcelain. Perinet eventually triumphs by perching himself—his teapot self—above a door frame and falling on the villain’s head as he enters the castle. This feat of bravery breaks the spell and releases all the human victims from their porcelain forms. The fairy tale ends with the restored Prince Perinet using Nortandose’s magic against him in revenge. He turns Nortandose into a pagoda, a Chinese figurine with comic features, fulfilling the promise of the story’s title.

 

This fairy tale about a porcelain service focuses on tea but could well have been about a chocolate service in the 18th century as porcelain, the fairy tale, and cacao took root as European arts. This blog has surveyed the many ways in which chocolate and porcelain mutually inspired each other over the course of the 17th and 18th century with the drink and the clay enhancing . Beginning in the early 19th century, as the bonbon slowly gained popularity alongside the beverage, chocolatiers in Europe also discovered the power of fairy tales as a marketing strategy for chocolate.

 

J.S. Fry and Sons confectionery, one of the pioneers in solid edible chocolate, created an early advert that put cocoa in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket. It shows the fateful moment when the child walks unknowingly toward the bed of her killer dressed as her grandmother. Identifying chocolate with childhood was a relatively new marketing practice in the early 19th century and indeed coincides with identifying the child as a consumer more generally, especially a consumer of books.

 

Little Red Riding Hood was one of the more commonly reprinted tales in children’s and juvenile libraries in the 1820s and 30s and an easily recognizable character. Her fame made her a logical choice for a chocolate sales pitch circa 1860, although her unfortunate fate in the popular version of the tale circulating at that time—death by wolf pounce—would appear to mitigate it. Fry’s slanted the vicious plot, instead civilizing the wolf and emphasizing his appetite by serving him a mug of hot cocoa and an open soft-boiled egg in a delicate cup—an amuse bouche?—before the red-hooded girl arrives.

 

 Advert, circa 1860, J.S. Fry and Sons.

 

Her basket is filled to the brim with more cocoa powder. In spite of the mid-image caption, “Little Red Riding Hood / Taking Fry’s cocoa powder to her grandmother,” no one can mistake the smiling snout and clawed foot of a wolf under the covers. The advert also transforms the tale’s intergenerational death bond into a pithy catch phrase for the ad: “A charming drink for young and old: ‘Tis almost worth its weight in gold.”


At the end of the 19th century, German-born Stollwerck Chocolade dazzled ticket-holders at the Chicago World’s Fair by molding a 38ft, 30,000lb Renaissance temple around a chocolate statue of Germania sculpted from a solid 2,200lb block. Riding on that success and rather than purchase ads in a paper or issue tin plates—the habit of Fry’s chocolate—Stollwerck produced equally dazzling marketing schemes. They peddled their bars in vending penny bank boxes, issued trade cards, and capitalized on the period fad of Little Statuette advertising paper dolls.

 Stollwerck's, "Victoria," Automatic Bank, c. 1890.

Theriault's The Doll Master Antique Doll Auctions, Lot 77.

 

Candy dispenser-boxes were intricate miniature affairs modeled on their full-size commercial inspiration. They called them "Spar-automat," saving-automaton, or mechanical tin bank. Their design encouraged children to save spare change; by putting a coin in the slot, they got a piece of chocolate and, with that transaction, also banked the money. The miniature vending machine could be accompanied by a porcelain figurine so that it looked life-size.

 

Stollwerck's, Little Statuette advertising paper dolls, c. 1895.Theriault's The Doll Master Antique Doll Auctions, Lot 224. Perrault's Mother Goose characters are easily recognizable.

 

Stollwerck chose fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters for their sets of advertising dolls for an American breakfast cocoa campaign. The dolls came as floating heads with headless costumes that could be put on and taken off. Each piece of interchangeable body and garment featured a rhyme and retail information on the back.

 

 Little Boy Blue Statuette paper doll, c. 1895. Owned by the writer.

 

Finally, Cinderella, the gold standard of fairy-tale heroines, graced a domestic advertising stamp for Stollwerck’s “Gold” chocolate.

German poster stamp. Early 20th century. Owned by the writer.

 

The confectionery adopted that moniker as their brand name at the turn of the 20th century, as wonderment swirled in chocolate marketing. One such tale of awe came to light not long ago in an antique shop. Circa 1910, young Eileen Margaret Elmes received a box of Pascall's chocolates that took a most unusual form. The bonbons were shaped like 3-dimensional dolls and dressed as iconic literary and social characters in paper outfits.

The century-old box of chocolates and its star, Little Red Riding Hood, c. 1910-1915.

Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers.

 

Headlining the troops is Little Red Riding Hood. Here, the connection between chocolate and the most famous fairy tale about consumption makes sense: all children who open the box can play the role of the wolf--literally eat her--and then go on to consume a sailor, a lady, and an infant while they are at it. Of apparently unwolfish character, Elmes left her candy dolls untouched for all 99 years of her life. Perhaps a testament to the quality of early-century chocolate and its cacao content, the box apparently still smells appetizing. Hear the fuller story of their survival here.

 

In the contemporary world, chocolate and fairy tales continue to be beneficial to each other commercially. Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tales of moral dilemma recently inspired his countrymen to promote their sweets under his name, perhaps an irony of fortune for a writer who denounced material consumption.

 

Danish chocolatiers Konnerup and Co. put out a domestic Hans Christian Andersen collection with eye-candy packaging inspired by the tales.

Bessermachen, their designers, chose to celebrate Andersen through another traditional art he practiced: paper cutting. Designs for the Konnerup silhouette wrappers take their inspiration from paper-cuts made by the writer, some 400 of them preserved, that are based on his own tales and sense of wonderment.

 

Hans Christian Andersen, A Fully Cut Fairy Tale, c. 1864.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 

Andersen’s silhouettes range from one-fold rectangles, with cuts along the paper’s edge that produce a mirror effect when opened, to intricate square tableaux. Bessermachen’s lively interpretations, done by illustrator Niels Ditlev, also echo the style of Lotte Reiniger, the foremother of fairy tale animation. Reiniger’s silhouette storytelling brought cut paper art to life in the 1920s formally linking it to the West’s most beloved fairy tales.

 

 Still, Cinderella, Lotte Reiniger with English text by Humbert Wolfe, 1922. YouTube.com.

 

The Fairy Tale Company of Denmark has moved inventively beyond decorative fairy-tale-themed tins and wrappers to books-as-packaging, a way to promote Danish chocolate in China. If banking on Chinese interest in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales at first sounds like a tenuous marketing plan, the opening of Andersen Land in Shanghai speaks to a joint effort on the part of both countries to forge this connection. Just what it sounds like, Andersen Land is (was?) a children’s theme park based on the famed Danish fairy tales.

 

While one writer ar SmartShanghai.com attests to the park’s existence—and eerie, empty feel—when it opened in 2017, the failure of its own URL and absence of any structure at the abandoned address on Google Earth suggest that its tale ended badly. And what of chocolate? No source beyond The Fairy Tale Company’s own website attests to whether the promised book-box ever charmed the Chinese market. For Danish chocolate, there may be no happy China-ever-after.

 

 

In other disappeared confectionery adventures that come full circle of this post on fairy tales, cacao, and porcelain, once upon a time, c. 2018, there was a fairy-tale cottage made of chocolate. Chocolatier-turned-sculptor Jean-Luc Decluzeau had the extraordinary impulse (and, somehow, time) to produce an inhabitable and edible candyhouse in France. He built it from a 1.5-ton stash in the opulent town of Sèvres, home of the nation’s legendary porcelain manufactory. Although it has been compared to Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread prison, it bears no resemblance to a forest witch’s lair.

 

The chocolate cottage of L’Orangerie Ephémère, Sèvres, France, 2018. Booking.com.

 

 Chocolate pots on the shelf. Booking.com.

 

First, the woodsy atmosphere lies within an ultrafancy tent designed to look like an orangery, L’Orangerie Ephémère, in the gardens of the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres. Second, smooth, shiny bars laid as the ceiling, floors and walls look as though they could be porcelain parading as wood. Cacao-ceramics perched on shelves are crackled and decorated to call out to the trade that made Sèvres a household name in the 18th century. Third, it was listed on booking.com.

 

Until 2019, guests refrained from munching on the structure, as it was apparently still rentable, if less fresh, in February of last year. Since then, no trace of it; a Little Red Riding Hood ending to what would otherwise have been a sweet story.

 

 

 

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