Antique French cardboard box, empty soap box with lithograped purple flowers, A Planteur de Caiffa brand, collectible vintage vanities


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Antique French cardboard box, empty soap box with lithograped purple flowers, A Planteur de Caiffa brand, collectible vintage vanities.

3 3/4″ by 2 1/2″ (9.5 cm by 6.4 cm), 1 3/4″ (4.4 cm) tall.

Very lovely antique French box for soap, in cardboard, the box is empty, it has a lithographed decoration in Art Nouveau style featuring lilac flowers in tons of purple and green, on a beige base, the soap is “Héliotrope”, the brand is Au Planteur de Caiffa, Paris, dating to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.

I have investigated this signature and I have found a very interesting piece of French rural life history! Here is what I have found about it, it’s too interesting, I want to share it with you!

“The last Caïffa of the Pays de Bélâbre

Not far from Bélâbre, in La Forge, was once the last local “Caïffa”, a well known peddler selling among other things coffee and soap with his donkey and his cart.

A curious hawker

“Man, here is the Caïffa!” Thus the children announced the passage of the “Caïffa” in hamlets and villages. “It’s the planter of Caïffa!” Cried the peddler who sold coffee but who also proposed: tea, tapioca, sugar, cocoa, biscuits, pasta, chocolate, sardines, starch, thread, buttons, needles , cleaning products in multicolored boxes well aligned on the shelves of his box, all in the name of “Caïffa”, as well as products not available in the countryside.

The “Caïffa” as it was called, with its bottle-green uniform and visor cap bearing the name of the house was very popular. If the Caïffa Bélâbre had donkeys and carts, most of them plied the countryside with a cart with three wheels, two large behind and a small very mobile in the front to facilitate the driving of the vehicle. This crew had the form of a big trunk painted in black on which one read: “To the planter of Caïffa PARIS” A large handle allowed the peddler to push the set together, where one or two large dogs harnessed with a leather tote often helped with pulling.

A grocer of genius

Born in 1890, the company “Au planteur de Caïffa” was the creation of Michel Cahen and his wife. Grocers in rue Boulitte in Paris, they decide to buy in the port of Le Havre a cargo of coffee from a boat that had sunk and which nobody wanted. Then, they spread the coffee beans in large warehouses to dry, roast and package in small bags of 125 grams. At that time, few people drank coffee, a rare and very expensive commodity. By selling it in small quantities and at an interesting price, Michel Cahen made it accessible to a large part of the Parisian population with success.

When all was sold, he brought coffee from Caïffa, an island in South America where coffee plantations flourished, hence the name of his new company: “Caïffa Planter”. To diversify and expand his clientele, Michel Cahen has a brilliant idea: while remaining a coffee specialist, he transforms his roasting shop into a grocery store and creates a sales system for hawkers. These numerous peddlers will go to the countryside, from village to village, from farm to farm, to offer the products of his company. In the predominantly rural France of the late nineteenth century, where means of transport were scarce, it is essential to go to the inhabitant. On foot with strollers, bike scooters, with carts pulled by dogs or a donkey, these thousands of peddlers are quickly part of the French rural landscape. Many branches were established in all cities and large towns, more than 400 at the end of the society around the Second World War. These stores serve as relays and help to penetrate the countryside.

Second idea of ​​genius: Michel Cahen imagines the loyalty of his customers. The “Planteur de Caïffa” invents the fidelity stamps that villagers and peasants stick meticulously in a small notebook; Once filled, the book is exchanged for some inexpensive items (bowls, plates, towels, etc.). The stamp book was kept as a valuable object, or savings book, relics of the domestic economy found in rural estates in the same way as Russian loans or Treasury bills for the Channel Tunnel.

A life of Caïffa

The Caïffas shared the life of their dogs with a weekly journey of about 90 km, and this in all weathers, a “dog’s life” … In hot summers, when the tar melted, you had to shoot and push the cart in the grass by the road so as not to stick. Most often, the road traveled was paved with large rough stones where the ankles were writhing. In winter, muddy roads, ruts, rain, and snow extended the workday. The average amount of the daily recipe was about ten francs, a good day could reach 25 to 30 francs of the time on which the Caïffas got a profit of 11%, their salary. At the end of his day’s work, the exhausted Caïffa found shelter with an inhabitant or a farmer who agreed to lodge him in his barn.”

Good antique condition, the box structure is sturdy, there is some wear to corners and edges, lithographed decoration has lovely colors with beautiful antique patina.

The product has imperfections or a patina due to its age, as can be seen in the photos. Please take a close look at the pictures before making your purchase!

If you need more photos or have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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