Piece is rare Moet & Chandon match safe

Got a match? (Handout/TNS)

Tribune News Service

Dear Helaine and Joe:

Is this a Moet & Chandon advertising piece? The initials on the back are not those of my father, who brought it back from WWII. Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you,

M. V.

Dear M. V.:

Moet & Chandon is a producer of champagne in the town of Epernay, which is located about 80 miles northeast of Paris in the Marne department. It is a large company in a small town (less than 25,000) that produces in excess of 25,000,000 bottles of champagne each year.

The firm traces its history back to 1743, when wine trader Claude Moet opened Moet et Cie (Moet and Company) in Epernay and began shipping sparkling wine to Paris. It is said that Moet was the first person to produce a sparkling wine in the district.

Madame de Pompadour — Louis XV’s chief mistress — is said to have been a fan of Moet’s product. The company’s tradename “Imperial” was chosen in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a family friend. In 1833, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon de Briailles joined the firm, making it Moet & Chandon. They merged with Hennessy Cognac in 1971 and Louis Vuitton in 1987, making the firm LVMH (or Louis Vuitton, Moet, Hennessy).

Over the years, Moet & Chandon has made a variety of champagnes with various trade names such as Nectar Imperial, Ice Imperial, Imperial Brut and most famously, Dom Perignon, which was named for a Benedictine monk who was a pioneer in champagne production (but not the inventor of this sparkling wine). Upon tasting his first champagne, Perignon is said to have shouted to his brother monks, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”

This is indeed an advertising match or vesta safe for Moet & Chandon’s White Seal Champagne. The brand appears to have been heavily advertised in the early 20th century and perhaps a bit before. It should be mentioned that match safes were larger than true vesta cases, with match cases being about 2 1/2 inches long and vesta cases about 1 1/2 inches.

A “vesta” is a wax-coated string with chemicals at the end, and vesta cases generally have a hole where the vesta can be inserted to serve as a short-lived candle. The style of decoration on this case is art nouveau. On this piece, it is characterized by the curving lines and winged fairies swirling around a recently opened bottle of Moet & Chandon’s White Seal.

The work is somewhat reminiscent of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), who produced advertising posters for Moet & Chandon during the last decade of the 19th century. The piece is probably circa 1900, and it is somewhat unusual. M. V. should check around the flanges in the areas where the top and bottom sections fit together — she may find a mark for sterling silver or one for silver plate. It will make a big difference in value.

There is no question this is a rare Moet & Chandon match safe, but it has two major problems. First: the initials, and second is the dented and worn condition. Still, if it is sterling silver it should be worth in the $400-$500 range — silver plate, about 40% less.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.

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