Of Sacred Relics and Holy Wormwood – Absinthe Antiques by S.B. MacDonald

Absinthe AntiquesHistory, like art, is something that the uninitiated will more often than not have merely an appreciation, or even a passing empathy for. Those who explore the subject to any degree of depth, ideally because the subject speaks to some part of them, will be able to find bits and pieces of wisdom and beauty in the details. In the case of history, this applies to the written account of a certain period, the art of a certain age, the body count of a certain war or from the subsequent artifacts which survive throughout the years.

Absinthe, as even those who have had an indirect interaction with it would attest, has borne its unjust stigma with a certain amount of austere (and sometimes cynical) pride. The people who truly love absinthe love it reverently and the ones who are passionate about it treat it, its history and its sinister scars with a great deal of respect.

Scott MacDonald, whom I have the privilege of referring to as one of my favourite online acquaintances, is one of these people and his remarkable book, Absinthe Antiques – A Collection from la Belle Epoque, is testament to that respect for the subject. Thoroughly researched over a period of several years, the book draws its reader on a profound and almost Divine Comedy-esque journey through the world of absinthe’s glorious heyday. Not through historical accounts, so much, the journey comes through a systematic study of objects, implements and advertising which the author has collected from all across the world, allowing him to paint for us a unique portrait of the days when the absinthe trade was in its full glory.

Lavishly and lovingly photographed by Scott, the book doesn’t just serve as a catalogue of the artifacts. As you wander its pages, it evolves for the reader into a veritable art gallery. Each chapter is bedecked with beautiful images, giving us an intimate look at the technique and design of all manner of glassware, spoons, topettes (something my collection is sorely lacking) and so on. Some of the detail Scott has captured in his photographs are so rich and evocative that you could almost feel the tooling on a la fuilles #3 spoon or the roughness of an etched dose line on an egg-style glass.

This is one of the most remarkable things about this book – that sense of evocation. The detail, the knowledge and the intimacy of the experience is so immersive that we are, ourselves, transported back in time. When we see the images of the advertizing posters of the day, the saucers with the price-per-glass painted thereon and the exquisite and almost luminescent greenish glow of a well-lit glass of absinthe, you can almost hear a chanson being sung in a bar by revellers, steeped in their own experience of the elixir that is one of Scott’s most revered passions.

If you are an absinthe drinker, and one who takes the drink seriously, you owe it to yourself to look into the history of absinthe in detail. That said, you will be sorely hard-pressed to find a more lucid, enjoyable and evocative window into that history than this book. I would actually go so far as to say that it is probably one of the most essential books on the subject. Vinnie personally keeps my copy safe at my absinthe table.

Vinnie approves of this book

To order a copy, go here.

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