Written by Oscar and Orlando SANGUINETTI

Meat extract has been conceived by German chemist Justus von Liebig, it was a method to preserve meat with all its nutrients while reducing its size. An English firm, who owned large cattle’s farms in South America (in Frey Bentos in Uruguay) liked the concept very much and found it financially appealing. This represented an easier and cheaper way to transport meat from America to Europe. The company decided to start the production of the meat extract and named it after its inventor.

New marketing strategies were to be devised to publicise the new product which at the time was perceived as revolutionary (1850),  most importantly the housewives had to be convinced to use it in place of fresh meat.


Paris, 1865-72. Magazines, radios and televisions did not exist, so how was a product publicised? Mr Boucicaut, the owner of a department store in Paris, had a brilliant idea, that of giving as a present an illustrated card to every kid and mum in the shop. Every Thursday new cards were distributed so to keep the kids interested in going back regularly to the store.

This kind of advertisement spread very quickly in Paris where lithographers were soon to become very fashionable. They used to prepare standard card designs to which it was later added a caption for the specific product they had to publicise. This is why it is possible to find cards with identical pictures but different slogans, publicising a range of different companies, among them: "LOUVRE" (est. 1855), " AU BON MARCHE'" (est. 1872), "AU PRINTEMPS" (est. 1868), chocolates: "GUERIN - BOUTRON", "SUCHARD", "TOBLER", extract of meat: "CIBILIS", "KEMMERICH" and last but not least "LIEBIG COMPANY" which made an impression for having published cards for more then a century. To be fair, Liebig Company started publication around 1870 and ended in 1975, after having published more than 11,000 different types of cards; every subject is nearly always in a set made up of six cards.

Liebig cards collection is still very appreciated today for their high quality of printing and design which was never really matched by any other company. Another phenomenon took place in Italy in 1935 with the Perugina cards (among the rarest is the one of "Il feroce Saladino"). Unfortunately the collection did not have a long and as successful following mainly because the collector had to return the completed album of cards to receive gifts from the company.

Liebig Company did not give presents to those who completed their albums, because collectors considered the cards themselves as the gift; in fact, as time went by, cards' value increased. Nowadays some sets are worth a considerable amount of money, although collectors charmed by the cards beauty are very reluctant to sell. Moreover the importance of this type of collection is not merely monetary but historical. The cards represent a cultural insight in the period. For a long time in a era pre television, the cards were used not only for decoration but contained information on a wide range of subjects, acting almost like an encyclopaedia. So the Liebig cards for a long time played an educational role to many pre audio-visual societies.


Catalogues have certainly contributed to increase Liebig cards' fame above other cards collections. The fact of having exact references such as title, year of publication, NUMERAZIONE PROGRESSIVA DELLE SERIE (progressive numbering of sets) and commercial value made collectors want to gather cards and have more information about them.

The first catalogue appeared in Italy in 1883 published by Gamba (in Genoa) titled "PRIMO CATALOGO ITALIANO DELLE CARTOLINE LIEBIG" - The first Italian Catalogue of Liebig Cards. Mr. Pipein Gamba, who started collecting cards in his early childhood, wrote to many publishing houses and got from them an exact list of all the emissions which formed the basis of his catalogue.

In 1899 the "CATALOGO GENERALE DELLE FIGURINE LIEBIG" (General catalogue of Liebig trade cards) was published by Alberto Bolaffi (this title has since been taken over by Sanguinetti), the Stoppani of Milan (who published the first catalogue completely illustrated) and the Fada-Fumagalli. Within the rest of Europe there were Dreser and Arnold in Germany, Janssen, Van der Awera and Tourteau in Belgium but all of them only had a restricted catalogue and collection based only on sets published in their own country.

When Liebig Company, which had been taken over by the English company Brook Bond Ltd, stopped publishing in 1975 most people thought that Liebig cards would loose their value as no new emissions were being added.

The next year Sanguinetti (the new Italian Publisher) realized that the trade cards were to become part of history, so they were so proud to publish a new catalogue, bettering and enlarging the one of 1974. Moreover it was the first catalogue which had more than 600 illustrations. This catalogue is renewed every two years and in every new edition the collectors can find improvements such as more information about cards, more illustrations (they are now more than 1200) and recently explanations in four languages and alphabetical index of foreign editions were added in order to make it easier for the European market (COLLECTORS ABROAD). This is why the catalogue has become the dominant reference all over Europe and the world for prices and information on cards collecting.


Lithographic art was invented at the end of XVIII century and its printing method consists in using a fine-grained limestone, called lithographic stone. The best quality extracted from Solnhofen’s pit in Bavaria. Painters used to prepare first a drawing on paper and then brake the design down in 13 different colours which was transferred inverted to 13 different stones. Every stone contained details which was apparently insignificant if visualised individually but united to the other 12 stones formed a refined design which had a very natural colour tone that has never been exceeded. This type of procedure required a lot of precision and therefore a lot of time. Some years ago an Italian magazine called “Amica” printed some re-prints as gifts to its readers, but modern techniques did not reproduce the same quality and beauty of the original cards.

The most important lithographic companies who printed Liebig cards were: Testu et Massin, D.Hutinet, Champenoix and Klingenberg.

This document is a copy of
Sanguinetti History of Meat's Extract
and is displayed here with the kind permission of
Sanguinetti Stamp Shop - Milan, Italy