Epps’s Cocoa Display Box
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1) The shop display box as it would have been used to display circa 20 1/4lbs packets of cocoa 2) A close up of the label signed Le Blond & Co 3) Another example that looks correct but as the lid is not attached I know this is not how it was meant to be 4) The stencilled text on the side of the box 5) The stencilled text from a slightly later non Le Blond box but clearly showing how the text should read
An interesting recent discovery is a shop display box for Epps’s Cocoa with printed labels by Le Blond & Co.
Epps’s Cocoa was started by James Epps a homoeopathic chemist and his brother John, a doctor, homoeopath, phrenologist and political activist in 1839. John, like Robert Le Blond a partner in Le Blond & Co until 1856, had strong links to the Chartists in the late 1840’s / early 1850’s and there is a good possibility that they would have known each other or at least known of each other.
Epps & Co is recorded as the largest cocoa producer in Britain in 1878 making nearly 5 million pounds (lbs) and at their peak processed half of the cocoa imported into Britain.
James Epps & Co became a Limited company in 1893 but they didn’t respond to changes in the market and superior products offered by Cadbury and Rowntree took over so sales declined, the company was purchased by Rowntrees in 1926.
The label on the lid of the box states ‘Epps’s Prepared Cocoa’ interspersed with ‘Homoeopathic Chemists London’, at the foot ‘Sold in 1 lb. 1/2 lb. & 1/4 lb. packets’ and on the front label ‘Epps’s Cocoa Homoeopathic chemists’. The larger label on the lid has the words Le Blond & Co in the bottom right hand corner. The labels appear to be printed by a basic block printed method in two colours.
These boxes are unlikely survivors as they are of a very basic design in poor quality materials and obviously not meant to stand the test of time. I have managed to locate three boxes online, two having Le Blond labels, which I acquired for research, the third appeared the same but didn’t have the Le Blond name and is a slightly later box.
The box is 33.5 cm x 27 cm x 12.8 cm deep (13.25” x 10.25” x 5.25” deep) and is meant to stand on a shop counter with the lid up showing the contents, in this instance ¼ lb packets. I would estimate about 20 such packets would fit into the box. How do I know this contained ¼ lb (approx. 113g)? On the left hand side of the box is stencilled ¼ lb and below this there is other wording which has faded over time but by comparing all the three boxes found online the standard stencilling can be seen to say:
‘¼ LB’ followed by a month and year and then ‘N.B. Cocoa spoils if exposed to heat or damp’.
As ‘best before dates’ didn’t come into existence until the 1950’s the date must be the date of manufacture and helps tremendously in dating these boxes. The non Le Blond label can clearly be read as March 1896. Le Blond had died in December 1894 just after his business had failed so not surprising that this label was not printed by them but still using the same, possibly Le Blond’s own, design. The dates on the two ‘Le Blond’ boxes are a lot fainter but one appears to say December 1890 and the other June but with an unclear year but presumably it would date from a similar period.
The lid is attached to the box by thin wrapped wire strands going through holes in the lid and box. Although two of the boxes seen have the, now loose, lid facing upwards looking at the position of the holes it was most definitely meant to be used so that the label could be seen only when the lid was open.
Le Blond printed a number of items for leading Cocoa makers including other items for Epp's. One such item is described as a poster for Fry's Cocoa and is very similar in style to this Epps box lid. It can be found in the John Johnson collection 'An Archive of Printed Ephemera' held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. You can see this item by following Link 1 below