During the 19th century, French chocolate producers Chocolat Menier created series of mahogany boxes to be used as teaching devices in schools. The unassuming containers, measuring 37cm wide, opened to revealed rows of labelled compartments filled with the raw material of the chocolate trade.
The example in question was produced for the Musées Scolaires de l’Ecole de Garchizy in central France. Within is a colour lithograph of the Menier factory with text on the history of chocolate and the producers. Nine of the compartments contain the remains of cacao beans and one has a three glass vials containing cacao butter.
It was offered for $5500 by US dealer Ben Kinmont in a recent catalogue where it was spotted by the Oxford library.
“We have been building up an interesting collection of ‘edible’ books,” said Dr Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections. “A recent acquisition was a volume by the artist Ben Denzer, with pages made out of slices of American cheese. Both may be making an appearance at an upcoming exhibition looking at the haptic qualities of books. While the chocolate museum in a box may be interesting to touch, nothing inside it likely tastes good any longer.”
The box was offered with a first edition guide to Chocolat Menier, published for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. It includes folding plates, one of which depicts the factories from the air.