The firm of Lefèvre-Utile was started over 170 years ago at a patisserie in Nantes by Jean-Romain Lefèvre and Pauline-Isabelle Utile.
Under son Louis, then Michel and Patrick Lefèvre-Utile the family successively perfected and modernised the original Fabrique de Biscuits de Rheims transforming it into a manufacturer on an industrial scale. Its creations le Petit-Beurre and Petit-Ecolier became household names.
Lefèvre-Utile ceased to be a family-run firm in the 1970s although the brand continues under current US owners Mondelez International.
The LU story fascinated Olivier Fruneau-Maigret, a young Nantais. He started collecting the memorabilia of his local biscuit firm when he was just a teenager. His interest and his collection grew and grew – acquiring knowledge and material from a variety of sources including dealers, past employees and, most importantly, the Lefèvre- Utile family itself.
The result was a capsule collection of packaging, promotional and archival material that marked biscuit production – and family, local and advertising history – across the 19th and 20th centuries.
Fruneau-Maigret had been the specialist when Artcurial held a dispersal of LU memorabilia from the estate of Patrick Lefèvre-Utile (the last majority shareholder of the family) in 2003.
This year Fruneau-Maigret decided to sell his own significant slice of LU history – the first tranche offered at Drouot by Leclère (30% buyer’s premium) on September 19. The 377 lots in a detailed and well-illustrated catalogue, were the subject of a six-day view at Drouot’s exhibition space where there was considerable interest. Buying at the auction itself was much more selective with around half the material finding buyers but Thomas Morin-Williams, the specialist for the Leclère auction, was not downbeat. “We were quite happy about the sale,” he told ATG, noting that the stickiest sections were post- 1950s packaging which is more widely available and can be picked up in flea markets for 50 cents.
Buying interest was concentrated on the earlier rarities that are both scarcer and – using lithography – works of art in themselves. In particular the original artworks for these early designs prompted some strong prices. The €8200 (£7255) paid for Firman Bouisset’s pastel of La Jeune Fille au Petit Beurre established a new auction high for a work on paper by the artist.
Buyers were a mix of private collectors including some from the UK and the US. The current US owners of the LU brand were active and there was institutional buying from the local Musée d’histoire de Nantes where some of these family items were previously on loan until 2002. Pictured here is a selection of pieces from the auction that give a flavour of the material on offer.
A second sale from Olivier Fruneau-Maigret’s collection will be held by the firm later in the year.