Elevator to espresso (Episode 4)

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From [a-] to [-zel], second part (1827-1842):
Un siphon fon, fon… les petites cafetières.*

The siphon coffeemaker (vacuum coffee pot), today known as the « Cona » or « Hellem » received all sorts of strange names at its origin: « Atmodepe-infuser », « Coffee-factor », « Myrosostic » or «atmo-pneumatic» coffemaker.

It is generally composed of two superimposed globes, linked by a pipe, and is working following two consecutive sequences. It first uses the steam pressure to transfer the boiling water from the closed vessel at the bottom to the top one, through a rising tube. The infusion takes place in the upper part where was placed the coarsely grind coffee. When the heating source is turned off, the steam pressure falls down. This creates a suction effect making the infused coffee to return into the lower vessel, the ground coffee being retained by a filter. This makes it an hybrid technique between the Dubelloy coffeemaker and the « Italian » coffeemaker (Bialetti type).

By just looking at the patents, one can think that this invention is (again) french and dates from 1835. This is due to the different creation dates for the Patent Offices across the world and certainly because of the destruction of some archive material, but also, as for Descroizilles and Charnacé, surely due to the discretion and humility of its inventor.

His name appears in the Bersten book¹ but it took me a long loop in time, from 1835 to 1842, in order to find a reliable proof in a very peculiar 1827 book. If this coffeemaker look like a laboratory instrument, it is not exactly by chance : its first description appears in a physics and mathematics journal !

But let’s start with the French patents…


Signature Boulanger ²

Under the poorly attractive name of « new vapor coffeemaker », Louis-François-Florimond BOULANGER (living in Paris, 43 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis), an architect born at Douai in 1807, fills the very first french patent for a siphon coffeemaker. Its description is very precise, but no so enthusiastic in regard to the novelty that is supposed to represent this invention to the small coffeemaker world.

Cafetière Boulanger
The Boulanger coffeemaker, 1835 (source: « Archives INPI »)

As a matter of fact, one can wonder how an aspiring socialist, student at the École des Beaux-Arts being busy to draw its « Palace for the exposition of art objects and products from the industry » for which he received the great price of Rome the following year (in 1836) could receive this striking idea. Maybe from the subject of its study ? (we’ll see…)


Signature Beunat ²

His fellow countryman Pierre-Marie-Joseph BEUNAT (from Thann in the Haut-Rhin), chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, was much more eloquent. In his patent, he is bragging his «apparatus to make infusions, named admopede infuser», a coffeemaker very similar to the one of Boulanger, in these words: «The apparatus adjustment is very easy, its look very pleasant, the operation is as well enchanting by itself and in addition a strong source of entertainment for a sick person or for a society» (sic).

Its patent covers large : more than the possibility to make coffee or tea, it is mention the possibility to prepare any drink requiring infusion of plants or herbs, and also the possibility to use it to prepare hot chocolate «but the one of good quality only». It could also be used… to «cook on the table, in front of the guests, many goods such as soft-boiled eggs, asparagus, etc.»… wonderful!

Cafetière Beunat
Coffeemaker from Beunat, 1836 (source: « Archives INPI »)


Signature Capette ²

After a first abandoned patent for an «improved eolipyle coffeemaker», Jean-Louis CAPETTE, maker of bronzes in Paris (43, rue du Temple), obtains not so long after a patent for a «Myrosostic coffeemaker», an apparatus identical to the one of Boulanger, but with the water vessel heat source arriving from the side.

Cafetière Capette
Myrosostic Coffeemaker from Capette, 1837 (source: « Archives INPI »)

Madame Jeanne RICHARD, born PIERRET (55, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin in Paris) often appears in the list of inventors associated with the vacuum coffeemaker (Bramah ¹ p. 81, Bersten ¹ p. 84).

Signature Richard ²

Its patent is a patent for importation and concerns a «Translucent physical coffeemaker with concentration of the vapor» also called Atmodes. In fact, this patents confirms the inventor’s origin and explains why Beunat, living in Alsace, heard about it. It is said that «the Atmodes system is really simple and used for a great number of years in Germany» (first clue).

Cafetière Richard
Atmodes coffeemaker imported by Richard, 1837 (source: « Archives INPI »)

The presented model is very close to the siphon coffeemaker… except that it is hermetically closed and equipped with a security valve on the top globe. This modification, that is not so fortunate, seems to come from Madame Richard herself, that’s what she is mentioning later :
«One of the improvements to the coffeepot that I am importing in France (see the model that I brought last august 21st) consist in the total isolation of the liquid from the atmosphere.»

This modification is rapidly abandoned: only few months later, in an additional patent, she comes back to a more «classical» way of doing the infusion without boiling. The tube is lengthen up to the summit of the crystal globe and a cork is added with a small tap to control the infusion transfer into the lower part (it is the same principle as the one adopted by the prolific madame Rosa MARTRES, born GALY-CAZALAT; from an inventors family, who produced seven patents on this coffeemaker type).

Madame Richard also adds to its patent another coffeemaker type that she invented and another model from some Van s. Loeff of Berlin (who is maybe the exporter of the Atmodes, but it is not clearly said). This last coffeemaker is functioning by recirculation (not as a siphon) of a very special kind. The one she designed is close to the one from Laurens, in a more compact form (the infusion being saved around the main boiler).

Cafetière Van s. Loeff Nouvelle cafetière Richard
Coffeemaker from Van s. Loeff, imported, and the New coffeemaker from Richard, 1837 (source: « Archives INPI »)

But let’s go back to our siphons…

Tontons Fligueurs Siphon 1 ³

This type of coffeemaker certainly obtained a great success at these times because there are many successive inventors fighting hard to get their name attached to it. Tap in the middle, at the bottom, auto-extinguishing system for the lamp, in metal, in crystal, with a crown on its head… the patents are abundant : more than thirty, which means two third of the coffeemakers from the French patents up to 1844.

Among all these patents we can mention:


James VARDY and the engineer Moritz PLATOW with their patent from 1839, which as no other merit than being the first filled in England for this type of coffeemaker and being, for that matter, only 4 years late on the first one (this really counts for English, great forgotten of this coffeemaker history…).

Cafetière de Vardy et Platow
Coffeemaker from Vardy and Platow, 1839 (source: Polytechnisches Journal)


In 1841, madame Marie-Fanny-Ameline VASSIEUX, born MASSOT from Lyon (living 37, rue de l’Arbre-Sec), obtains a patent for «developments to the crystal coffeemaker called coffee-factor». She gives it an arm maintaining the two globes together by the middle and puts its signature on top of it: a crown.

Cafetière café-facteur de Vassieux
Coffee-factor coffeemaker from Vassieux, 1841 (source: « Archives INPI »)

Signature Vassieux ²

The term coffee-factor was certainly a reference to the famous “caléfacteur” (ancestor of the pressure cooker) invented by Pierre-Alexandre Lemare (who also invented a coffeemaker in the 1820s). Madame Vassieux finally called it the Lyonnaise coffeemaker and used lots of advertising material especially in the papers, even sending a member of her family promote it in the Netherlands, at the risk of seeing him condemned for disobedience by a war council…

Publicité Vassieux 1 Publicité Vassieux 2
Echo de la fabrique, 1842. La Presse, 1842.

Tribunal militaire VassieuxArticle from La Presse, december 10th 1845, relating the trial of madame Vassieux’s relative accused of disobedience  after leaving France for the Netherlands to promote her coffeemaker.

Sure that the competition was hard, everything was a already a matter of few months for this two globes design, the other one being from Louis-Octave MALEPEYRE (maker of coffeemakers in Paris 14, rue Saint-Claude): its patent entitled «improvements to the coffeemaker called hydropneumatic» was filled before Vassieux but obtained after.

Cafetière Malepeyre Signature Malepeyre ²
Coffeemaker from Malepeyre, 1841 (source: « Archives INPI »)

In 1842 also appeared the advertising campaign for the “Smith coffeemaker” (its reading is a pure delight), patent filled in France by François-Auguste GOSSE, the first one to use the term «Siphon coffeemaker» (which was the 1842 patent’s title). It is reported to be from John-Willam (sic) Smith, but Gosse in its patent also mention being its inventor. Another press article from July 1842 talks about importation (by Gosse and Pochet-Deroche), but I didn’t find any trace of this Smith guy in the English patent system (which, if it exist, could be anterior to the ones of Vassieux and Malpeyre, and will please the English)…

Publicité Cafetière Smith/Gosse
La Presse, September 1842 (Smith/Gosse coffeemaker)

Signature Gosse ²


To conclude, in 1842, Jean-Baptiste-Auguste FORTANT (tinsmith lampist 21, rue du Petit-Thouars, in Paris) propose a clever auto-extinction system for the oil lamp, thanks to a float placed in the upper vessel.

Cafetière Fortant
Hydropneumatic  coffeemaker from Fortant (source: « Archives INPI »)

Signature Fortant ²

And now, who is this mysterious inventor at the origin of the siphon coffeemaker ?

Tontons Flingueurs Siphon 2 ³

In 1842 again (April 7th), M. Herpin makes a report in the name of the “arts économiques de la Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie nationale” committee, about an « atmo-pneumatic » coffeemaker that M. Soleil, optician 35, rue de l’Odéon, brought them (as reported in the Bulletin de la Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, N° CCCCXLII, p.124). A description of the said coffeemaker follows with the corresponding drawings (N° CCCCXLVIII, Oct. 1841, p. 414 et p. 842).

Cafetière Soleil 1 Cafetière Soleil 2
Coffeemaker from Soleil, 1836/1842 (source: Polytechnisches Journal)

That’s where stands the crossroads of this story.

We learn in this report that the scientific committee took its time… in order to «subject the coffeemaker to a crucial an prolonged test», here goes science.

The coffeemaker, only slightly modified by M. Soleil, was put in their hands around 1836, the goal of Soleil being to popularize the invention from a distinguish physicist named « Noremberg », professor at Darmstadt (second clue).

The M. Soleil in question is nobody else than Jean-Baptiste François Soleil (1798-1878), a really fascinating french optician-engineer, from whom the abbot François Moigno praise the merits in the introduction of his 1869 book entitled «Saccharimétrie optique, chimique et mélassimétrique». Self-taught man, Soleil acquired such a knowledge in optics that he was known from all the great physicists of the time, pioneers in the field of the modern optics  (Babinet, Fresnel, Arago, Silbermann). All of them, owe a part of their reputation to his talent in making optical apparatus.

Very early in his life, Soleil met Johann Gottlieb Christian NÖRRENBERG (1787-1862), a German physicist, self-taught man also, who came to Paris from 1829 to 1832 to achieve his education. He was a brilliant and discreet man, living very simply: it is told in its biography that he could live for months restricting himself to coffee, milk, sugar and bread. He was keeping his money for some pastries, and rarely to buy a seat at the opera… but above all, he spent it on pieces of optics. That’s how he met Soleil and became his friend, teaching him his knowledge in physics… and drinking some coffee, I guess.

Portrait NÖRRENBERGJohann Gottlieb Christian NÖRRENBERG (1787-1862)

Before coming to Paris, he was a beloved teacher in mathematics, physics and chemistry at the Darmstadt military school («Die Hof-und Universitätsmechaniker in Württemberg im frühen 19. Jahrhundert», Andor Trierenberg, 2013, p.465). It is in the context of his lessons that he developed the vacuum coffeemaker, as it is reported in his paper from 1827 entitled «Beschreibung einer Kaffehmaschine» (Zeitschrift f. Physik u. Mathematik, Bd. 3, S. 269-271, 1927).

The coffeemaker and the way it is functioning are described in details in the scientific paper where it is also mentioned that its conception and its use are so simple that it was rapidly adopted by number of his friends and students. He simply never thought of patenting the invention preferring to explain its principle and sharing it.

At the end of the paper, the liquid going up and down inside the rising tube is compared to the blood stream of a fish observed under a microscope (which makes him the very first ‘coffee geek’ of the history).

The irony of this is that the Soleil coffeemaker is mentioned in the Polytechnisches Journal («Soleil’s atmopneumatische Kaffee-maschine», Volume 84, Nr. L., p. 268–269 de 1842), a German journal very keen on innovations related to coffee machines, but there are no mention of Nörrenberg. It is intriguing how the journal missed his article at the time it was published…

Nörrenberg Coffeemaker, 1827 (source: Zeitschrift f. Physik u. Mathematik)

After going back to Germany, he became professor at the University of Tübingen and stayed in close relation with Soleil. He left his name in the history of Sciences for the invention of a scientific instrument called the «polariscope» and for being the author of the first German daguerréotype (the direct predecessor to photography), taken only two weeks after the patent obtained in France by Louis Daguerre  (1839). It his certainly his faithful friend Soleil who provided him the equipment, being the one who published a book about the technique in 1840 («Guide de l’amateur de photographie, ou Exposé de la marche à suivre dans l’emploi du daguerréotype et des papiers photographiques»).

Now, concerning Boulanger, it is not impossible that as he was conducting his thematic research about the “Palais pour l’exposition d’objets d’art et des produits de l’industrie” (his architectural project) he came to visit the Paris Arts et Métiers warehouse where the coffemaker invented by Nörrenberg was standing for a long period of time (you know what I mean). Something that could transform his striking idea into a sunburn (coup de Soleil in French)…

To be continued…


* Play on words with the French song «Ainsi font, font font, les petites marionettes».
¹ «Coffee floats, tea sinks : through history and technology to a complete understanding», from Ian Bersten, 1993
«Coffee makers : 300 years of art & design», from Edward and Joan Bramah, 1989.
Source: « Archives INPI », with their kind authorization.
³ «Les tontons flingueurs», Georges Lautner / Marcel Audiard, 1963.