Absinthe fountain or soap dispenser?
January 5, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I think I got ripped off. Please tell me if this antique "Absinthe Fountain" is legit.

I will post a picture as soon as I can, but I haven't picked it up yet. My boyfriend is into the whole absinthe thing, and I wanted to get him a display peice for his birthday. I was out with my parents looking at antiques and the proprietor was showing us this pretty etched glass "absinthe fountain" and I went ahead and wrote him a check and asked him to hold it until aforesaid birthday. I know diddly about absinthe, but now I am thinking about the contruction of this fountain, and it doesn't seem to make sense. It is a v-shaped glass decanter in a metal support with a push-up valve at the bottom. The valve reminds me of a soap dispenser. Looking online, I can see that most fountains have a spigot on the side, with a wide mouth on top for ice. This one narrows at the top, which leads me to additional doubt. Modern, small ice cubes were not around in the absinthe heyday. Did I just spend $80 on a fancy soap/perfume dispenser? Can I get my money back? I still haven't picked up the thing.
posted by domo to Shopping (12 answers total)
Of course you can get your money back. Go to him with maybe a printout of an example and show him how you imagine it to be uses. He will either explain it more fully or admit that perhaps he was wrong about it. Be nice but firm.
posted by amanda at 8:13 AM on January 5, 2012

I like amanda's idea. It's going to be really difficult to tell you if you've been ripped off if you don't have a picture to show us. I'm guessing, though, that it'll be harder to get your money back after you've taken possession of the item.
posted by cooker girl at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2012

I believe that what you have purchased is not an absinthe fountain, but an absinthe brouilleur, which is for single glasses of absinthe, so this might just be a simple misunderstanding over semantics.
posted by misha at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Without seeing it, it's impossible to tell. That said, as someone who's dealt in antiques, knowing the manufacturer is one of your first steps in researching it. Then, check for appropriate wear in the appropriate places - not just an applied patina or "antiquing" attempt. You've done an image search to help you look for one like yours, but adding the manufacturer will narrow it.

That said, due to the resurgence in Absinthe's popularity, there's plenty of information on vintage fountains out there, and plenty of reproductions out there. Does your receipt say anything specific? One way antique dealers will protect themselves is by writing a very generic receipt. As in "absinthe fountain" vs. "A rare 19th Century Legler-Pernod absinthe fountain with 6 taps, and the famous Absinthe Terminus 'Coq', in silver plate with glass". Your receipt also should have the terms of sale on it - there may be no refunds, only store credit, especially in a small antique store.

Just phone and ask questions. Let him know truthfully that you're researching the gift very thoroughly. Speaking to the dealer in a calm, measured way, being polite, and using positive language will make all the difference - of course a dealer wants a sale, as times are tight - but don't assume he/she is going to be an evil money-grubber who's out to deceive you. Dealers want good customers who'll come back; and they depend on having a good reputation.

Sometimes it's an honest mistake - once I came across dealer who offered a plastic penguin toothpick dispenser as a bakelite Art Deco cigarette dispenser - it was just that it was out of her realm of knowledge (and thankfully, I have a vast knowledge of kitsch and bakelite, and gently informed her that she was mistaken, in such a way as to help her save face). In the future, it's usually best to just leave a (non-refundable or transferable) deposit when you're unsure of something. At any rate, don't anticipate trouble, just try to secure what it is you purchased, and determine what you can do if there's a problem.

(on preview, yes - what misha said too, possibly.)
posted by peagood at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does the valve look like the bottom of what is found on a bar optics?
posted by koolkat at 8:44 AM on January 5, 2012

Koolkat - no, it is a spring-loaded push-up valve.
Misha - It is far too large for a single glass, and the valve at the bottom is spring-loaded. Something must push it in for liquid to come down.
posted by domo at 8:49 AM on January 5, 2012

I found this (I thought) helpful, informative page on identifying fakes that are being sold as absinthe accessories--if you scroll down, you will see some examples of absinthe fountains that are actually perfume dispensers!

This would make an interesting FPP, actually. Hmm...
posted by misha at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It looks like this decanter, but with a push-up valve at the bottom and fancy grape etching and a more floral-looking opening at the top. Same tear-drop shape and it is supported by a metal brace with legs.
posted by domo at 8:57 AM on January 5, 2012

Upon further googling, I think I found it! It is a wine decanter.
posted by domo at 9:01 AM on January 5, 2012

Well, at least you got it for a reasonable price! Sorry it wasn't what you wanted, and hopefully you can get your money back.

Maybe print up the wine decanter listing page and diplomatically suggest that both you and the dealer made an honest mistake, no harm done, but since it isn't an absinthe fountain after all, you'd like your money back. Good luck!
posted by misha at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

and fancy grape etching

Well then - grapes would have been an important clue. Grape and grapevine imagery is usually associated with wine, absinthe being a spirit. You can just say, very nicely, something like: "I'm so sorry - I trusted your description, though something didn't feel right. I went home and researched it to verify, as it's an important gift; and I'm afraid we were both mistaken." Misha is right - having the references and being diplomatic should do the trick. Good luck!
posted by peagood at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd definitely stress that it was a gift with a specific intention and that the recipient won't appreciate it. If the dealer accepts it, you might leave contact information in case he comes across some other absinthe-related collectibles though. It's a nice way to let him/her know that you'll be willing to do business again in the future if you are treated properly.
posted by Hylas at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2012

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