Origin of Names and Packs
Marie - Blue Label
This biscuit has an interesting origin.
From time to time people would suggest that it was a biscuit invented by my grandfather and that he named it after his wife, Marie. At other times I have heard it suggested that “Marie” was first invented in Durban. Neither of these statements is true. But it can be said that the first “Marie” biscuit to be made in South Africa was made in Durban.
It was in the 1850’s that the biscuit industry in Britain was developing and manufacturers were looking around for ideas for different lines to produce. One of these companies was Peek Frean.
In 1885, Alfred (1844 – 1900), the then Duke of Edinburgh who was the fourth child (second son) of Queen Victoria married Marie (1853 – 1920), daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
Peek Frean, a British biscuit manufacturing company invented and produced a new biscuit in honour of Alfred’s Russian bride, and called it “Marie”. It was soon copied by another biscuit manufacturing company, Huntley and Palmer.
It will be noted that the biscuit has a border running around the edge, which is referred to as a “key” pattern. This was quite a common pattern in Russia and can be seen as borders on many of the tiled floors in official buildings.
Many years later Huntley and Palmer and Peek Frean amalgamated and in 1982 the company was bought by Nabisco (formerly National Biscuit Company) of America.
Mr JML Baumann purchased his first biscuit plant in 1883 and erected this in Brickhill
Road, Durban, in 1885. This was probably the first biscuit plant in South Africa. It could only make ship biscuits (known as “hard tack”) and could not make “Marie” biscuits. We have a photograph dated 1898 of his second and more versatile biscuit plant. This plant was purchased in 1895, and in that year he issued a price list of Fancy Biscuits that included “Marie” at one shilling per lb (equivalent in today’s currency to 5c per packet). The biscuits were supplied loose in tins.
Huntley and Palmer had a good export trade to South Africa for their biscuits, the major seller being “Marie” in tins. When Mr Albert Baumann joined the firm (known as L Baumann & Co) in 1910/1911, he took an interest in the production of biscuits and he, together with Mr Otto Baumann, made it their endeavour to improve the Baumann’s “Marie” biscuits and to match the Huntley and Palmer “Marie” biscuit. Countless tests and variations in recipes and baking times were made until finally they achieved their objective.
“Marie” is a generic name and can be used by any biscuit manufacturer in South Africa. In 1982 Bakers Ltd “Blue Label Marie” was the single biggest seller of any biscuit of any type sold in South Africa. “Marie” was also made by all the other biscuit manufacturers.
At one time “Marie” biscuits were marketed under the following brand names:
Checkers Yellow Band
No-Name (ie. Pick ‘n Pay)
Pot O’Gold (OK Bazaars)
Photograph on the left : The 12 different brands producing "Marie" biscuits.
In Britain “Marie” is a very small seller, having been eclipsed by many other lines and is not very easily found. In Australia and New Zealand “Marie” biscuits are not made, the equivalent in Australia being a thick oval biscuits known as “Arrowroot”. I have not seen “Marie” biscuits in America and doubt if they are sold in Canada. There is a company in one of the Scandinavian countries that makes “Oxford Marie”. It can therefore be said that South Africa is the biggest “Marie” market. There are some biscuit sales in Portugal and possibly Spain.
Photograph on left : "Marie" emerging from a modern oven in Durban.
For interest, I am including a verse entitled “The Ubiquitous Marie” which was sent to us in December 1985 by Mrs E de H Usher, a blind person living in Crompton Street, Pinetown.
The Ubiquitous Marie
On looking back I find I’ve known
The MARIE biscuit all my life.
It has not changed, while I have grown
Through childhood days to plain housewife.
Like the daisy, modest and shy
It none-the-less has held its place
Almost unseen by passersby,
It’s sales must top the biscuit race.
Through all the years it has retained
It’s simple flavour, mildly sweet,
While it’s texture has remained
To make a biscuit good to eat.
Bakers win the MARIE award
South Africa’s “Top of the Pops”
Voted “The Best” by general accord
May it always be found in our shops.
MARIE has earned its accolade
For, like the cup that always cheers,
Its simple purity has made
It rank so high amongst its peers.
For babies and toothless old men,
MARIES will do equally well
Given one, two or even ten,
Their smiles seem to say “Gee that’s swell”.
So, dear delectable MARIE
Please continue to refresh us
While at home or on safari,
MARIE snacks are quite delicious
As biscuits come and cookies go,
The MARIE stays on each one’s list
When served as snacks salivas flow,
And Junior holds one in his fist.
What makes MARIE so appealing?
Is its crisp and mild, sweet taste
Which creates that more-ish feeling
So, with MARIE there’s just no waste.