The Soulzmatt mineral springs are located in the Alsace region of France near its border with Germany and Switzerland. Written records of the springs date back to 1272 and the chronicles of a Franciscan monk named Tschamser de Thann. Visitors began enjoying its thermal baths sometime in the early 1600’s when spa facilities began to develop around the springs.
This late 1700’s/early 1800’s description of the springs appeared in an 1867 document entitled “Description Geologique et Mineralogique du Department Du Haut-Rain” (Geological and Mineralogical description of the Haut-Rain Department).
These springs sprung up at the southern foot of the Vosges sandstone mountain of Heidenberg, upstream from the village of Soultzmatt. Previously, in 1779 until 1838, according to Dr. Palm, they were the number of six gathered on a very small space.They (appeared) as pools in stone, the overflow of which flowed into the neighboring river. These sources were designated by the numbers and the following names: 1. acidule source (Sauerwasser); 2. copper source (Kupferwasser); 3. sulphurous spring (Schwefelwasser); 4. purgative source (Purgirwasser); 5. source of money (Silberwasser); 6. source of gold (Goldwasser). But all these waters held the same properties and were of the same nature…
Visited primarily by the locals for its curative effects, in 1839 Louis Nessel acquired the site and under his management it ultimately developed into a destination for those seeking cures from all over Europe. According to an 1888 Travel Guide entitled, “A Travers Les Vosges,” (Through the Vosges) by Fritz Ehrenberg:
The following illnesses have been cured by drinking or bathing the waters of the Nessel spring: Inflammation, nervousness in the stomach, liver, kidneys, bladder, and respiratory organs; inflammatory rheumatism, swollen joint, female diseases, bronchitis…
This description of the Soultzmatt spa and its surroundings during Nessel’s ownership was included in an 1853 publication called “Des eaux gazeuses alkalines de Soultzmatt” (Soultzmatt Alkaline Carbonated Waters).
A few hundred of steps to the west of this town (Soultzmatt), the valley narrows between two mountains that rise and seem to defend the entrance. These two opposite mountains, which rise, so to speak, side by side, and which, by the equality of their proportions and the symmetry of their forms, appear as two gigantic twins, seem to have received two very different consecrations in the past. One to the north, is Heidenberg, or mountain of the Gentiles, the other, covering the valley to the south, bears the name of Gros pfingtsberg , mountain of the Pentacost.
At the foot of these two mountains, on a narrow horizontal space which covers the junction of their bases, the establishment of the baths rises solitary at the bottom of the valley and detaches its white walls on a magnificent curtain of greenery.
This sketch included in Fritz Ehrenberg’s 1888 travel guide adds the visual perspective to this elegant verbal description.
The 1853 publication went on to describe the spa complex.
The buildings that compose it extend on the four sides of a rectangular courtyard.
Those of the north are dedicated to the bath houses and cover the basins of the sources.
On the opposite side is the main building, it is wide spacious and convenient, its exposure to the South is most favorable to the sick. A large dining room and elegant living room occupy the grounds.
To the east, an avenue of tall and bushy trees announces and seems to veil this delicious retreat.
In the west, the center of a well distributed garden, wild vines entwining their vigorous vines form a green and shady gallery around the pool with a jet of water, which keeps this place pleasantly cool.
On December 1, 1853, at around the same time this description was written, an imperial decree authorized the bottling and marketing of Soultzmatt water under the name Source Nessel. According to an inventory of the “Vosages Valleys of the Haut-Rhin” found on the French website grandest.fr., as early as 1855 Nessel sold 55,000 bottles of his mineral water. This description of the Nessel sources, now numbering eleven, focused on the single source used for bottling. It appeared in an 1859 publication called “Des principales faux minerales de’l Europe” (Of the Main Mineral Waters of Europe)
The sources are eleven, six old and five new. The most carbonated, the main source, is used exclusively as a drink, and only supplies the exported water. It is therefore necessary to take special care of it, all the others being used for external use.
Main Source – In front of the corridor door, at the end of the courtyard of the establishment is the source, whose tap, 1 centimeter in diameter at its opening, is sealed 20 centimeters from the paving at the bottom of the wall of the part intended for the various bottling jobs. We arrive at the source praetorium, 1 meter 60 centimeters below the ground, through a glass door opening onto a sort of vestibule 3 meters long by 2 meters wide, which leads to a stone staircase of nine steps. A wooden grid painted green surrounds the courtroom area, 2 meters long by 1 meter wide, and supports a shelf with compartments for drinkers’ glasses.
The flow of the source is only 1 liter three quarters per minute, 98 liters per hour, or 2,352 liters per day. It is collected at times when the refreshment bar is not frequented, in bottles consumed in the surroundings, and especially in the many countries where there are deposits.
The water is clear, limpid, transparent, colorless, and reveals by its taste and its smell the large quantity of dissolved and free carbonic acid gas with which it is charged, and which soon settles in numerous and shiny pearls on the walls of the glass. It’s flavor is fresh, sour, very pleasant; it is also used as a drink during meals.
The Vosages Valleys’ inventory went on to say that in order to meet growing demand Nessel undertook collection work on the other side of the road at the foot of the Heidenberg rocks such that by the mid 1860’s he was selling 400,000 bottles annually.
When Louis Nessel passed away in 1875, he was succeeded by his son Jacques. By this time they had established a business relationship with Antoine Brun, forming Nessel, Brun et Cie. This advertisement for their waters appeared in several 1877 issues of a publication entitled “Gazette hebdomadaire de medicine et de chirugie” (Weekly Gazette of Medicine and Surgery).
Translated (courtesy of Google Translate), it reads :
The mineral source to which the just reputation of Soultzmatt waters is due is that of baths belonging to Messrs. Nessel and Brun. More Carbonated than the water sold under the sole name of Soultzmatt, it can be recognized by the following brands: “Nessel,” “Soultzatt Mineral Water,” and “Soultzatt Carbonated Alkaline Water,” at the bottom of the cork in the glass on the tar.
The bottle is sold for 60c. the bottle taken back for 15c. at the depot 18 Rue de Choisent, Lescun house, in pharmacies and depots. Require the brand.
In 1891 the facility was partially destroyed by fire after which it was purchased and rebuilt by Joseph Brun who, along with his sisters operated it under the name Brun & Cie.
This entry in an 1897 English publication entitled “Health Resorts Of Europe – A Guide to Mineral Springs, Climates, Mountain and Sea Side Stations of Europe,” by Thomas Linn, M.D., was very complimentary of the Brun & Cie product. By this time the Nessel Spring, through its various catchments was producing 15,000 quarts per day.
These bi-carbonate of soda, gaseous, alkaline digestive waters, are found in Haute Alsace, near Colmar, and were declared of public utility by the French Government in 1865. The Nessel Spring, from which they come, gives now over 15,000 quarts of the water per day, and its chemical analysis shows that it is of great purity and highly charged with carbonic acid gas; this gas is natural to the spring and is not added to the water in bottles, as is the case in many table waters.
From personal experience we can state that these waters are without a rival as Table Waters, and they are the most agreeable and hygienic that we have tasted, having nearly any metallic principles in them; this absence of iron makes them eminently digestive, and allows of their perfect conservation in bottles.
The 1904 edition of the same publication, “Health Resorts of Europe,” made it clear it was still being touted as a cure as well.
Indications. – Chronic inflammatory troubles of the stomach; nervous diseases. Very diuretic, and given in liver, kidney and bladder troubles, gout, rheumatism.
Brun & Cie was liquidated in 1921, replaced by the Societe des Eau Minerale de Soultzmatt (Soultzmatt Mineral Water Company). Around this time, the company drilled new wells and after adding carbon dioxide marketed a new product under the name Lisbeth. This place mat recently offered for sale on the internet highlighted their Lisbeth Carbonated Water as well as their Nessel Mineral Water.
Again thanks to Google Translate:
Nessel Natural Mineral Water
Nessel mineral waters are indicated in disorders of the stomach, liver intestines, kidneys and bladder.
Lisbeth Carbonated Table Water
The most pure, the most pleasant of table water which keeps gas better.
Today a company called “Sources De Soultzmatt” continues to sell sparkling water under the Lisbeth name and mineral water under the Nessel name.
According to the company’s web site, their products are currently exported to the United States as well as Canada, Australia and several European countries (United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Holand, Greece, Poland…).
The bottle I found was mouth blown in a turn mold and includes a a blob seal exhibiting one of the trademarks presented in the 1877 advertisement.
Recognizing it was blown in a turn mold, I suspect it was made sometime around the turn of the century after Brun & Cie was established.
Recognizing that I found this bottle on Long Island, N.Y. it’s likely that Nessel mineral water was being exported to the United States by the turn of the 20th century and possibly earlier. That being said, I can’t identify any specific company as their U. S. agent, nor can I find any reference to their mineral water in American medical publications or general magazine and newspaper advertisements. So, I suspect their U. S. imports were minimal, probably limited to local retailers.