A SMALL COLLECTION OF ANTIQUE SILVER
AND OBJECTS OF VERTU

an article of Robert Massart,
pour
ASCAS - Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
a small collection of antique silver and objects of vertu
(click on photos to enlarge image)
FRENCH INVENTORY MARKS (POINÇONS DE RECENSE)
FROM 1722 TO 1984




INTRODUCTION
Everyone interested in antique silver knows that the French system of marking silver articles is quite intricate and amongst the many punches in use, a specific mark, the inventory or census mark (poinçons de recense), is often a source of misinterpretation.
This article develops the reasons for which the 'poinçons de recense' were created, describes their history and provides an illustrated description of them.
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Fraud is of all time and, in order to counter it, the French government always fought against it by introducing more sophisticated defense systems. Particularly silversmithing did not escape from fraud, theft of hallmarks, imitations and forgery. In order to avert this, and because marks had been counterfeited, the government, during the "Ancien Régime", created in 1722 the inventory mark and organised the first free census.
Since that date inventory means that, after a certain date, all preceding marks lose their value and all articles need new marks.
'Recenser' (inventorying or verification), means an official counting of golden and silver articles before they are sold.

 
Poinçons de recense 1722-1789
Inventory marks for Paris during the "Ancien Régime"

In 1789 and later in 1791, the law Le Chapelier (see note 1), banned guilds and organizations, and with them the control of precious metals, corresponding marks and taxes. The production of silver objects became archaic and, in absence of any control, some silversmiths manufactured articles of inferior quality.
Isaac-René-Guy Le Chapelier
Isaac-René-Guy Le Chapelier

Trying to find a solution for this situation, the Association of Gold and Silversmiths decided to create two hallmarks "Greek woman's head". Both marks however had no official value as guarantee.
 

The 15 Vendémiaire year V (6 October 1795) the Counsel of Five Hundred (see note 2) decided to express the fineness of silver in thousands. Two marks were created: a boar's head for a fineness of 950 thousands and a horse head for a fineness of 843 thousands.

1798 - 1809



On the initiative of the Directory (see note 3) the law of 19 Brumaire year VI (9 November 1797) created the Guarantee Directory and replaced the Jurandes, the communities and other corporations, by guarantee offices.
After the revolution, the government ordered that an inventory mark should be added to all articles marked during the "Ancien Régime".
Several inventories (recenses) followed each other, of which the law of Brumaire was the first. This law stipulates: "The inventory mark will be applied by the public authorities when it is necessary to prevent the result of any misdoing of the guarantee or other marks. Simultaneously with the new marks which will be stamped, an inventory mark will be applied on previous articles, certifying thereby the ratification of the fineness and payment of the taxes. "
The same law clarifies: "The makers of false marks, and those who use them, will be condemned to ten years of incarceration and laid in irons, and their articles confiscated."
In the case of fraudulent use, theft or counterfeit of marks, a verification was organised. Once the fraud recognised, all the articles on the market were presented to the guarantee offices and, after control of the marks, they were punched with the inventory mark. The old mark traces ceased to be legal, after which a new series of marks was established. The punching of the inventory mark was free of charges when the articles were legally marked and when the application was performed within the prescribed delay defined by the law. Articles having other marks or marks worn by use or polishing had to be presented to the guarantee office, after which the silversmith had to pay the taxes, otherwise the articles were destroyed.
 
Large articles - Liberty head (Paris)
Large articles - Liberty head (Departments)
1798 - 1809 Paris large articles guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 1798 - 1809 large articles Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/1000
The mark represents a girl's head in profile with a Phrygian (see note 4) cap, the look facing right. The mark is surrounded by a vertical oval outline.
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
The mark represents a girl's head in profile with a Phrygian cap, the look facing left.
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
 
Small articles - Liberty head (Paris)
Small articles - Liberty head (Departments)
1798 - 1809 small articles Paris guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 1798 - 1809 small articles Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/100
The mark represents a girl's head in profile with a Phrygian cap, the look facing left. The mark is surrounded by a vertical oval outline
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
The mark represents a girl's head in profile with a Phrygian cap, the look facing right
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000

 

1809 - 1819

The second general (see note 5) inventory occurred on 7 July 1809. This law declares: "the new guarantee hallmarks for articles manufactured in gold or silver, enforced by decree of the imperial law of 11 Prairial year II (30 May 1794), will exclusively be handled by the guarantee offices, starting 1 September 1809".
 
Large articles - Cérès head (Paris)
Large articles - Head of Mercury (Departments)
1809 - 1819 large articles Paris guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 1809 - 1819 large articles Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/1000
Cérès, in profile the look facing left.
Roman goddess of agriculture, harvests and fecundity.
The mark is surrounded by a vertical oval outline.
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
Head of Mercury in profile, wearing a winged helmet.
Roman god of commerce, travel and messenger of the other gods
The mark is surrounded by a triangular shape with curved corners
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
 
Medium articles - Right ear (Paris)
Medium articles - Eagle's head (Departments)
1809 - 1819 Medium articles Paris guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 1809 - 1819 Medium articles Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/1000
A right ear
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
Eagle's head, with open beak, in profile, with the look facing left
An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
 
Small articles - Right hand pointing left (Paris)
Small articles - Eye (Departments)
1809 - 1819 small articles Paris guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 1809 - 1819 small articles Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/1000
Right hand, in profile, with the fingers pointing to the left. An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000
An eye in profile, with the look facing right. An article with this mark guarantees a fineness of at least 800/1000


 

1819 - 1838

A third general inventory became effective by Royal ordinances of 22 October 1817 and 1 July 1818 and the different hallmarks remained in use from 16 August till 9 May 1838. This inventory introduced a new mark, the bigorne or countermark.
 
Large Bigorne (Paris)                Large Bigorne (Departments)
1819 - 1838: large articles Paris and Departments guarantee mark fineness 800/1000 .
 
Medium Bigorne (Paris)                Medium Bigorne (Departments)

Less insects as for the large bigorne, but identical for Paris and Departments
 
Small Bigorne (Paris)
Small Bigorne
(Paris and Departments)
Small Bigorne (Departments)
1819 - 1838: small articles Paris 1819 - 1838: small articles Paris and Departments 1819 - 1838: small articles Departments
Triangles and lozenges with linear designs and letters
 

16 August 1819 - 16 November 1819

Large articles - Fleur de lys (Paris)
Large articles - Greyhound (Departments)
16 August 1819 -  16 November 1819: Large articles - Fleur de lys (Paris) 16 August 1819 -  16 November 1819: Large articles - Greyhound (Departments)
Fleur de lys surrounded by a vertical oval outline
Greyhound with the look facing right, surrounded by a horizontal oval outline. A different symbol for each city
 
Small articles - Chickweed flower (Paris)
Small articles - different hallmarks (Divisions)
16 August 1819 -  16 November 1819: Small articles - Chickweed flower (Paris) 16 August 1819 -  16 November 1819: Small articles - different hallmarks (Divisions)
Chickweed flower


 
The departments are grouped in divisions
North: Coffee pot / North-East: Tower / East: Chalice / South-East: Beaker / South: Bell / South-West: Watering-can / West: Vessel / North-West: Guitar / Center: Book
 

1822 - 1838

Due to the discovery in many French cities of a great number of articles with false marks (primarily on foreign watches), an ordinance of 19 September 1821 created special marks for the clock and watch industry, and ordered a fourth partial (see note 6) inventory which remained applicable until 1 May 1822.
The crayfish mark remained applicable until 9 May 1838 to guarantee fineness.
 
Clocks and watches - Crayfish (Paris)
Clocks and watches - Crayfish (Department)
1822 -  1838: Clocks and watches - Crayfish (Paris) 1822 -  1838: Clocks and watches - Crayfish  (Department)
Crayfish facing left with a 'différent' for each assay office under it (P for Paris and a number for the departments, e.g. '23' for Montbéliard assay office), surrounded by a horizontal oval outline,
 

1838

By ordinances of 30 June 1835 and 7 April 1838, the inventory marks are the giraffe head for large articles and the bulldog head for small articles. The design of the marks is identical for Paris and the departments apart from the specific symbol for each assay office, named 'différent'.
 
Large articles - Giraffe head (Paris)
Large articles - Giraffe head (Departments)
1838: Large articles - Giraffe head (Paris) 1838: Large articles - Giraffe head (Departments)
 
Small articles - Bulldog head (Paris)
Small articles - Bulldog head (Departments)
1838: Small articles - Bulldog head (Paris) 1838: Small articles - Bulldog head (Departments)


 

1838 - 1984

A fifth general inventory of 7 April 1838 introduced several modifications, such as new more complex bigornes and replacement of the totality of hallmarks. The law clarifies: "The fineness and the guarantee office mark are replaced by one unique mark which will bear a particular symbol for each office." This particular symbol is named 'a différent' and the unique hallmark 'Minerve'.
 
Bigorne (Paris)
Bigorne (Departments)
1838 - 1984: Bigorne (Paris) 1838 - 1984: Bigorne (Departments)
Countermark at the reverse of the guarantee mark - Insects are represented in profile for Paris and in bird's eye view for the departments


APPENDIXES
- Ordinances of the King
- Tableau des poinçons dont l'emploi est prescrit par l'ordonnance du 7 avril 1838 (Table of marks whose application is prescribed by the ordinance of 7 April 1838)


ENDNOTES
note 1: Isaac-René-Guy Le Chapelier was a French politician, born 12 June 1754 at Rennes, and beheaded by the guillotine in Paris on 22 April 1794.
note 2: The Council of Five Hundred was the lower house of the legislature of France during the period known as Directory, from 22 August 1795 until 9 November 1799.
note 3: The Directory (French: Directoire) was the government of France operating from 22 November 1795 until 9 November 1799 and overthrown by Napoleon in 1799.
note 4: A Phrygian cap, sometimes called liberty cap, is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward. In artistic representations it signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty.
note 5: General inventory: control of all the articles before they are sold.
note 6: Partial inventory: limited to one category of articles.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

- International Hallmarks on Silver collected by Tardy - 2005 reprint
- Dictionnaire des poinçons de fabricants d'ouvrages d'or et d'argent, Paris 1838-1875 - Catherine Arminjon, James Beaupuis, Michèle Bilimoff - 1994
- Poinçons des ouvrages d'or et d'argent, Lyon 1798-1940 - Maryannick Chalabi, Marie-Reine Jazé-Charvolin - 1993
- L'argent massif en France et le poinçon de bigorne - Robert Massart - 2011
- Recueil critique de jurisprudence et de législation, M. Dalloz - 1838


Robert Massart
- 2015 -
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