Français article # 139
by Lise Moor 
(click on photos to enlarge image)


It is not rare for collectors and dealers to find French silver artifacts of the 18th century bearing the master silversmith mark repeated three times. When an object bears only the master's mark repeated three times (of the whole series of marks), usually the piece is attributed to a subscriber-master ("Maître-Abonné").
Clavandier, par le Maître Orfèvre Antoine II PARREL, Le PUY en VELAY poinçon de l'orfèvre répété trois fois
Key holder (clavandier), by master
silversmith Antoine II Parrel,
Le Puy en Velay, 18th century
         The silversmith's mark is repeated three times
         (Private Collection)
After a brief review of existing legislation, I will try to demonstrate if this attribution correct, to specify the criteria followed by subscriber-masters in the marking of their works and the meaning of the triple punch of master's mark.


The "Droit de Marque" (tax on works of gold and silver produced in France) was established by the Declaration of Louis XIV of March 31, 1672 [1a] and the Charge and Décharge system was approved on August 5, 1677 [1b].
The Regulation of 30 December 1679 established that "the goldsmiths will be required to mark the articles made of gold and silver and to countermark them on a visible place" [2a]. The countermark, called "poinçon de jurande" testifies the silver fineness of the object.

The control rights were conferred to a "Ferme Générale" and from 1 October 1774 to a "Régie"). The Ordinance of July 22, 1681 obliged the silversmith, after the apposition of the "poinçon de jurande", to present the object (till in raw state) to the "Ferme Générale" to obtain the "poinçon de charge". This proceeding obliged the silversmith to represent to the "Ferme Générale" the finished object to obtain the "poinçon de décharge" after the payment of the fees [2b].

In the towns where the "jurande" was not present, the silversmiths were required to apply this duty to the offices of nearby towns [2c].

Silver pieces manufactured in the French Kingdom between 1677 and 1791 requested the presence of four different marks, while in the provinces only three marks were present ("communauté", "reconnaissance" and master). Notwithstanding these provisions have never been expressly revoked, we find pieces (approximately dated to the period of activity of the silversmith) bearing the maker's mark repeated three times. These items are usually attributed to "Subscribers Masters".

These were silversmiths residing in towns where the "jurande" or the "Bureau de la Marque" were not present, imposing costly and dangerous journeys for the "Charge" and "Décharge" of their artifacts. In these cases they could contract with the "Ferme Générale" an annual subscription fee based on their estimated production.

There were no "Subscribers Masters" residing in Paris, nor in the recently annexed provinces, as they were not subject to the payment of the fee.

I will try to clarify the situation of these "Subscribers Masters" in the light of some ancient documents.

In some cases the subscription agreement specified that the pieces were subject to marking in accordance with the regulations of "charge" and "décharge".
- from 1/10/1684 to 30/9/1689, Sulpice Symon entered in the "sous-ferme" of Avallon, making a subscription agreement with the silversmiths for the payment of the fee and instructing his clerk for the marking of silver pieces. [3a].
- from 1698 to 1703, in Macon and Bourg-en-Bresse, from 1744 to 1780 in Dijon where there was a "jurande", the "Subscriber Masters" were obliged to mark their works with "charge" and "décharge" marks. [4a].
- on July 1, 1739, the "sous-fermier" of the town of Laon adopted two different marks, depending on whether or not the silversmiths were "Subscribers" [15a].


large works
Fleur de lys crowned
old works
heart surrounded by three fleurs de lys
small works
for items that can not bear the mark
royal sceptre with fleur de lys
- there were towns where to entire "Communauté" had a subscription agreement. In such cases the "Communauté" often used a special mark replacing those of the "Fermier".
- one of the oldest subscription agreement (signed in Bourges, July 19, 1673) stated that the punch (representing a sheep) was given to Charles Bérault for delivering to the silversmiths for the marking of their works [14b].
- at the end of the subscription period running from 1674 to 1676, the silversmiths applied for the "décharge" of their works marked with the "charge" mark "Y over a fleur de lys" [14c].
- from 1 October 1680 Troyes' silversmiths stipulated a six years subscription agreement. To mark their works they used a "fleur de lys with S" mark [16a] (in 1679 Troyes' mint was transferred to Reims).
- with the subscription agreement signed on December 21, 1694 the silversmiths were exempted from verification of their work. They were requested to use a mark with "D surmounted by two fleur de lys, a point and a crown" [16b]. The silversmiths were requested to return the punch at the termination of the agreement.
Poinçon confié aux Maîtres Abonnés de TROYES
Mark attributed to "Subscriber Masters" from January 1, 1695 to September 1697 (mark described by S. Brault-Lerch)
On April 6, 1724, during a trial, the silversmith Claude Testelette says that he is exempted to keep records of his activity as he is a "Subscriber Master" [14d] - The April 18, 1777 sentence of the Cour des Aides cerifies that Chaumont "Subscriber Master" Julien Alaterre marked his works with a special punch which replaced the Fermier "décharge" mark [2h] (mark is not described).
- In October 1750, the "Fermier Général" Julian Bertha registered the firs mark for "Subscribers Masters", "tourteau en abîme, a star below" [1c]. This mark has been impressed in 1772 by Jean-Jacques Prevost on the copper table of the "Cour des Monnaies" by Jean-Jacques Prevost in 1772, then by Alaterre in 1768 and disappeared (not replaced) with the Régie of Fouache (I never saw an object with this mark).

Today, we are accustomed to attribute to "Subscriber Masters" the works bearing a triple maker's mark. Is this practice justified?

The examination of some contract of subscription provides some answers.

- Following a trial about some pieces received back, Henry Briet, silversmith in Carcassonne, on June 21, 1681 benefits of this measure: the "sub-tenant" is not entitled to inspect his works against the payment of a flat annual fee (subscription) of thirty "livres", payable quarterly, in advance of three months in three months starting from the following July 1. Thereafter, Briet can mark his works as he prefers [5a].
- On May 10, 1726, in Albi, Larroque grants a six year subscription (commencing from 1 October 1725) for silver items manufactured by Albi silversmiths..... through this accord Albi silversmiths are allowed to manufacture and sell their artifacts bearing only the maker's marks [6a].
couverte et son présentoir, Maître Orfèvre Jean II VIEUSSEUX Poinçon de reconnaissance de la ville d'ALBI et poinçon du Maître Orfèvre
  covered "ecuelle" and its plate,
  silversmith Jean II Viesseux, circa   1740
     "Poinçon de reconnaissance" of Albi
     and maker's mark (Bernard de Leye Collection)
- Etienne Ridereau holder from 1 July 1684 of the "droit de seigneuriage" attributes his right for the town of Lectoure to Gerges I Groen (the only silversmith active in the town). With a document signed in Auch on February 9, 1685, Groen receives the "poinçon de Ferme" that he will apply itself on the works produced in his shop. The fee to pay to the "Fermier" will be of three "livres" for ounce of gold and two "livres" for ounce of silver.
in consequence of this accord (lasting three years and half, as the appointment of "Fermier Général" Ridereau), Groen receives his "poinçon de Ferme" from the "sous-fermier" Jaunac. The punch, to be returned at the end of the contract, bears a crowned L... [6c].
- On July 6, 1726, in Lectoure, Antoine Groen, son of George, signs a subscription agreement for the payment of the fee of gold and silver items he will manufacture in Lectoure .... accordingly he will be allowed to punch his artifacts only with his maker's mark [6b].

These examples demonstrate that "Subscriber Masters" benefit of exceptions to the Regulations of 1679.
We may also find items with one or more maker's marks of a "Subscriber Masters" bearing only the "poinçon de contremarque du Garde". In most cases these pieces were manufactured by travelling silversmiths working in town where the "jurande" had a subscription agreement, or, as in the case of Sens, the entire "communauté" had a subscription agreement from 1687 to 1768.
Timbale à bordure de godrons, le corps appliqué de lambrequins par François Isaac BALDUC, SENS Poinçon de Maître Orfèvre deux fois et jurande
Beaker made by François Isaac Balduc,
Sens, 1763-1768
         Maker's and "jurande"marks.
         Sale Christie's Paris, 21 June 2006 n°26.
Note however that in Marseille, in absence of any subscription, the maker's mark was always punched twice (accompanied, from 1779, by the "poinçon de jurande"). The Louis XVI's decree of April 7, 1778 exempted Marseille silversmiths from the payment of the fee. Therefore, the marks of "charge" and "décharge" were omitted, maintaining only the mark of "jurande" to attest the silver fineness [18].

Another extreme case is for Puy, where the fees were paid in Montpellier instead of in Riom (place of the "juridiction des Monnaies"). In 1739 Blanc and Parrel made a subscription agreement with the "Fermier" of Montpellier [5b]. We know a key holder bearing a triple maker's mark of Antoine II Parrel (AP crowned) and a coffee pot of Cassan.
poinçon AP couronné d'Antoine II PARREL répété trois fois
Crowned AP mark of Antoine II Parrel, repeated three times
The subscription agreement was subject to withdraw at the renewal of the "Fermier Général". This was at the origin of many disputes about the payment of fees for pieces previously made but still unsold at the entrance of the new "Fermier".

The 1679 Regulations forbade the silversmiths from holding or exposing for sale pieces lacking of mandatory marks under penalty of confiscation and a 3000 "livres" fine.".

These disputes were usually resolved in favour of the new "Fermier" as the subscription was restricted to objects made and sold before withdrawal of the contract. The silversmiths were obliged to pay the fee, but no penalty was imposed for the absence of the "poinçons de la Marque".

These cases are subject, among others, of the "Arrêt du Conseil" of 8/11/1681 for silversmiths of Clermont in Auvergne, that of 15/1/1733 for silversmiths of Saint-Germain in Laye and the "Arrêt du Conseil d'Etat du Roi" of 7/11/1769 for those of Pontoise [2c].

The "Arrêt du Conseil" of 01/10/1697 on Reims, Troyes and other towns well illustrate these situations:

- Vanier ("Fermier") not intending to renew the subscription agreement requested to punch with his mark and to be paid for pieces ready for sale in silversmiths' workshops. The silversmith refused to pay as these pieces were manufactured in the period covered by the subscription agreement and were exempted from the marking with the "poinçon de charge" and the "poinçon de décharge".
- The sentence of 15 June 1697 declared Vanier's request inadmissible. The "Fermier" applied to the King. The Sovereign did not reversed the sentence issued in Reims, admitted the use of only the maker's mark ordering to pay to Varnier, until September 1697, the fees related to the old subscription agreements. Vanier was authorized to visit silversmiths' houses and workshops, to make inventory of old and new pieces and to punch new pieces with his mark. For new pieces Vanier could choose to renounce to apply the fee [2f].

These cases, repeated throughout the century in various towns, demonstrate that the "Subscriber Masters" were dispensed from the use of the "poinçons de la Marque" in their pieces.
Court sentences constantly confirm that silversmiths with an individual contract or working in a town where was active a collective subscription were exempted from the use of the "poinçon de charge" and the "décharge". They were exempted also to record purchases and sales and to support the "Gardes" and the "Sous-Fermiers".
The King expressed on the matter in a clear and unquestionable way only with the decree of 8 December 1772 regarding the silversmiths of Rennes that had a subscription agreement signed on April, 1770. In a conflict between Francis Joseph Nicolas Girard, master silversmith, and Delavaux, "Sous-Fermier" of the "Généralité de Bretagne" the King confirmed the application of the subscription agreement exempting Delevaux from marking of silver items with the "poinçon de charge" and of "décharge" [2g].
This decree was followed by the "Arrêt du Conseil" of 19 January 1773 which formalized and generalized this ancient custom. Its content was: A silversmith having a subscription agreement at expiration of his contract will pay to the new "Fermier" the fees on the unsold pieces present in his workshop and without the "poinçon de décharge" of the ceased "Fermier".
This judgement reforms one of the "Cour des Aides" of Paris who had decided otherwise, in favour of the silversmiths of Poitiers.

NOTE: The "Fermier" was not liable to punch the pieces made by the "Subscriber silversmiths" (as determined by the previous decree). At the end of his subscription agreement the silversmith was obliged to pay the fees on finished pieces present in workshop. Instead, these pieces would be exempted if the "Fermier" would not have refused to mark them his "poinçon de décharge" [2j].
In 1788, Lecain wrote in a chapter of the "Encyclopédie Raisonnée" that the silversmiths could make a subscription agreement with the "Fermier" or the "Régisseur". In this case they were exempted to apply their "poinçon de charge" and of "décharge" on silversmiths' pieces [8].

Louis Carre reports an indication of this type is already included in the "Déclaration du Roi" of January 26, 1749. But this is evident error, as there is no mention of the "Subscriber silversmiths" [2h].
I was unable to examine personally all the manuscripts, but the archival references are reported on the books mentioned below, written by reputable scholars.

1. BIMBENET PRIVAT M. La datation de l'orfèvrerie parisienne sous l’Ancien Régime, Paris, Musées 1995 a) p. 52, b) p. 56, c) p. 131.
2. POULLIN de VIEVILLE N. Code de l'Orfèvrerie, à Paris chez KNAEPEN 1785 a) p.16, b) p. 35, c) p. 38, d) p. 42, e) p. 342, f) p. 67, g) p.373, h) p. 477, i) p. 36, j) p. 383
3. CHASSEY, Les Orfèvres de l'Yonne, Somogy, Paris 2003, p. 23.
4. CHASSEY A. de, Les Orfèvres de Bourgogne, Paris, Edition du Patrimoine 1999 a) p. 19, b) p. 20, c) p.31, d) p. 229.
5. THUILE J., L'orfèvrerie en Languedoc, Répertoire des Orfèvres A à C. T. & F. SCHMIED Paris, 1969, a) p.331, b) p. 259.
6. THUILE J. L'orfèvrerie en Languedoc, II La Généralité de Toulouse, Causse, Montpellier, 1968 a) p. 150, b) p. 151, c) p. 445
7. CASSAN C.G., Les Orfèvres de l'Auvergne, de Nobele, Paris 1984, p.12.
8. LEKAIN, Législation concernant les poinçons des orfèvres in Encyclopédie Méthodique des Arts et Métiers Mécaniques, Tome V, Paris Liège, 1788, p. 413 et suivantes.
9. CASSAN C.G. Les Orfèvres de Lorraine et de Sedan, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1994, pp. 79 et 176.
10. BOIVIN J., Les anciens orfèvres et leurs poinçons, Paris, J. Boivin, 1925, p. 367.
11. Les Orfèvres d'Orléans, Somogy Editions d’Art, Paris, 2003, a) p. 108, b) p. 96.
12. MUEL F. et coll. Les Orfèvres de Nantes, Cahiers de l'Inventaire n°18, 1989, a) p.287, b) p. 326.
13. BRAULT LERCH Solange, Les orfèvres de Franche-Comté, Droz, Genève 1976, a) p. 419-471, b) p.582.
14. VERLET REAUBOURG Nicole, Les Orfèvres de Bourges, DROZ, Genève 1977, a) p. 38, b) p. 136, c) p. 137. d) p. 393
15. CARRE L., Les poinçons de l’Orfèvrerie Française, Paris, chez Louis Carré, 1928, a) p. 276, b) p.80
16. BRAULT LERCH S., Les orfèvres de Troyes, Droz – Genève 1986, a) p.34, b) p. 37 et 314.
17. MOOR L. L’orfèvrerie civile de la jurande de Tours et ses poinçons au 18ème siècle (en préparation)
18. L’orfèvrerie civile en Provence au 18ème siècle, p.19, Ed. A. Barthélémy 2005.


- Figures A, B, : Vincent MARTIN
- Figure C : Galerie Bernard de LEYE
- Figure D : Christie’s

- 2010 -