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tline3open  Got Ants!

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Author Topic:   Got Ants!
nihontochicken

Posts: 289
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 04-21-2004 09:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nihontochicken     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, summer is not yet here, but I've got ants already! Okay, well, not the little sugar thieves, but the hallmark variety. Though my interest is primarily American and British silver, I like picking up nice Continental pieces "if the price is right" (but don't have much support in texts). Soooo, I just got a nice French fiddle and thread ladle, marked "JB LANDRY" over some device within a lozenge, plus Minerva #1, and on the reverse of the Minerva, a chevron over ants. The ants are, of course, a bigorne stamp, begun in 1838, I believe. My question is this: is there any rhyme or reason as to which portion of the huge bigorne die is stamped on a particular piece? Do certain insects match a date, maker, town, type of item, phase of the moon, or ??? Or was the insect type chosen based only on the whim of the person doing the stamping that particular day? Also, when were the bigorne stamps discontinued? Finally, if anyone has info on JB LANDRY (typically French name, non?) off the top of the head, I'd appreciate hearing. Thanks!

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blakstone
unregistered
iconnumber posted 04-22-2004 10:17 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are three sizes of bignorne: large, medium and small, with the small one having both a rounded and a flat end. They are engraved with, respectively, 16, 13, 17 (rounded end) and 21 (flat end) bands, each band depicting a different insect. There is no rhyme or reason to the placement of a piece on the bignorne, nor to which band of insect is depicted; the assayer merely uses whichever bignorne best suits the size of the item and places it where it will be best marked and least misshaped when struck. The purpose of these marks, of course, is a guarantee against forgery: counterfeiters might be able to copy the MInerva mark, but getting the opposing bignorne mark to look right requires the skill of the engravers at the French mint. (I might mention, too, that the bignorne is not exactly huge: the insect engraved flat surface of the small one is barely an inch long; the rounded end is even smaller! )

You can tell one thing from bignorne marks, though. The Paris assay office uses bignornes with the insects seen in profile, i.e. from the side. All the provincial offices use identical bignornes, but theirs have the bugs seen from above, i.e. a bird's eye view. Thus, even if you can't make out the Minerva mark, the bignorne mark will tell you if it's Parisian or provincial. To my knowledge, bignornes are still in use in all French assay offices and have never been discontinued. (It should be noted that entirely different - but still buggy - bignornes were used 1819-1838)

Also, Jean-Baptise Denis Landry was a Parisian silversmith who entered his mark on 20 Jan 1846. I have no record of when it was cancelled, but presumably he worked for 15-20 years thereafter. His shop was at at 71 quai d'Horloge. His official lozenge-shaped mark was the initals "JL" above a human foot. If that's the mark within the lozenge, then he (or his shop) made it. If not, then someone else made it and he merely retailed it.

Hope this helps!

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nihontochicken

Posts: 289
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 04-23-2004 12:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for nihontochicken     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you again, blakstone! Maybe I should start paying you a retainer! (Only kidding!!!) It is interesting that the portion of the "big(n)orne" (only one "n" per Tardy) used on a given item was at random depending on the whim of the stamper. On my example, the Minerva mark is extremely deep, but, due to the relative surface areas, the bigorne ants are quite shallow, and would likely have been mostly obliterated had this ladle had normal polishing wear commensurate with age (luckily, it is near pristine). I also note that this stamp, as well as the maker's mark and, particularly, the Minerva stamp, are quite detailed for such small stamps, making Brit stamps seem somewhat crude in comparison. It is interesting to imagine that counterfeitors were successful enough to replicate the detailed Minerva stamp such that the bigorne counterstamp was required to verify the authenticity of the Minerva stamp! OTOH, while this ladle is quite robust and well shaped in general, the fine finishing details are not up to snuff in comparison to typically good Brit work. My ants are indeed in side profile, signifying Parisian work per your post. The maker's mark is "JB" over "LANDRY" over <device> within the lozenge, which device you indicate is a foot. This is likely what it is (I had guessed maybe half a dog bone!). Thanks again for your response, blakstone, I appreciate your time and expertise.

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labarbedor

Posts: 353
Registered: Jun 2002

iconnumber posted 05-02-2004 12:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for labarbedor     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In fact the mark you have is Landry, but it was first used in 1833 ( he started with another mark in 1826). He evidently died in 1856 when his mark was removed and his widow registered hers.
Maurice

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blakstone
unregistered
iconnumber posted 05-06-2004 02:45 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the correction; I was focusing on the Minerva mark and didn't bother checking pre-1838 marks. Presumably the 1846 mark I mentioned was cancelled upon Landry's death as well.

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t-man-nc

Posts: 327
Registered: Mar 2000

iconnumber posted 05-08-2004 09:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for t-man-nc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On some of the french silver I have recently acquired, there is indeed what appears to be several different shapes that each contain an insect. These marks are however on the front of the spoon handle just above the bowl. Is this normal to have these marks on the front rather than on the reverse with the other hallmarks...

"Smaug"

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nihontochicken

Posts: 289
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 05-08-2004 11:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nihontochicken     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, the bigorne mark should be exactly opposite the Minerva mark, as I understand. The piece is placed top-down on a portion of the large bigorne stamp, and then the Minerva stamp is placed on the other side, and when struck, the two stamps are made simultaneously. At least that's my understanding from the Tardy text.

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t-man-nc

Posts: 327
Registered: Mar 2000

iconnumber posted 05-10-2004 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for t-man-nc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great... I have been looking at the wrong side... Duh... Need a Tardy... I have been spending all of my reading time on North American Silver and some with English... I have been unable to refused a single peice of silver, simply because I could not immediatly identify the marks, so I am acquiring a fair number of contential peices. I will start placing any duplicates in the for sale section and let them go to recover my cost and see if I can add to my American Collection... Thansk for the Help...


"Smaug"

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