In 1823, Morisot, a building inspector, gave the following definition: there are two aspects to ironmongery. One comprises all of the objects produced in the workshop by forge and file, such as iron bars, gates, handrails, balconies, etc.

The other includes manufactured objects, which come under the general heading of hardware.
In fact, from the 13th Century the term 'hardware' has appeared in the book of trades of Etienne Boileaux, provost of Paris at the time of Louis IX. "All merchants selling hardware, such as earthenware pots, dishes, platters, winnowing baskets, and such, must each pay four Paris deniers." This enumeration demonstrates that, since the origins of the trade, the hardware merchant has not only sold the customary metal objects, but all products necessary for domestic practices. The often pejorative sense of the term should be refuted, since it is known today that the major lock manufacturers in the 19th and 20th Century, Bricard, Vaillant, Fontaine, and Fichet, are the natural successors of hardware merchants, who, although their trade was less prestigious than that of locksmiths, were no less indispensable to people in daily life.
The history of Parisian trades until the 18th Century is full of disputes over precedence, prerogatives, legal proceedings, and appeals to the King to limit competition between iron tradesmen. These disputes were, for the most part, started by the master locksmiths, anxious to protect their privileges. In 1537, at the request of the wards of the trade, King Henri II granted letters of patent to locksmiths, stipulating that the "iron craftsmen, haberdashers and merchants trading in objects that concerned or were dependent on the trade or manufacture of locksmithing shall be subject to the visit of the locksmiths' jurors". These haberdashery merchants sold iron bars, lead, copper, items of cutlery, and hardware, as well as padlocks and other types of lock. King Louis XIII confirmed their status in January 1613. The 12th March 1677 saw a decree of parliament concerning the visit of locksmiths' jurors to craftsmen who sold locks and other items of ironwork.
This decree stated that: "the court has maintained and reserved the right of master locksmiths to visit twice a year the shops and homes of the said haberdashery merchants, concerning locks, hinges, cleats, bolts and pins relating to doors and windows of houses only, pursuant to and in accordance with the decree of 26th June 1638; it is the responsibility of the locksmiths' jurors to warn the said haberdashery merchants to assist the said jurors with the said visit without charge. It is prohibited for the said locksmiths to visit the other fittings. Nor is it allowed for them to sell or produce any locksmithing goods other than those manufactured in their homes or shops".

On several occasions, and again in 1776, police orders were enacted to prohibit scrap metal merchants from repairing old keys; some articles even stipulated that all new or old keys, which did not have a lock, must be handed over to the police within 15 days. Failure to do so was punishable by fine…"

The shop signs themselves were not always of much help to the client interested in buying locksmithing equipment. Master locksmiths would often suspend a key or two keys on a chain at the top of their workshops, but they certainly did not have the monopoly on this "sign". In 1730, a certain Jean Nolan, hardware merchant in Paris, did not hesitate to call himself: "contractor of ironwork and locksmithing". In 1746, the locksmiths' community lost a lawsuit and had to pay 190 pounds compensation to a scrap metal merchant named Nicolas Magny, from whom they had had seized old keys, locks and paint.
However, in spite of these disputes, the day-to-day reality was quite different. Locksmiths and hardware merchants were more often mutually dependent rather than competitors in the construction market.
An increasing number of locksmiths made a living by buying ready-made locks, whilst they themselves manufactured less and less. They were nonetheless obliged to manufacture a lock and key whenever they wanted to demonstrate their experience or craftsmanship in order to be accepted into the community of locksmiths.
Many reasons to explain why wrought iron was abandoned: one of its biggest downfalls was undoubtedly the dryness of the classic style. Once the scrolling acanthus and rocailles fell out of fashion, the Louis XV style would be accused of excessive "lightness and licentiousness" and would disappear from artistic ironwork to be replaced by the straight, geometric and regular shapes brought to prominence by Neufforge, Moreau and Forty, amongst others.
Another contributing factor to the demise of iron was the progressive use of malleable cast-iron, and the extraordinary enthusiasm that it generated starting with the Revolution and continuing through the Empire period. The work of Réaumur beginning in 1722 and the Academy of Science in the 18th Century on the transformation of iron allowed malleable cast-iron to become the privileged material of metal craftsmen. Freed of its excess oxygen, cast-iron became easier to work with chisel and file. Despite the resistance of locksmiths, resulting in a number of lawsuits, they had to give way to the foundry owners, who, as early as the Regency, were able to manufacture lock casings, door knockers, decorative plates, balconies or window ledges in cast-iron.

 


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