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This silver salt shaker, in the shape of an elongated bowl, which is decorated at the edge with an openwork strip of plants, is the work of a high-class goldsmith. It was made in France in pre-revolutionary times, in Paris in the years 1786–1787, by the goldsmith, Jean-Baptiste-François Chéret. The precise determination of the authorship, time, and place of the creation of this work is possible thanks to the marking, which, in the past, was to testify the occurrence of precious metal, and nowadays is the source of information about the history of the object; its interpretation, however, often requires detective work.

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This silver salt shaker, in the shape of an elongated bowl, which is decorated at the edge with an openwork strip of plants, is the work of a high-class goldsmith. It was made in France in pre-revolutionary times, in Paris in the years 1786–1787, by the goldsmith, Jean-Baptiste-François Chéret. The precise determination of the authorship, time, and place of the creation of this work is possible thanks to the marking, which, in the past, was to testify the occurrence of precious metal, and nowadays is the source of information about the history of the object; its interpretation, however, often requires detective work. The name hallmark, with the initials of the master JBC, is minted inside the bowl, and, next to it, there are two more signs: 1) with the intertwined initials HC, Henry Clavel, minted while working on the product; 2) a stylized letter under the crown – the sign of the Assay Office in Paris for the period from 12 July  1786 to 11 July 1787. In addition, on the edge of the base, there is also the sign of a stylized bird’s head, minted in 1786–1789. It was applied by the royal tenant office after completing the work and after paying the appropriate fees, issuing the permission to sell. The fifth sign is the so-called Austrian contribution hallmark, minted in Vienna in the years 1806–1807. It provides information about the history of the salt shaker, as it testifies to its journey to the territories of the Habsburg countries already several years after being produced. The following scenarios of this journey cannot be excluded: 1) ordinary sale outside French borders (export); 2) transfer from the country of origin through post-revolutionary emigration — many of its possible owners had settled in, for example, the Czechia; 3) purchase by a Polish customer, who took it to Poland. The last option is probable, for example, because of the fact that Branicki family belonged to Chéret’s clients.
The artist was born in 1728 in Paris; he obtained the title of master in 1759, and, in 1777, he became a councillor of the city. In the years 1787–1790, he held important office functions. The last mention of the goldsmith comes from 1791. His works remain in world collections, from New York to Lisbon. The salt shaker from Wieliczka belongs to a highly-regarded period in the work of Chéret, when he used a range of classical forms and decorations perfectly. The elongated bowl, separated by a vertical wall, with two band lugs, supported on an oval plinth, was made using a casting, reposing, and engraving technique. The goldsmith also used  the technique of cutting using a fretsaw in a sophisticated way, obtaining an openwork strip with a floral ornament on the edge of the bowl.

Elaborated by Klementyna Ochniak-Dudek (Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka), © all rights reserved

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The collection of salt shakers from Wieliczka

The Kraków Salt Works Museum has been continuously extending its collection of salt shakers from different eras and continents; currently, it has several hundred items. On our website, we present six of them, distinguished by their intricate decorations, as well as the place and time of their creation...

 

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The Kraków Salt Works Museum has been continuously extending its collection of salt shakers from different eras and continents; currently, it has several hundred items. On our website, we present six of them, distinguished by their intricate decorations, as well as the place and time of their creation:

The impressive, richly decorated salt pots, in the past belonged to the most important household utensils. They testified to the wealth of the owners. The place where the salt shaker was placed on the table during opulent feasts was strictly regulated by court ceremony. The importance and high rank of this representative container was evidenced by its impressive appearance, remaining in disproportion to the small amount of salt which it contained. Salt shakers took on yet more new shapes in the Gothic era: an hourglass, a wide container on a foot, a cylindrical casket and — at the end of the 16th century — a bell. A well-known salt shaker — made by B. Cellini on the orders of the French king Francis — had all features of sculpture. Apart from such precious models, salt shakers used every day, which prevailed at the beginning of the 17th century, became more conspicuous.


Elaborated by Kraków Salt Works Museum in Wieliczka, Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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Jeweller’s code

Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen’s guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions.

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Objects derived from noble metals were usually marked with signs, so-called features. Their appearance on goldsmith’s products, their number and significance were related to regulations issued by craftsmen’s guilds, then also by city and state authorities. These small marks with numbers and symbols in various shapes, which often remind us of cavities, are an extremely valuable source of information about the artwork. It is possible to specify several types of symbols when recognizing their elements and functions. However, we should remember that their form has changed over the course of history, differing according to location, which makes things difficult because of their quantity.
The first group of features is formed by the individual marks of particular masters as well as workshops. These could include the full name of the master; however, they often appeared in the forms of the majuscule initials. In this case, there was a risk of repeating the monograms, hence — to make a distinction — they were placed in various fields, sometimes with a very fanciful form. In some cases, the mark of the workshop or the later company was also a house mark (in stonemasonry, the signature of the author in a form of a symbol on the stone’s surface).
However, the most common were hallmarks that indicated the percentage of silver contained in the material used for a given goldsmith product. There were many marking schemes, depending on the time, territory, and ruling power, and they were governed by strict regulations. Thanks to this, however, it is possible to determine the approximate time and place of the creation of the work by properly recognizing the features. Hallmarks began to use digital symbols from approximately the nineteenth century (the unit of weight was Lot, hence the lot system), whereas earlier, the town mark itself indicated that the then applicable amount of silver had been used in the alloy.
Town marks support combining products with specific centres. As a sign, they took the form of the coat of arms of the city (or its fragment), sometimes also the entire name of the city, or its first letter.
To check the quality of the products, the works were also marked in state hallmarking centres, hence their name. The hallmark features, made according to the given pattern, contained information about the silver's purity, and sometimes also the date and the letter of the city. At the end of the 18th century, they appeared on the territories of the former Republic of Poland, initially introduced in the Austrian partition.
Furthermore, the contribution features are an interesting example. They marked works which — according to the Austrian contribution (1806) — had been confiscated, and which were then bought up and given back to the owners. That’s why they could be found even on very old products. Such features primarily had a letter indicating the hallmarking centre of a given territory.
Among many additional markings and types of features (there are also customs or reserve features, hallmarks or pawnbroker’s marks, and even marks indicating the dates); the above-mentioned ones constitute their basis.
It should, first of all, be realized that goldsmith marks are a very functional tool thanks to which we are able to — sometimes even with high accuracy — date the work, determine the place of its creation, its author, and trace its history. The goldsmith features — just like any cipher — have their own codification. Catalogues of marks are the best source to learn how to recognize them; nevertheless, they are still not fully drafted.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:
Michał Gradowski, Dawne złotnictwo: technika i terminologia, Warszawa 1980;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki probiercze na zabytkowych srebrach w Polsce, Warszawa 1988;
Michał Gradowski, Znaki na srebrze: znaki miejskie i państwowe używane na terenie Polski w obecnych jej granicach, Warszawa 1994.

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Salt cellar in the shape of an elongated cup

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