A Brief History of the Manufacture de Châtellerault

By Jean Binck

History

The prevailing idea during the 17th and 18th century was that the garrison troops at the border of the country should rely on a quick supply of replacement arms in case of conflict. The Napoleonic wars demonstrated that this strategy was too risky, the arms manufacturers close to the borders being too vulnerable.

Therefore, in 1816 the French Artillery Commission decided to create a new Government manufactory, in a safer place, in the centre of France near the city of Poitier: Châtellerault.

Colonel Cotty, Director General of the Weapons Manufactories, started the installation of the "Manufacture de Châtellerault" on the bank of the river Vienne.

In 1819, Commandant Notret, the last inspector of the renowned Manufacture de Versaille, started the production with the help of two of the skilled workers of Klingenthal, Bick and Donat and the local workers. The same year, a Royal Order confirmed the creation of the Government manufactory of Châtellerault. During 1819 only tools (axes and spades) were produced, then the production increased slowly with the fabrication of swords of the pattern 1816.

In 1822, in parallel with swords production, the fabrication of firearms started.

In 1829, the 44 workers of Châtellerault produced 6000 swords. That was obviously far from the maximum production of 60 000 swords/year reached by the 600 Klingenthal workers during the Napoleonic wars!

At the beginning of the 1830ies, the Manufactory of Châtellerault was involved with the fabrication of nearly all the patterns of swords then issued to the French army.

In 1831 new premises were to be built and the Pihet brothers gave their financial support. They became the first "Entrepreneurs" of the "Manufacture de Châtellerault"; the financial management of the manufactory was then the responsibility of private persons, following the system of the "entreprise".

During 1833 social troubles grew in France. There were strikes and rebellion among the workers of the factory. The same year, a flood of the river Vienne damaged the manufactory; it was nearly the end of the Manufacture de Châtellerault.

Fortunately, in 1835, a new entrepreneur Creuzé, Proa & Cny, signed a contract valid until 1851. With the help of a brilliant controller, J. Bisch, the production raised again.

The French government decided in 1836 - 1837 to close the firearms manufactories of Maubeuge and Charleville, close to the northern border of the country, and to transfer their production to Châtellerault and Saint-Etienne. Likewise, the government rid itself of Klingenthal too close to the eastern border. The premises were sold to the Coulaux brothers (see article on Klingenthal). It was rumoured that Marshal Soult, the Minister of War in 1834, did all he could to accelerate the closing of the Manufacture de Klingenthal. He avenged himself on Klingenthal for having refused in the past to buy steel from his personal factories in the French province of Tarn. Anyway, the Manufacture de Châtellerault was assured of the future.

In 1851, Creuzé signed a new contract of entrepreneur valid until 1866.

In 1868, there were 300 machine tools installed by the entrepreneur Chassepot (1866-1878). Nevertheless, it is interesting to notice that the blades will remain hand-forged until 1916!

With the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 came a period of confusion. When it became obvious that the war was lost, the workers of Châtellerault retreated to the South of France, then came back, all this in a great confusion. Finally the manufactory started again mid 1871.

During the second half of the 19th century, the production of firearms increased in the Manufacture de Châtellerault, and, as everywhere in the world, the swords production declined and finally stopped in 1937.

The manufactory continued to produce firearms until 1968.

 

Organisation

The financial management was entrusted to a government-appointed "entrepreneur".

The task of the entrepreneur was to buy the source material (steel, charcoal etc.), to pay with his own money the salaries of the workers, and to organise the company in order to comply with the contracts of the government. The government then bought the final products from him, leaving him a profit of 20%.

The plant Director controlled the production for the military contracts. He was an artillery senior officer (Chef d' Escadron / Lt. Colonel), appointed only for a few years and helped by a staff of artillery officers. It was his responsibility to maintain quality control, speed of production etc. to fulfil the government contracts. He was also in charge of the supervision of the accountancy regarding the supply to the regiments and he reported to the ministry of war.

Following the regulation of 1822, there were different kinds of workers:

The workers who enlisted to the Ministry of War and were considered as being part of the military staff, they were really the backbone of the manufacture.

These workers worked only for the production of military weapons and could not resign without permission of the Ministry of War; trespassers would have been prosecuted as deserters and court-martialled. As a counterpart, they had the benefit of a pension after 25 working years.

The best workers could be promoted to reviser, controller and first class controller. They were highly skilled and experienced workers and had to be able to read and write. Furthermore, they were requested to have a natural authority upon the other workers.

Controllers and revisers were in charge of the training of the other workers and the quality control of blades and swords for the military contracts. They have their personal stamp that can be found on military blades and hilts.

Referring to information dated 1822, they were paid a similar amount of money as the artillery officers:

Controller first class = 2 400 francs/year

Controller second class = 1 800 francs/year

Reviser = 1500 francs/year

This was the income of the ranks Second Lieutenant to Captain in the artillery.

There were also soldiers (military armourers, carpenters etc.) detached from their regiment to serve in the manufactory.

Other workers were civilians who had the opportunity to leave the manufactory after a prior notification of a few months; of course, they could be kicked out by the entrepreneur even more quickly!

 

Markings

The ricasso of the blade should bear at least the stamps of the Director and the Controller. Often, the Reviser stamp is also present.

Director & controller stamps on a Model 1822 cavalry trooper sword

 

The hilt should bear the stamps of the Director and the Controller on the knuckle bow. Usually, the stamp of the reviser is stamped under the quillon.

Remark: regarding officers swords, even if there were regulation patterns for the officers, it was a custom of long standing that they were allowed to purchase their swords wherever they want. Eventually many officers' swords were found not serviceable on the battlefield! Some officers spent their money for an attractive hilt or etched blade very decorative...but of a poor quality.

Therefore, the officers were requested to use a service sword with a blade issued and controlled in the government manufactory. The blade could be hilted by a civil sword maker or by the manufactory itself.

For this reason, it is not unusual to find officers swords with a Châtellerault blade, but without markings on the hilt.

 

Manufactory markings

Basically the common marking was the name of the manufacture + month + date of production.

This chapter gives a quick view of the style of marking of the Manufacture de Châtellerault through different period. These are the most common markings, it is probably not an exhaustive list.

The manufactory's name marking is usually found on the back of the blade when the type of blade allows it, written in a cursive script.

 

Common abbreviations

The following abbreviations are commonly found on French swords:

For the months (referring to the Latin sound of the figures):

7 bre = Septembre

8 bre = Octobre

9 bre = Novembre

X bre = Décembre

The other months being written in full: Janvier, Février, Mars, Avril, Mai, Juin, Juillet, Août.

Manuf e = Manufacture = Manufactory

M re

Manuf re

Manuf.

 

Chat t = Châtellerault

Châtl

Châtl t

 

R le = Royale = of the King

Rl e

 

Natl e = Nationale = National

Nl e

N le

 

Impal e = Impériale = of the Emperor

Impe ale

Impa le

Imp ale

Imp le

Imp.

Mle = Modèle = Model

M le

Off er = Officier = Officer

O.

S s Officier = Sous Officier = NCO

S.O.

Cav rie = Cavalerie = cavalry

Cav rie L re = Cavalerie légère = Light Cavalry

Art rie = Artillerie = Artillery

Inf rie = Infanterie = Infantry

Inf r

 

Markings during different period

1820 - 1836

Châtellerault + year of production

Châtellerault 1832

1836 - 1848

All the government production is transferred to Châtellerault

Marking on a naval boarding sword model 1833 made in December 1847

Manuf  re R  le de Châtellerault x bre 1847

Abbreviation for: Manufacture Royale de Châtellerault  décembre 1847

(King’s manufactory of Châtellerault, December 1847)

 

1848 - 1852

After the abdication of the King Louis-Philippe, the word "Royale" dissapeared and was replaced by "Nationale"  (abbreviation: Nle ) or “Armes”.

Manuf Nl  e de  Châtellerault   avril   1850

But also by

M  re d' Armes  de  Châtellerault  avril   1851

1853 - 1870

Napoleon III became Emperor

Manuf   re   Imp  le de Châtellerault  Fevrier  1853

In 1856 a new regulation required that the model of the sword should be mentioned.

M  re Imp  ale de Chat  t  x  bre  1862  Cav  rie  l   re  M  le  1822

Abbreviation for:

Manufacture Impériale de Châtellerault, décembre 1862, Cavalerie légère modèle 1822

(Imperor’s Manufactory of Châtellerault, December 1862, Light Cavalry model 1822)

 

1870 to 1937

After the abdication of Napoleon III, the words "nationale" and "armes" (weapons) appeared.

Manufacture nationale d' armes de Châtellerault  8  bre 1903 Off    er d' Art  rie M  l e 1822 - 99

Abbreviation for:

Manufacture nationale d' armes de Châtellerault, octobre 1903, Officier d’Artillerie modèle 1822 modifié 1899

(National Weapons Manufactory of Châtellerault, October 1903, Artillery Officer model 1822 modified 1899)

 

Some sword patterns around the end of the 19th century were available with different blade lengths. The size of the sword was engraved on the spine of the blade: 1ere taille (first size), 2eme taille (second size) or 3eme taille (third size).

Example: the model 1898 Line Cavalry Officer’s sword was available with the following blades: 1st size = 95 cm, 2nd size = 90 cm, 3rd size = 85 cm

 

Bibliography:

COTTY Colonel , Dictionnaire de l'Artillerie , Paris 1822

LHOSTE & BUIGNE , Armes Blanches Françaises , France 1994

Magazine « Gazette des armes » , France

Other source :

Markings on swords from author’s collection

Text & pictures are the property of the author.

 

Contact the author: jeanbck@hotmail.com

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