The ‘Fiches Brateau’ and ‘Laborde’

Much of what can be known today of the lives of the artisans of yesterday depends upon the disinterested researches of later 19th century historians, biographers, antiquaries and enthusiasts. The published works of Auguste Jal, Jules Guiffrey and others are frequently cited in this dictionary, but it is fitting here to say something of two compilers whose work, though unpublished, remains invaluable and which, directly and indirectly, has been largely exploited here.

Le  Fichier Laborde

Léon Emmanuel Simon Josph, Comte and Marquis[1] de Laborde (1807-1869) was educated in Germany, and travelled widely in Europe and Asia Minor before beginning a diplomatic career which he would abandon c. 1839 to devote himself to studies in the history of art and printing. Elected to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in 1842, he was a strong government supporter, and in 1847 succeeded the Baron de Clarac as keeper in the museum of Antiquities in the Louvre charged with the medieval and Renaissance sections. An assiduous researcher in state and local archives since the mid-1830s, Laborde’s numerous publications rested on a firm documentary basis. In 1857 he was appointed Director of the Imperial Archives. In 1868 he became a member of the Senate but was already suffering from a spinal marrow infection from which he died on 26 March the following year.

            As director of the Imperial Archives, Laborde instigated the publication of several series of inventories, issue of his constant preoccupation to exploit archival resources. ‘The sources of my information … are above all in the still unpublished documents in our archives. Since twenty years I preach, and I preach by example, the exploration of these depots that offer us, far more than they conceal from us, so much unimaginable information.’.[2] Towards the end of the 1850s Laborde began systematically collecting information on Paris artists and craftsmen. The resulting collection of fiches is divided as follows:

i    some 66,000 entries drawn from Paris parish and hospital registers, 16th to  18th centuries. These now have the status of primary documents as the sources from which they were drawn were destroyed, together with the Hôtel de Ville in which they were housed, during the Commune. A further series of approximately 60,000 entries, compiled by René Farge assistant in the Archives de la Seine[3], and his widow, provides an alphabetical index to them. Both were given by Laborde’s som, Alexandre de Laborde who had commissioned the work by Farge, to the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1926. In 2014 they were digitfalised and incorporated into Gallica.

ii    a series of some 12,000 fiches drawn from the Archives Nationales, series Y (Châtelet de Paris and Prévoté de l’Île de France) and other sources running from the 16th to the 19th centuries. These were presented by Alexandre de Laborde to the Bibliothèque d’Art et d’Archéologie, 1 December 1926. They are now available on microfilm (Mf 41) in the reading room of the Instittut National d’Histoire de l’Art.

iii   Approximately 5000 fiches exclusively concerning medical practitioners drawn from the same sources as ii were presented 26 March 1926 by Alexandre de Laborde to the Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médecine (ms 55037).[4] 

Les Fiches Brateau

Paul Brateau (1875-post 1939) was born at Choisy-le-Roi and educated at the Lycée Michelet at Vanves and the Ecole Centrale where he graduated fifth in his year. Engineer, he worked first for the automobile construction company De Dio-Bouton (founded 1883), but after marrying the daughter of the noted clockmaker Mathieu Planchon (1842-1921), joined his father-in-law in his horological business (1899). A volunteer during the First World War, in which he served as an artillery lieutenant, in 1921 he succeeded to Planchon’s business which he directed until 1939.

            Brateau was imbued with a fascination for the history of horology, probably the result of his father-in-law’s own passion for that subject which led him to write several books about it and to organise the retrospective of French horology included in the 1900 Universal Exhibition. Over many years, Brateau patiently assembled information about earlier clockmakers from both printed and archival sources, notably those of the Paris notaries. He bequeathed the several thousand notices that resulted to the Musée of the Conservatoire des Arts & Métiers whence they subsequently formed a, not always correctly mediated, base for Tardy’s Dictionnaire des horlogers français (Paris 1972), and for the more limited in scope, but far more reliable, work of Jean-Dominique Augarde, Les Ouvriers du temps: la pendule à Paris de Louis XIV à Napoléon Ier (Geneva 1996). Further extensive use of the results of Brateau’s researches has now been made here for all the instrument-makers who were also clockmakers, and all the clockmakers who incidentally sometime made sun-dials or other instruments.


[1] This title was used by Laborde only during the last  four years of his life. The financier J. J. de Laborde (guillotined 1794) had been created Marquis by Louis XVI in 1785, but Léon’s father, Alexandre, a liberal by inclination, had thought its use inappropriate.

[2] Renaissance des art à la cour de France, 1850, xxxvi. ‘Les sources de mes renseignements … sont surtout dans les documents encore inédits de nos archives. Depuis bientôt vingt ans, je prêche, et je prêche d’exemple, l’exploration de ces dépôts qui nous offrent, bien plutôt qu’ils nous cachent, tant des renseignements inappréciables’.

[3] For whom see Albert Mathies, ‘René Farge’, Annales  Révolutionnaire 1923.

[4] Account based on Laborde and which see for further details.

Préc. Suivant