garfordhouse

France
Legion d'Honneur Awards from the First Empire

91 posts in this topic

There are not many online discussions in English about GENUINE First Empire Legion d'Honneur awards, so I thought I would start one with the hope of getting some english-speaking French experts to contribute to this thread.

Recently, a 1st Empire LdH Chevalier example sold on Ebay-France for a stunning 2620 Euros (about 3400 USD) with 39 bids. The example was identified as a creation of the jeweler Martin Biennais on the basis of a hallmark on the top ring.

Here are some photos of this award and a closeup of the hallmarks:

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ID: 4   Posted (edited)

And a closeup of the important hallmarks...

Edited by garfordhouse

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ID: 5   Posted (edited)

Note the cross atop the crown. Biennais examples typically have a Maltese cross, not a Latin cross on the crown. Also, all of the jewels on the band of the crown are round instead of the more commonly seen diamond shaped jewel in the center of the band.

I would enjoy hearing from the LdH collectors about their opinion of this medal.

Edited by garfordhouse

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One other observation: The usual white enamel splitting at the tips of the arms typical of original first empire examples is not present. The typical contact marks on the blue enamel are also curiously absent.

The enamel seems unusually pristine for a first empire example.

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ID: 7   Posted (edited)

Here is another LdH example which has Martin Biennais' hallmark on the top ring. The crown shows elements of the late 3rd Type LdH but the cross is the 4th Type with balls on the ends of the points to help prevent enamel damage.

Note the typical enamel damage and which one expects to see on a genuine first empire period example.

Edited by garfordhouse

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The following examples of the First Empire LdH Chevalier are part of the collection of the National Museum of The Legion of Honour in Paris.

The models illustrated are Type I, Type II, Type III, and Type IV, respectively.

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ID: 10   Posted (edited)

And the backs of the four types...

Note the eagle faces left on all except the Type III.

In the Biennais examples in Post 2 and Post 8, the eagle faces right even though both examples are classified as Type IV. Is it possible Biennais (jeweler to Napoleon himself and manufacturer of Napoleon's coronation LdH Collier ) ignored the design change and continued using eagles facing right for his Type IV models?

Edited by garfordhouse

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ID: 11   Posted (edited)

I have an answer and one question.

A. Concerning the eagle facing right or left, there are no rules.The manufacturers did both during the 1st Empire.

Q. Concerning the Biennais hallmark, could you be kind enough to tell me what are the symbol and initials? I have never seen this hallmark and I am very keen to know more about it. A picture would be fantastic.

Regards

Bison

Edited by Bison

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Concerning the Biennais hallmark, could you be kind enough to tell me what are the symbol and initials?

Regards

Bison

Hello! The mark of Biennais is a monkey with a long tail. Also, he used 'Biennais Orfèvre de LL. MM. Imperiales et Royale' or sometimes just Biennais. He also made Austrian, Russian, and other European orders.

Regards,

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A picture would be fantastic. Regards Bison

I will try to post a better picture of the mark.

What is your opinion of the first LdH? Imperial period characteristics, or not?

Regards,

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Hello Gentlemen,

I agree with Bison regarding eagles facing either right or left, there was no precise rule !

Judging from the photos I really doubt this LoH to be a Biennais production. The central parts of a Biennais LoH are really very specific. Usually Biennais crosses are very thick (or massive) yet of a superior craftmanship which is not the case in the cross presented here. The upper hallmark seems to be the Fascio, but the lower hallmark does not seems to be Biennais' (wich was a monkey and letter B in a diamond).

Best regards

Bill

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This is Biennais Hallmark, as you can see, it does not match the one on the LoH.

Cheers

Bill

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Thanks a lot Wrangel.

The diamond is not a criteria of identification of the goldsmith. It means only that the metal is silver or gold. This has been established in 1797.

For the first LdH seems to present all characteristics of the Type IV, 1st Empire, what the hallmark on the ring confirms.

However, I am also doubtful about the second LdH presented by garfordhouse. It really looks like a Presidence model. During this short period the Type IV was re-established with some noticeable differences which are:

- Presence of ribbons between the two branches at 6:00

- Centre made in a single piece (instead of 2 or 3 in the 1st Empire)

The identification is often difficult due to the fact that some of them have been assembled with spare parts coming from other Types. Therefore, one can find some LdH with different hallmarks of different periods, which is sometimes very confusing.

Regards

Bison

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Usually Biennais crosses are very thick (or massive) yet of a superior craftmanship which is not the case in the cross presented here.

Thank you very much for your for your commentary and the photo of a Biennais hallmark.

It is true that the first cross is not the high quality that one might expect from Biennais. After all... he was the silversmith to Napoleon himself... chosen by Napoleon for his extraordinary workmanship and technique! He crafted the famous LdH Collier which Napoleon himself wore to his coronation.

But one must remember that Biennais had over 600 employees in his workshop. Biennais also had a lucrative government contract to produce medals and orders on a large scale. So the pressure was there to generate the products to satisfy these government contracts in a timely manner.

I think that maybe the LdH Chevalier in silver (produced in large numbers) may have had less time and attention during the production process than, let us say, the LdH Breast Star or even an LdH Officer in gold. This could explain why we are not seeing the usual Biennais quality in the first example above.

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ID: 18   Posted (edited)

For the first LdH seems to present all characteristics of the Type IV, 1st Empire, what the hallmark on the ring confirms.

Thank you for your commentary about the first LdH Chevalier example above.

My biggest puzzlement was the center medallion which Wrangel also mentioned. But you are totally correct about these center medallions often being replaced with spare parts from other LdH.

This can definitely lead to some confusion for proper identification!

Edited by garfordhouse

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ID: 19   Posted (edited)

This unusual example of a Type III LdH with an oval disc "1806" mounted underneath the crown sold at Spink-London last month for a tidy sum of 1500 Pound Sterling (or about 2330 USD.)

As everybody knows, Napoleon achieved decisive victory over the Austrians and Russians in 1806 February at Austerlitz. Then he defeated the Prussians in 1806 October.

1806 was a landmark year in the history of the First Empire! 1806 was the high point for Napoleon (like 1940 was for Hitler.) No doubt some brave French soldier wanted people to know he participated in these glorious battles!

I have never before seen such a disc mounted onto a LdH.

Edited by garfordhouse

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Gentlemen,

I have never seen such an example before (with the '1806' attachment). Can anyone elaborate on this practice? I have a Type 3 which occupies a prominent place in my study. Ist Empire LOHs is one of my favorite subjects in the field.

Jay

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As to the year 1806, Napoleon defeated Prussia in October of that year. He had previously defeated the combined Austrians & Russians at Austerlitz in December 1805. I fulfilled a longtime dream by visiting that battlefield this past September. It was truly awesome. Napoleon finally knocked out those stubborn Russians (and some remaining Prussians) in 1807.

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As everybody knows, Napoleon achieved decisive victory over the Austrians and Russians in 1806 February at Austerlitz.

I am afraid the Austerlitz Victory was on the 2nd December 1805...

Anyway, this superb Légion d'honneur is a clue of what the veterans used to do. It is not a common practice with the Légion d'honneur but this kind of things; bars, clasps, can be observed on the medals of the veteran societies (called "les débris de la Grande Armée") after the Empire. Probably, this is the date of the award. The owner wanted to show that he got it during the Napoleonic wars, as you rightly stated.

I cannot follow you on the comparison between Napoleon and Hitler... From my perspective this is exaggerated and overall a mere anachronism.

Regards

Bison

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I agree with Bison regarding the "1806" attachment not being a period disk but a letter addition from a veteran of Napoleon's army whose intention was to point out the fact that he had got his LoH for war service and not for civil merit.

I had concentrate on the first cross, but looking at the the second, my feeling is that this cross is not a production of Martin-Guillaume Biennais as well, it does not reach the standard level of Biennais crosses.

Biennais was not specialised in orders, he was in the first place a cabinetmaker and then extended his business to silversmith and goldsmith but orders was something extra. Even if had 600 employees at a certain time, only a small % of them would be working on the orders.

The orders (LoH and orders from his brothers, as well as foreign orders) made by Biennais are extremely rare that is in my opinion because as they were exceptionnaly well made (look at the centers of a LoH made by Biennais most of them have the centers in 2 or 3 parts), they would cost 2 or 3 times -if not more- the average price of a LoH.

It is always the same thing, you can buy nowadays a leather bag by Hermes, but for the same price you can have 500 leather bags at H&M. It is up to you to decide what you want to do with your money and I think that at the time of Napoleon lots of people were reluctant paying a very high price for an order.

There is a similarity with the Russian orders, why are orders made by Faberge or some others less known makers so desirable and expensive, it is because they are extremely rare and that is because they were only made in a very limited number. The workmanship is superb, but as a result the price was only for some happy few. On the contrary Keibel and Edward had standardised the production, this resulted in far lower prices and therefor they had gained the vast majority of the customers.

I would adwise you to buy 2 excellent books in which you will be able to see numerous exemples of LoH made by Biennais. They are currently available on the internet.

Best regards

Bill

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This is the second book whom I was speaking about, it deals only with the LoH under the First French Empire.

Best regards.

Bill

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