Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs

The Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs (French pronunciation: ​[manyfaktyʁ ʁwajal də ɡlas də miʁwaʁ], Royal Mirror-Glass Factory) was the royal manufactory that produced the glass of Louis XIV's Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and the distant fore-runner of Saint-Gobain, the French glass manufacturer and industrial complex of today. It was created by letters patent in October 1665.[1]

The Compagnie du Noyer 1665-1683

The wide-ranging plans of Louis XIV's minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, were to achieve French self-sufficiency in the arts and manufactures, meeting domestic demand for luxury products, both redounding to the glory of the Sun-King and strengthening the national economy.[2] He thus turned his attention towards the glass and mirror industry that was monopolized by the Republic of Venice, which exported Venetian glass all over Europe under strict controls. Among his other projects Colbert established by letters patent the public enterprise Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs in October 1665. The beneficiary and first director was the French financier Nicolas du Noyer, a receveur of taxes of Orléans,[3]

Du Noyer and his associates were granted a monopoly of making glass and mirror-glass for a period of twenty years. The company, which had the informal name Compagnie du Noyer from the beneficiary of the monopoly granted to it, was created for a period of twenty years and would be financed in part by the State.

To compete with the Italian mirror industry, Colbert commissioned several Venetian glassworkers he had enticed to Paris to work for the Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs. The first unblemished mirrors were produced in 1666.[4] Though the mirrors created in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine under the French company began to rival those of Venice, Nicolas du Noyer complained in writing that the jealous Venetians were unwilling to impart the secrets of glassmaking to the French workers, and that the Company was hard-pressed to pay its expenses. The distractions of Paris proved distracting to the workers, and supplies of firewood to stoke the furnaces were dearer in the capital than elsewhere. After the brief period in Paris, 1665–67, the glass-making was transferred to a small glass furnace already working at Tourlaville, near Cherbourg in Normandy, and the premises in Faubourg Saint-Antoine were devoted to glass-grinding and polishing the crude product.

Though the Compagnie du Noyer was reduced at times to importing Venetian glass and finishing it in France, by September 1672, the royal French manufacture was on a sufficiently sound footing for the importation of glass to be forbidden to any of Louis' subjects, under any conditions.[5]

In 1683 the Company's financial arrangement with the State was renewed for another two decades, under the direction of Pierre de Bagneux. However, in 1688 the Compagnie Thévart was created and was also financed in part by the state. The Compagnie du Noyer's monopoly was thus threatened after its 23-year monopoly because the Compagnie Thévart created mirrors and glass using a new pouring process that allowed it to make plate glass mirrors measuring at least 60 inches long by 40 inches wide, much bigger than the 40 inches the Compagnie du Noyer was offering. Thus fierce competition made its way once again to the center stage of the glass and mirror industry.

For seven years, the two enterprises waged intense competition, until 1695 when the economy slowed down and their technical and commercial rivalry became counterproductive. Under an order from the Monarchy's ministry, the two companies were forced to merge, creating the Compagnie Plastier.

In 1702, after only seven years of existence, the Compagnie Plastier declared bankruptcy. The 1695 merger had not saved either company from financial ruin. However, a group of Franco-Swiss Protestant bankers came to the rescue of the collapsing company. Once again the company's name was changed, this time becoming known as the Compagnie Dagincourt.

At the same time as it was taken under the wing of the Swiss bankers, the Compagnie Dagincourt was provided royal patents which allowed it to maintain a legal monopoly in the glass manufacturing industry up until the Revolution, despite fierce, sometimes violent, protests from free enterprise partisans.

The Manufacture royal lost its patent at the French Revolution. Its later history, revolutionized in its technologies, can be followed at the article on Saint-Gobain.

Notes

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