Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Aux Forges de Vulcain Paris, The Forges of Vulcan

Aux Forges de Vulcain was a venerable French tool seller and manufacturer in Paris, with a variety of tools for masonry, carpentry, mechanics, measuring, and other trades.

Aux Forges de Vulcain brass trowel
Aux Forges de Vulcain history (French) Edited translation:

Aux Forges de Vulcain, a shop in the center of Paris, was a tool retailer and distributor from 1807 to 1974. At times they manufactured their own tools and also marked their name on products made by others.

According to a history in Vulcain’s 1951 catalog, the business began in 1807 when a Mr. Bavoil owned a restaurant and grocery frequented by tradesmen, especially stone masons. Mr. Bavoil saw an opportunity to increase his sales, and added tools and small hardware to his stock. When the tools proved more profitable, he quit the grocery trade and adopted the name, Aux Forges de Vulcain.

Initially, the business did not manufacture tools. In 1829 they began marking their name on planes made by others that they sold. Paulin-Desormeaux recommended the establishment of M. Bavoil as the best for matching the right tools for the price. Bavoil would not be confused with its close neighbor Fleet of England, which carried beautiful luxury tools. At this time, Vulcain sold "French and foreign hardware, steel, limes, brass, son of iron, steel and brass, grinding wheels, stones, for arts and manufacturing, lathe turnings...." 

Bavoil’s son Perrot ran the business from 1843 to 1846. Manufacturing likely started in 1847 with the arrival of Denis Youf, who may have been from an old family of woodworkers in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Trade Almanac mentions from that date that the Forges of Vulcan were a "workshop for the manufacture of woodworking tools and machines.”

Aux Forges de Vulcain received an honorable mention in the exhibition of 1849 for "two lathe turnings manufactured in its workshops" and a medal at a trade show in 1855. The first  catalog of mounted tools manufactured by the house is 1864. There is a brief mention of all the items sold by the house, metals and other materials, hardware, machines and tools for "gardeners, sculptors, carvers, engravers, smelters, modelers, tanners, gunsmiths, tinsmiths and coppersmiths, precision tools for building workshops." There is also an extensive range of 450 models of planes manufactured for "carpenters, cabinetmakers, piano builders, coach builders, coopers, carpenters and wheelwrights."

The business prospered, but in 1857, the premises occupied by The Forges of Vulcan was expropriated for urban redevelopment to beautify Paris. In 1860 a new store opened on the Place du Châtelet at no. 3 rue Saint-Denis. “The banner depicting Venus leaning on the shoulder of Vulcan was executed on porcelain by one of our most illustrious porcelain painters, MA Jean, and placed on the facade of our business where it is known to all Parisians." 

In 1896 the house was mentioned as a distributor and not as a manufacturer. It had probably stopped making planes while continuing to sell a thousand other articles. Vulcain sold planes for nearly a century and a half, but did not manufacture them during the second half of the nineteenth century. Tools marked "Aux Forges de Vulcain" generally date to the second half of the nineteenth century, but it is possible that the business later marked the tools it resold.

The business’s success inspired other hardware sellers to adopt similar names, prompting the long-standing Parisian business to state, "The house has no branches," prior to its opening branches in Bordeaux (1917), Lyon (1918) and Lille (1920).

In the twentieth century, Vulcain regularly published thick tool catalogs, sold plant equipment and machinery, and up to the Second World War carried most of the models of planes manufactured in France. The house also had a machine shop in suburban Saint-Denis. Distribution of most planes stopped after World War II, and the business closed in 1974.

The names of successive owners was compiled after reading trade almanacs. This list presents some differences with the oldest dates provided by the catalogs of the second half of the twentieth century, also contradicted by other sources and probably less reliable. 

1810-1842: Bavoil (catalogs say 1807-1825)
1843-1846: Perrot, son of the previous (catalogs say 1825-1845) 
1847-1859: Denis Youf 
1860-1871: Jules and Victor Chouanard, brothers 
1872-1890: Jules Chouanard 
1890-1931: Emile Chouanard, his son 
1931-1935: Henry Chouanard-Bres, son of previous, manager since 1911 
1936-1941: Roger Francis 
1943-1974: Marcel Drye, nephew of Henry Bres-Chouanard and Lucien Lebeurre. 
 1810-1860: 1, rue de la Barillerie, a location that is sometimes referred to 18, rue Martroi  
 1860-1974: 3, rue Saint-Denis

Aux Forges De Vulcain Catalog For Sale

Aux Forges de Vulcain stamp
Aux Forges de Vulcain catalog

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