History

The importance of being Ernest Mauviel

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This may be a controversial post: I’m questioning Mauviel’s account of its own history.

Everyone knows the story of Mauviel 1830: it was founded in 1830 in Villedieu-les-Poêles in Normandy by Ernest Mauviel, ancestor of current president Valérie Le Guern-Gilbert.

From mauvielusa.com:

In 1830, in a Normandy village called Villedieu-les-Poêles, which is located near the Mont-Saint-Michel, Mr. Ernest Mauviel established the Mauviel manufacturing company.

Here’s how mauviel.com tells it:

Few know the first name of this designer of genius, Ernest Mauviel, however, the products manufactured in his traditional workshop, founded in 1830, are well-known, the world over. His descendants have inherited his great passion. Seven generations separate Ernest, the Founder, at the start of this great adventure, to Valérie, today…

Here’s the thing: I’m not sure this is completely 100% correct.

I mean, it’s mostly correct: Mauviels have been making copper in Villedieu since well before 1830 and Valérie is their direct descendant. That’s the important thing, right?

But as far as I can tell, there was no Ernest Mauviel in Villedieu in 1830.

I have spent quite some time online looking at genealogy and history records, and while Valérie has a well-documented Mauviel family tree going back to 1615, there’s no Ernest in there who could have started the company in 1830. Again, please don’t get me wrong: there were plenty of Mauviels making copper in 1830 in Villedieu, including Valérie’s direct ancestors, but none was named Ernest.

Yes, I realize that I am essentially questioning Mauviel’s story of its history. This started not because I doubted Mauviel but because I am genuinely interested in the history of this house. Genealogical records are one way to feel connected with the men and women who made vintage French copper, and sometimes the only way, as births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths are often the best preserved records.

I went to the French site geneanet.org and ran searches for Mauviel, eventually finding the family tree compiled by Généa50, a collective of genealogical researchers who have pooled their expertise to build detailed family trees for families in the Manche region of France, including Mauviel. If “Ernest Mauviel” was an adult in 1830 between 20 and 50 years old, he would arrive in the Mauviel family tree between 1780 and 1810, give or take. But the first Ernest Mauviel in Valérie’s line — to include her vast extended family — wasn’t born until 1856.

If you think it sounds crazy that Mauviel would tell its own history incorrectly, I agree with you. Please take a look and tell me what I’m missing. I’m not a genealogist and I may very well be misinterpreting the information.

The earliest Mauviel in Valérie’s line is Julien Mauviel, who was born around 1615 and died around 1680. Généa50 has compiled Julien’s complete Descendency Chart, a tour de force of research that lists hundreds of Mauviels (and Havards, Villains, Lecelliers, Picots, Gautiers, and on and on) descended from Julien down to the mid-1800s (including Valérie’s great-great-grandfather, born in 1823, and his siblings). If an “Ernest Mauviel” was alive in Villedieu-les-Poêles of age to run a chaudronnerie in 1830 he would be on this chart, but there is no-one anywhere with the first or middle name Ernest.

If you want to try this for yourself, open up that Descendency Chart and do a search for the word “Ernest.” That word does not appear anywhere within Julien’s family tree from 1615 to 1856. Again, there could be another Ernest Mauviel, but if so, he is not part of Valérie’s family.

Still with me? Okay, we’ll walk through her family tree all the way to the present day.

Julien Mauviel (1615-1680 or so) had two sons and a daughter. One son’s name is not known, but his other son, Francois Mauvielmarried Françoise Merignon in 1662 and they had eight children. Of these eight children, Michel Mauviel (1670-1738) is Valérie’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, give or take a few greats. (He also served as the Bourgeois de Villedieu, possibly equivalent to the mayor.) He was the right age to be “Ernest Mauviel”‘s great-grandfather.

Of Michel’s six sons, only one of them — François Mauviel (1716-1764), Valérie’s ancestor, married to Jeanne Gautier in 1739 — bore male children to carry on the Mauviel name. Michel’s other sons were childless or had female children who took their husband’s name.

François Mauviel had two sons, Gilles Mauviel (1750-1801) and François Mauviel (1754-1832). These men are the right age to have been “Ernest Mauviel”‘s father. Gilles is Valérie’s ancestor, so strictly speaking he would have had to be “Ernest”‘s father, but we’ll look at both of them in case Valérie has fudged things a bit this far back. Again, the important thing is to find ANY man named “Ernest Mauviel” born between 1780 and 1810.

Gilles Mauviel, Valerie’s ancestor, married Jeanne Marie Lemonnier in 1785. They had only one son: Jean François Mauviel (1787-1855). He is the only male ancestor of Valérie who was alive at the right time to start a chaudronnerie in 1830, but he is not named Ernest. Jean François married twice, to Jeanne Louise Havard (1790-1813) in 1809, and after her death, to Marie-Therese Villain (1788-1846) in 1814.

François Mauviel, who is not Valérie’s ancestor, married Marie Victoire Gautier in 1788. They had a son named Gilles Mauviel (1790-1826). This Gilles, like his cousin Jean François, would be the right age to start a company in 1830, but again, he has the wrong name and he is not in Valérie’s direct line.

I hope your eyes have not rolled completely back into your head at this point in the narrative, but bear with me here: there is no “Ernest Mauviel” listed in any of the branches that was alive and of age in 1830 to start a chaudronnerie. But the thing is, there were likely many Mauviels working with copper in 1830 — they were just not named Ernest.

The importance of being Ernest Mauviel
1847

Thanks to the inexhaustible enthusiasm of the French for compiling official documents (and the reverence for la patrimonie that digitizes and posts them online), there are records of chaudronniers-poêliers active in Villedieu-les-Poêles for portions of the 19th century. The earliest record I can find is from 1847 and it lists two with the Mauviel name: Mauviel-Villain and Mauviel-Picault.

Mauviel-Villain, I believe, is Jean François Mauviel and his second wife Marie-Therèse Villain. His first wife, Jeanne Louise Havard, passed away in 1813, and he married Marie-Therèse in 1814. Jean François would have been 27 when he married Marie-Therèse, 43 in 1830, and 60 when this list was recorded in 1847.

Mauviel-Picault is, I suspect, Jean François’s son François Victor Mauviel (1812-1874), his son from his first marriage to Jeanne Louise Havard. François Victor married Suzanne Picot in 1835 when he was 23 years old; in 1847, the time of this listing, he would have been 35 years old.

In my opinion, if Valérie were to point to a Mauviel in her family line who deserves to be honored as the founder of “Mauviel”  in 1830, it should be Jean François. He would have learned the trade from his father Gilles (1750-1801) and perhaps also his uncle François (1754-1832). But their time was too early; Gilles passed away in 1801, and François would have been 76 in 1830, too old to start a new company. Though I don’t know when Jean Francois and his wife launched Mauviel-Villain, the timing would have been perfect in 1830, just two years before his uncle passed away.

And while I could not find much personal information about Jean François as a businessman, consider this: three of his sons also started their own chaudronneries as well. The 1847 listing includes Jean François and his son François Victor, and in the next industrial list that I could locate online from 1857, two more sons show up with their own shops. If the mark of a good chaudronnier is to pass his craft on to his sons, then certainly Jean François was very good indeed.

The importance of being Ernest Mauviel
1857

Take a look at the next listing of chaudronniers-poêliers in Villedieu-les-Poêles, this one for 1857. Jean François Mauviel had passed away in 1855, aged 68, so Mauviel-Villain was no more. Mauviel-Picault survives; François Victor would have been 45 years old.

The two new Mauviel additions are, I believe, Jean François’s younger sons.

Mauviel-Lecellier is, I believe, Nicolas Paul Mauviel (1815-1873), who married Marie Françoise Lecellier in 1838. He would have been 23 at the time of the marriage, and 42 in 1857. (He is not Valérie’s ancestor.)

Mauviel-Tétrel is, I believe, the next company in the lineage of both Valérie and Mauviel 1830. According to a later history, this company was formed in 1850 by Jean Baptiste Félix Mauviel (1823-1871), son of Jean François (and Valérie’s ancestor), sealed with his marriage in 1852 to Adèle Marie Tétrel (1830-1912). But it is not simply the company that Jean Baptiste contributes to our narrative. Among their children were two sons who would carry Mauviel into the 20th century: Ernest Eugène Mauviel (1856-1946) and Paul Eugène Mauviel (1859-1946), called Eugène.

Here at last, born in 1856, is Ernest Mauviel — Valerie’s great-great-grandfather!

Mauviel-Tétrel was “a modest artisan chaudronnerie … working à façon (‘to order’) for the big manufacturers of the city.” After Jean Baptiste’s death in 1871, his widow Adèle Mauviel (née Tétrel) ran the firm until 1880 when she passed control to her sons. It was Ernest and Eugène who transformed the firm from a petit patron (“small employer”) doing piece-work for larger firms to a proper copper workshop with products of their own design. Ernest had married Léonice Marie Gautier in 1880, and he and Eugène renamed the firm Établissements Mauviel-Gautier Frères. In 1885, Eugène married Leonice’s sister, Josephine, further cementing the Mauviel-Gautier bond.

The brothers ran the firm for 25 years, Eugène focusing on the copper manufacturing and Ernest on management and customer service. In 1906, they passed control of the company to Ernest’s son Ernest Auguste Mauviel (1881-1948), Valérie’s great-grandfather. Ernest Auguste continued the Mauviel reputation as “an ‘artisan-artist’ in copper, hard worker, conscientious, meticulous, whose initiatives, good taste, patience and sense of beauty contributed to the high reputation of our local industry.” Ernest Auguste and his wife Louise Delphine Marie Debroise had four children: Armand, Cecile, Ernest, and Monique. Armand Mauviel (1908-1980) was Valérie’s grandfather.

In 1940, Ernest Auguste retired and passed control to Armand. Eugène and Ernest passed away within four months of each other in 1946 and Ernest Auguste soon after in 1948, leaving Armand to guide the company in the aftermath of World War II. In 1962, Armand moved the company from its historical location at Rue Général Huard in the Cour aux Cherots to the larger quarters it still occupies at 47 Rue de Caen.

In the 1960s, Armand Mauviel’s daughter Michèle met Jean-Marie Le Guern in Paris. The two married, settled in Brest, and had children — Valérie (born 1968), Gilbert, and Vincent. According to Valérie, it was around this time that her grandfather Armand reached out to her father Jean-Marie and asked him to join the company; Armand retired in 1974, passing the company to his son Gérard Mauviel and Jean-Marie. Valérie joined the firm in 1995 and became president in 2006.

Conclusions… and questions

Let’s revisit mauvielusa.com:

In 1830, in a Normandy village called Villedieu-les-Poêles, which is located near the Mont-Saint-Michel, Mr. Ernest Mauviel established the Mauviel manufacturing company.

This is a pretty affirmative statement, but based on the research above, do you think it’s correct?

The assertions on mauviel.com are a little more subtle:

Few know the first name of this designer of genius, Ernest Mauviel, however, the products manufactured in his traditional workshop, founded in 1830, are well-known, the world over.

Was Ernest’s workshop founded in 1830? According to their own publicity, Ernest and Eugène Mauviel took over Mauviel-Tétrel, founded 1850, and carried it into the 20th century as Mauviel-Gautier Frères. How can we consider Mauviel-Tétrel to be the same entity as Mauviel-Villain, Ernest’s grandfather’s chaudronnerie, when Ernest and Eugène don’t claim that it is?

And what about this, also from mauviel.com?

Seven generations separate Ernest, the Founder, at the start of this great adventure, to Valérie, today…

Here are the generations of Mauviels in Valérie’s family:

  1. Valérie Le Guern-Gilbert
  2. Michelle Le Guern (née Mauviel)
  3. Armand Mauviel (1909-1980)
  4. Ernest Auguste Mauviel (1881-1948)
  5. Ernest Eugène Mauviel (1856-1946)
  6. Jean Baptiste Félix Mauviel (1823-1871)
  7. Jean François Mauviel (1787-1855)
  8. Gilles Mauviel (1750-1801)
  9. François Mauviel (1716-1764)
  10. Michel Mauviel (1670-1738)
  11. François Mauviel (died 1691)
  12. Julien Mauviel (c1615-c1680)

If Valérie is “one” and you count back to “seven,” you get… Jean François Mauviel.

Why would Mauviel put forward statements that are only partially correct? Could “Ernest” have been a nickname for Jean François? Or am I not understanding how genealogy works? Could Généa50 have missed some other branch of Mauviels in Villedieu in 1830 from which Valérie is somehow descended?

What about this: Could some obscure cousin way back have married a man named “Ernest Mauviel” who doesn’t show up in Valérie’s direct lineage, but to whom she can therefore claim descent? Maybe, but there’s also the genealogy of “Mauviel 1830” itself to consider. The present-day firm’s lineage goes back to Mauviel-Tétrel, founded in 1850 by Jean Baptiste and his wife Adèle; run by Adèle after Jean Baptiste’s death in 1871; passed to Ernest and Eugène in 1880, who renamed it Établissements Mauviel-Gautier Frères; passed to Ernest Auguste; passed to Armand; passed to his son-in-law Jean-Marie Le Guern in 1974; and now run by Valérie Le Guern-Gilbert.

Prior to 1850, there was Jean François Mauviel and Mauviel-Villain. But this firm was not passed on to his son; Jean Baptiste started Mauviel-Tétrel as a separate business in 1850, according to the history that Établissements Mauviel-Gautier Frères provides.

The ultimate point is that when Mauviel 1830 talks about its history as a company, these are the Mauviels they’re talking about. If Valérie and Mauviel 1830 are lashed together, as everyone claims, then these are her Mauviel relatives, too, and there’s no obscure and unaccounted-for Ernest Mauviel.

If Mauviel is to claim an unbroken lineage of family management, they’re talking about five generations going back to Jean Baptiste and Mauviel-Tétrel in 1850 (as described in the company’s own documents from 1926).

If Mauviel is to claim that the company has been family-run for seven generations, then they’re talking about Jean François Mauviel and Mauviel-Villain, which would contradict that company’s 1926 statements.

If Mauviel is to claim that they were started by “Ernest Mauviel,” then they’re talking about Établissements Mauviel-Gautier Frères in 1880.

So why 1830 and Ernest Mauviel? What do you think?

Additions

I came across a press release from Mauviel in 2010 to celebrate its 180th anniversary. It repeats the same confusing mixture of information:

March 1, 2010 — … In 1830 in a Normandy village, Villedieu-les-Poêles, near Mont-Saint-Michel, Ernest Mauviel established the Mauviel manufacturing company…. Mauviel is still a privately owned family business that is into the sixth generation of ownership.  According to Valérie Mauviel Gilbert, a sixth generation descendant of Ernest, “The strength and foundation for Mauviel’s manufacturing expertise is based upon this rich tradition of copper manufacturing that has been handed down from generation to generation…”

Once again, the first Ernest Mauviel in Valerie’s ancestry is four generations back. Six generations back is, say it with me, Jean François Mauviel.


Corrections

I reached out to musées Villedieu, who were kind enough to provide this PDF document, Mauviel 1830, with the obituaries for Ernest, Eugène, Ernest Auguste, and Armand Mauviel, complete with important biographical details and dates for the period after 1855. I have corrected my timeline with this information; quotes and details about Mauviel-Tétrel and the period after come from this document. Note that this document also identifies “Mauviel-Tétrel” in 1830; I remain skeptical of this, however, and am searching for more information.

Resources

I am indebted to Gallica’s online scans of the annual French commercial almanacs for the listings of chaudronneries over time. They’re available for free online:

Some of these issues can be searched by text, but those for which the scan quality is too low for text recognition, you’ll need to search manually. One tip to get started: go to page 600 or so and look at the top of the page for the alphabetical départment sections. Find the Manche départment, then within that the Saint-Lô arrondissement and the canton of Villedieu-les-Poêles.

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2 Comments

  1. This is really fascinating and quite convincing. Geneaolgical records are far more reliable than what sounds like a company statement with a lot of wiggle-room. e.g.: “Few know the first name of this designer of genius, Ernest Mauviel. . . ” It seems to me that you should send this research to the Mauviel Company and see how they respond.

  2. I’m glad you found it interesting — I certainly did! I mean, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really make a difference for Mauviel’s quality and reputation as an atelier, but I still have to wonder what’s going on. I’m considering reaching out to that Genea50 research group and asking them if they can find the missing Ernest.

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