These are the documents and sites that I use in my research. I hope they can help you as well. This page is a work in progress — please excuse changes as it grows and its organization evolves!
Catalogs and price lists
Online research resources
Each yearly edition, all in French, is a directory to the residents and businesses in Paris (and, in the earlier editions, France and some other countries as well). The later editions run to thousands of pages and are broken into individual volumes. You can look up a person or a business by name, by street address, or by profession.
They are available in six groups that cover the years from 1798 to 1938, but note that some years are missing. Some editions are text-searchable — meaning, you can type words into a search box — but for others you will have to search manually. (They’re scanned from giant phonebook-sized books, so sometimes a text-searchable edition is not completely text searchable — the words near the bound edge get distorted and don’t get processed for text search even if the rest of the page is text-readable.) The organization of information changes over time, so it’s useful to look at each volume’s front matter to see what it contains.
But the hassle to learn to navigate and read these books is definitely worth it. These have been enormously helpful to me to find when a business started, when it changed its name, when it moved location, when it closed, and on and on. This is always my first stop when I am researching a chaudronnerie: I run a text search for the firm’s name to get a general idea of the time window when it was active, and then dig in. Remember that not all editions are text-searchable, so you will want to search additional editions manually to get all the information available.
These are the legal records of business activity for the years 1874 to 1949, and are by and large text-searchable. I’ve used these to track the dates of formation and dissolution for a company and to see when one chaudronnerie bought another.
These are the published legal records for the country from 1890 to 1949: births, deaths, marriages, legal judgements, and more. The amount of information is dizzying but they are text-searchable for the most part. This resource is more about tracking people rather than businesses, but it can be a great way to discover specifics about individuals — first names, names of spouses and children, and so forth — that you can then search for in other resources.
The Institut national de la propriété industrielle (INPI) is France’s trademark registry, and it’s fully searchable online. The records go back to 1881 for continuously-renewed marks, but if you’re looking for a defunct trademark, digitized records of expired trademarks only go back to 1982. Make sure you use Recherche advancée — “Advanced search” — to look for expired trademarks.
I have used this site to look for 20th century companies, particularly the chaudronneries in Villedieu-les-Poêles from the 1960s to the 2000s. The expired trademarks give me a timeframe for when a company was active as well as names and addresses of registrants that I can then search for in other resources.
Business legal records
Infogreffe is the online registry (greffe) for legal business entities in France. The site takes its data from the Registre du commerce et des sociétés (Trade and Companies Register) as filed with France’s commercial courts. The site also provides data from the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEE), France’s bureau of national economic statistics. You can look up records for individuals and businesses for free. The site’s navigation is in French or English, but the records are in French.
I use Infogreffe to look at records for chaudronneries active after World War II. The site doesn’t say how far back its records go, but the earliest I have seen is 1955. The search function is fairly powerful, so you can use multiple terms to narrow down the results. If you are looking for a chaudronnerie that you know does not exist any more, make sure you click Voir les entreprises radiées du RCS (“View the companies struck off the Trade and Companies Register”) in the search results view to see companies that have closed down.
Geneanet.org is the best site I have found for European genealogy. When I’m researching a chaudronnerie, this is where I find the dates of birth, marriages, children, and death of the men and women who made these beautiful things. You can search the site for free, but if you’re interested in some real historical spelunking, consider a subscription that provides more robust search tools and access to their library of scanned records. (I am a subscriber!)
The country’s business almanacs cover 1820 to 1969. The documents are available in French and Dutch. Like the French almanacs, individuals and businesses are listed by name and also by profession.
This is what I’ve used to find the name, address, and dates of operation for the Belgian coppersmiths.
Books about historical coppersmithing
Online books available for free
Art of Coppersmithing, by John Fulles Sr., 1911. He writes about becoming an apprentice smith in England and learning how to craft a series of increasingly more complicated pieces, with lots of detail (even mathematical formulas) on how pans with complex geometry were cut and assembled.
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