Marchand-Mercier is the French term from the eighteenth century, for a dealer who sold luxurious furniture and objects in Parisian shops. They were members of the Parisian Mercers' Guild, who combined the functions of today's antique dealer and interior decorator. These men were key to many of the greatest collections of the period, acting as agents for clients, as well as initiating and influencing fashions through their control over craftsmen. Guild regulations prevented them from having their own workshops, so Marchand-Merciers offered specific commissions to independent craftsmen, thus playing an important role in the evolution of decorative style.
Marchand-Mercier and the Trend for Porcelain Mounted Furniture
One style that the ‘Marchand-Mercier’ were particularly influential in the emergence of, was the fashion for porcelain mounted onto exquisite furniture pieces. Which they brought to the novelty seeking Parisian connoisseurs around 1760 through ébénistes who were working for the principal Marchand-Merciers.
The original pioneer was Simon-Philippe Poirier, the much celebrated Marchand-Mercier, who worked chiefly with the ébéniste Martin Carlin, and who ordered his first plaques in 1758. These items were rare and sought after even at the time of their production, and most examples now reside in museum collections.
Poirier’s partner and successor Dominque Daguerre was the largest purchaser of Sevres plaques, and continued what had become a virtual monopoly on porcelain mounted furniture well into the 1790’s. Not only did they order the materials from the Sèvres factory, but they also selected the cabinetmaker to execute the piece, often supplying him with designs in the form of detailed drawings.
The English Revival
The nineteenth century saw a revival for this fashion in porcelain-mounted furniture, especially amongst the English aristocracy, typifying their fascination with ancien regime opulence. Eighteenth century plaques were often available in the nineteenth century and many dealers would buy them, and either alter existing pieces of furniture or make new ones to receive the plaques.
Particularly influential in this revival was Edward Holmes Baldock (1777-1845) who was one of the first London antique dealers, in the modern sense of the word. He principally dealt in eighteenth century French furniture and Chinese Export porcelain, and as a retailer as well as a manufacturer he commissioned furniture to compliment his inventory.
Baldock was involved in the formation of some of the greatest collections of French furniture during the nineteenth century, numbering amongst his clients King George IV, the Dukes of Beccleuch and Northumberland, William Beckford, Lord De Saumarez, the Earl of Lonsdale, Baron Hatherton and the Lord Lowthers. In addition, Baldock held the positions of 'purveyor of China earthenware and Glass' to King William IV from 1832 to 1837 'purveyor of China' to Queen Victoria from 1838 to his death in 1845.
Baldock commissioned and designed furniture operating more in the manner of Poirier and Dauguerre, the marchands-merciers of the eighteenth century, than other English manufacturers. However, it appears that unlike his French predecessors and unencumbered by French guild restrictions, he actually manufactured pieces in his own workshops.
Because of his dealings in both ceramics and furniture Baldock was well placed to exploit the fashion for porcelain-mounted furniture. He is known to have employed the Quaker artist Thomas Martin Randall to embellish plain pieces of Sevres, and some of the porcelain furniture mounts used by Baldock are closely linked to the work of John Randall.
Geoffrey de Bellaigne, Connoisseur ‘Edward Holmes Baldock’ part I and II, August 1975
Chrisotpher Payne, ‘19th Century European Furniture’, p 395, 1985
Christopher Gilbert, ‘Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall’, p 318–320, 1978
Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, ‘The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840’, p 34, 1986
Christopher Gilbert, ‘Marked London Furniture 1700 – 1840’, p 76 – 80.