Jason Clarke Antiques

French Revolutionary Period Walking Cane Telescope by Francois-Antoine Jecker of Paris


For sale, a rare French Revolutionary period walking cane with integral telescope by Francois-Antoine Jecker of Paris.

This fascinating instrument is comprised of a two-part, ribbed and tapered metal body painted in simulation of bamboo. It has two false brass eyelets at the upper end to simulate the hole in which the wrist cord would ordinarily have been fitted, a brass pommel and original pointed ferrule at the base which is painted in keeping with the body. The brass pommel is beautifully engraved with a coat of arms consisting of a knight’s helm and gorget with mounted cross and wings above.

Note: I have commissioned research with The College of Arms in an attempt to identify the family, but the search was unsuccessful. It is therefore assumed that the coat of arms is French. Unfortunately, with no centrally held records for the arms of the French nobility, the owner remains unidentified at this time.

The telescope is accessed by unscrewing the cane at a join two thirds down the shaft. This reveals a single draw, German silver eyetube with the maker’s name, “Jecker A Paris” engraved to the end. The inch diameter objective lens is further revealed by unscrewing the brass pommel cap from the opposite end.

The telescope measures 55cms when closed and 67cms when fully extended. The full cane measures 94cms.

The Paris instrument maker, Francois-Antione Jecker was born in Hirtzfelden on the French-Swiss border in 1765 to a farming family. His mechanical abilities were said to have been evident from a young age and at nineteen, he was apprenticed to an instrument maker in the larger regional town of Besancon. He remained for just one year before it became evident that his technical abilities were greater than his master’s.

Jecker travelled to England in 1786 to further his education owing to the quality and reputation of the London instrument makers of the period, and he wasted little time by introducing himself immediately to the most renowned of them all, Jesse Ramsden, who clearly saw his potential. Jecker began working for Ramsden almost immediately and continued to work in his London workshop for the next six years until his return to Paris in 1792.

Now possessing topflight credentials and enviable contacts from Britain’s scientific community, Jecker was immediately accepted by revolutionary Parisian society after his presentation of a straight line dividing engine of his own manufacture to The Bureau de consultation des Arts et Métiers.

After a short period of military service, Jecker then set up a large manufactory at 4 Rue de la Vielle Draperie in Paris where he employed and trained numerous instrument makers in the same vein as his former London master. He moved to 42 Rue des Marmousets in 1799 from which address he won both a bronze and a silver medal at successive French Industrial Exhibitions.

In 1803, probably owing to his growing success, a further move to 10 Rue des Douze Portes coincided with Jecker inviting his brothers to join the business which was renamed Jecker Freres. To give some indication of the size of the business at this stage, it is suggested that Jean and Laurent established satellite premises in America and Germany respectively, whilst the remaining brothers, Gervais and Protais remained in Paris.

In 1810, Jecker Freres moved to Rue de Bondy and two years later, Jecker was accepted into the Imperial Institute of France for his improvements to the circular dividing engine. Numerous other Exhibition accolades were awarded, and he continued to supply French governmental departments as well as fulfilling naval contracts. His instruments were according to contemporary description, “comparable or superior to those of England or exceeded their quality. In addition, they sold for 30% less than English instruments!”

In 1821, Laurent Jecker died and according to census records, his sons remained closely associated with the company. The founder, Francois-Antione Jecker died in September 1834 and was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His company continued to trade until 1837 whereupon it was changed to Jecker Fils, this final change suggesting that the sons of Laurent Jecker may well have taken possession of the firm a short time after the founder’s death. It continued until the latter half of the 1840’s.

Jecker’s early experiences in Britain, and with Jesse Ramsden had a profound effect on his career. Those of his instruments which are commonly found such as his folding guinea scale were modelled on the British design and then popularised in France. As was the work which he undertook on dividing engines, the understanding of which must surely have been refined in Ramsden’s workshops.

The same is true of this interesting combination instrument where examples, (the same in almost every detail) are known to have emanated from Ramsden’s manufacture. It is of course possible that a trading relationship between the pair existed despite the revolutionary and subsequent Napoleonic periods, but inter-country trading would most likely have been problematic until 1815 by which time Ramsden had been dead for fifteen years. Despite any commercial rivalries it is understood that the pair remained firm friends until Ramsden’s death in 1800.

Circa 1795  

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