|Project by Mark A. DeCou||posted 07-04-2012 12:47 AM||4259 views||0 times favorited||15 comments|
Project Story: Restoration of an antique Maillard Conformateur, Formillon and Plot Board, and building of a Matching Padded Carrying Case.
I have been asked to restore several of these antique tools in several different versions and models and spread out over several years of manufacturing, and a couple of different brand names. Still, little is known about the companies that made them, where they disappeared to, where the factory that made them went, etc. So far, those of us that look for data about them, are pretty much in the dark about the entire history of the company and tools they designed. There is a theory going around that an Italian company was subcontracted by the Maillard-Paris company to build them, but there isn’t any proof yet. The Patent documents show it was invented by Maillard in Paris, who also made many other industrial and medical types of items. Either way, the French, or Italians have a long history of making incredibly detailed and complicated items, so it could be either one of them.
What is interesting to me, an engineering-trained child born long after the industrial revolution developed replaceable parts, and factory workers, is that each of these machines are a little different, and the parts on them are a little different. At first this was shocking to me, and caught me by surprise. But, now I just appreciate the craft-hands that made each little part and assembled them together to make the machines.
For instance, today we’d have a robot in some foreign country where people are still willing to work for nothing-much, build each of the wooden fingers so that they were all exactly the same, replaceable, and inexpensive, using the cheapest materials that could possibly work. Not so with the Maillards, they are decorated with mother of pearl washers under the screws, and many of the parts of made with African Ebony wood. What is not ebony is a wood that has been ebonized black. Some of them are finished wood, while others have a thin layer of leather covering the main parts, like what you see on a piece of antique luggage or briefcase. As many as I’ve done, you’d think I’d see duplicates, but so far not so much.
On these antiques, I often have to modify every finger to fit its position exactly, making no two fingers the same. I rigged up 16 different little jigs to help me make each of the fingers in an efficient and tediously accurate way. But, after the finished part is built, it has to be hand altered to fit each location just perfectly. It’s tedious yes, but I can’t just ship out parts for others to install since they wouldn’t fit, without the adjustments made to each one. Recently I shipped some replacement fingers to a guy in Eastern Europe who did his own installation and as far as I know, they fit well enough for him to be happy, another success for the globalization and internet to connect us all together.
I don’t have an exact date of when the tool was built, but I estimate it in the 1850-1900 range, most likely closer to the later part of that period. A couple of years back, one of these tools I restored had a paper label on it with hand lettering saying it was displayed in a World Fair’s in 1850. There is no telling who put the label on it, or if there even was one of these units displayed at a World’s Fair, or in that year. Just a piece of data I discovered once.
Some of these machines are made with 60 fingers, while others have 46 fingers. The oldest ones seem to be the most intricate, the most with expensive ebony wood and mother-of-pearl decoration, and German Silver or Silver hardware. From what I can discover, the newest ones are simpler, materials were switched to cheaper wood that was ebonized, and the silver hardware was switched to plated brass, or just bare brass.
Each of these restoration projects has it’s own challenges and problems, and this one was no exception. But, now that it is all restored, working, polished and waxed and calibrated, the set is ready for use by a custom hat maker now. This particular set was purchased through eBay out of Argentina and shipped to me for the necessary work to make it functional and accurate in measuring heads.
The padded case has taken more head scratching and design work than I had imagined it would take, as the goal was to safely hold the Maillard tool set, while being carried onto an airplane and put in the overhead compartment. When not on a flight, the padded box is to work as a storage and protection box for the very valuable equipment on the inside. I did a bit of research to figure out what size of a box would fit in an overhead compartment. Since every airline has a different standard, I went with the smallest so that it would fit on all the others. And, like so many of my decisions, I didn’t realize at the time that selecting the smallest size would be such a challenge to fit all of the tools in the box with enough padding to protect it, and stay within the designated dimensions. But, I did it, and I’m glad it’s finished.
I can assure you that I when I dreamed up my business plan to be a full time woodworker and leave my engineering/sales job, I never expected to know about, nor restore such a tool. But, one thing led to another, and then another, and then a few dozen or so additional steps, etc. and here I am. After doing quite a few of these Conformateur Restorations, it’s amazing how much I’ve learned in the process. I suppose it’s possible that I’ve restored more of them than any guy in history has done, and isn’t that something to put on my tombstone?
The Conformateur, is a French Designed and patented tool by the company Maillard, and used to measure the head size and shape of a person, so that a custom made hat can be built by a hat maker. The Maillard folks were really something special in their ability to design such an interesting tool. The downside is that they are so fragile, and most haven’t survived 100-150 years of use and neglect without a lot of damage. They really are a marvel to look at and use, and the process of restoring and calibrating them is time consuming, but rewarding. I’m a history buff, so I enjoy bringing back to working life, old scientific and industrial equipment such as the old Conformateur, and mating Formillon. I don’t know where all of this will lead me, it’s all part of that mysterious journey we all call “the crafting Life”.
In an older posting, I have included more history on these tools, and more about how they are used, and if you are interested in learning more, you can click here to see another restored Conformateur
If you found this project posting while doing some google research of your own, I have more photos posted here
I know that it may seem odd in the era of free youtube videos for just about anything you want to find out about, to read that I’ll only share the finished photos for history’s sake, but I will not do free appraisal work, nor will I tell you for free how to restore and calibrate your own Conformateur & Formillon, nor will I provide you with the details of how the tools are used to make an accurate head measurement. Some things aren’t free. Sorry to be such a mean-sounding guy, I’m not really, I just can’t afford to help for free all of those people that contact me about these rare and expensive tools.
Thanks for looking,
(Note: project story, photos, and design are protected by copyright 2012 by the Author, M.A. DeCou, and no unauthorized use in total, or part is allowed without expressed written permission.)
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com