Featured Honoring the Wet-Nurse: a French Medal from 1831

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Roman Collector, May 31, 2020.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Medal 1831 Maison centrale.jpg
    Medal, France, AR 18.09 g, 35.0 mm, 12 h.
    Mathias Vivier, 1831.
    Obv: NUTRIX QUOQUE MATER, wet-nurse seated left, holding breastfeeding infant.

    About Mathias Vivier and this medal

    Mathias Nicolas Marie Vivier was a nineteenth century medallist, born in Paris, 6 April 1788. He was a pupil of Moineaux and entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1807. He was represented several times at the Paris Salon between 1819 and 1833, and he lived until about 1859.[1] Vivier was well known for his medals featuring such historic personages as Alexander Pope, John Milton, Dr. Hermann Boerhaave, Leonardo da Vinci, George Washington, and Copernicus. Several of his medals are featured in Durand’s "Galerie metallique."[2]

    This medal, struck by Vivier in 1831, bears the obverse legend NUTRIX QUOQUE MATER, meaning "wet-nurse as well as mother," and the reverse legend MAISON CENTRALE DE NOURRICES, 1831, translated "Central Home for Wet Nurses." The medal is listed in the collections of the Conseil Supérieur des Beaux-Arts,[3] and Fischer.[4] In addition to silver (as illustrated above), the medal was also struck in bronze.[5]

    The Central Home for Wet Nurses and the profession of wet-nurse

    The Maison Centrale de Nourrices was founded in 1829[6] and was originally located at 36 Rue du Temple in Paris. The Central Home for Wet Nurses no longer occupies this address. It is now the location of a Maison Fanli clothing store.


    J. Steward, writing in the 1837 edition of his tourist's guide to Paris,[7] notes the Maison Centrale de Nourrices was located at 36 Rue de Temple, and describes the institution's purpose:

    This institution is under the direction and controul of a society of physicians, who take every precaution to examine into the physical state and moral character of the nurses engaged here.​

    Only two years later, Galignani and Galignani, note[8] an address of 18 Rue Ste. Appoline, and write:

    The object of this useful establishment is to afford to the inhabitants of Paris and its environs the means of obtaining wet-nurses in whom they may confide, and to secure to the nurses the payment of their wages.​

    Modern scholars of the history of wet-nursing, Mary Spaulding and Penny Welch, describe the regulations regarding the profession of wet-nursing in Paris at the time[9]:

    In 1715 a declaration by the king established four bureaux in the city and introduced regulations for their administration and for the wet nurses. They were placed under the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant General of the Police, who was empowered to appoint the recommandaresses [directors] and was made responsible for collecting fees. The offices were to be inspected each month by the courts.

    Any nurse registering at the bureau had to have the facts about herself, her husband, and her own infant certified by her parish priest; similarly when returning home she had to present to her local curé a certificate of particulars about the nurseling from the recommandaresse. She was forbidden to have two nurselings at the same time and was required to give notification by the second month if she became pregnant or if for any reason she could not nurse. If the baby died, she was to submit a death certificate and she could claim back pay. Disciplines, fines, and punishments were outlined.​

    I found this medal to be an interesting window into a world no longer seen, supplanted by the La Leche League and prepackaged baby formula and bottles.

    La Nourrice (The Wet-Nurse) by Henri Michel-Levy, oil, 19th century. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans (France).


    1. Forrer, L. Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, Coin, Gem- and Seal-Engravers, Mint-Masters, Etc., Ancient and Modern, with References to Their Works, B.C. 500-A.D. 1900, Compiled by L. Forrer. Volume VI, Spink and Son, 1916, p. 291.

    2. Cited by Forrer, ibid.

    3. Degroise, M.-H., et al. Administration Des Beaux-Arts. 1er Volume (XIXe Siècle): Inventaire Semi-Analytique (F/21/476-F/21/567). Archives Nationales (France) Pierrefitte-Sur-Seine, 1968, p. 123.

    4. Storer, Dr. Horatio R. "The Medals, Jetons, and Tokens Illustrative of Sanitation." The Sanitarian, vol. 25, no. 251, Oct. 1890, pp. 333–349 (p. 344, specifically).

    5. Spaulding, Mary, and Penny Welch. Nurturing Yesterday's Child: A Portrayal of the Drake Collection of Paediatric History. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 1994, p. 39.

    6. Granier, Camille. Essai De Bibliographie Charitable. Guillaumin, 1891, p. 268.

    7. Steward, J. The Stranger's Guide to Paris: Containing an Accurate Description of the Palaces, Churches, Public Edifices, Libraries, Museums, Theatres, Etc. 2nd ed., Baudry's European Library, 1837, p 257.

    8. Galignani, A. & W. Galignani's New Paris Guide: Containing an Accurate Statistical and Historical Description of All the Institutions, Public Edifices, Curiosities, Etc. 2nd ed., A. and W. Galignani and Co., 1839, p. 110.

    9. Spaulding, Mary, and Penny Welch, op. cit., p. 38.
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
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  3. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator

    Cool! @Stork will like this one.
    Stork and Roman Collector like this.
  4. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    You are correct!
    Roman Collector likes this.
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Since I am unable to find a single example of a silver version of this medal after an exhaustive internet search, I conclude it's rare.

    Is there any value in getting this slabbed? Which TPG company would be best?
  6. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    What a great combination of artistry and history! If I weren't already so absorbed by ancients I could get into collecting medals.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta

    Very interesting!
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. Stork

    Stork I deliver Supporter

    And I'm so busy with medals I haven't gotten into ancients even though I find them fascinating! Well most everything is on the back burner for a bit. Major life changes and all that.
    TIF and Roman Collector like this.
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