The story of Maltier le Malletier
In the 14th century, the four or five trunk and chest makers who practised their craft in France made “chests, sideboards, bed bases, canteens, leather-coated woodwork of all kinds, bed trunks, trussing-bed cases, portmanteaus, cases, gun sheaths, and other leather craft objects”. The trade became regulated under the reign of Charles V, on June 25th 1379, with a common charter imposed on harness makers, loriners (makers of spurs, stirrups, bits), trunk and chest makers, whose craft practices nevertheless remained distinct. The ancient rivalry between harness makers and trunk makers dates back to this period.
A century later, in 1479, the kingdom counted no more than seven trunk and chest makers. They petitioned for secession from the corporation of harness makers and loriners in order to defend their own interests. The petition was granted two years later and the corporation of trunk and chest makers was formed in 1481 by royal decree.
The first transportation revolution occurred in the 16th century with the appearance of the first coaches. Indeed under King Francis I, there were only two coaches and horses in Paris possessed by the Queen and by Diane of France, Duchess of Châtellerault, Angouleme and Etampes, and the natural daughter of King Henry II. With more and more people using coaches at the beginning of the 17th century, the harness makers became coach harness makers, which allowed more latitude for trunk and chest makers.
It was then, at the turn of the 17th century, that a French Carpenter started making trunks for wealthy travellers in Saint-Georges parish in Vivonne, near Poitiers. He took on the name of his trade: Maltier –or Malletier (the spelling of the name varied), which means trunk maker in French.The name soon merged with the trade, and whether his descendants were named Daniel, Pierre, Joseph (patron saint of carpenters) or Jehan (patron saint of trunk makers, feast day May 6th), they would all go by the name of “Maltier le malletier”, i.e. “Maltier the trunk maker”.
In those days, all trades benefited from the grandeur of the reign of King Henry IV. By then the number of harness, trunk and chest makers had reached eighty and in 1596 the corporation of trunk and chest makers was granted a charter. Charter article 30 stated how “trunks and cases for camp beds, trussing beds and camp tables” were to be made. Charter article 31 described the making of “cases for silverware”, and charter article 34 mentioned “sheaths and cases for chairs, stools, arquebuses, guns, silver flasks, bows, crossbows”, etc. The charter was approved, ratified and confirmed by letters patent issued by King Henry IV, dated November 1596.
Ironically it was in Saint-Georges church in Vivonne that the regicide Ravaillac claimed to have experienced a vision instructing him to assassinate King Henry IV in April 1610.
The trunks and woodwork of Maltier the trunk maker were becoming more and more renowned in his region where he was the only trunk maker. On the occasion of Louis Maltier’s wedding on April 17th 1668, the family set up a new workshop in Cissé, a few leagues northwest of Poitiers.
The coat of arms of the corporation of trunk makers as it appeared in the Roll of Arms of 1696 (published in 1711):
In the mid-eighteenth century, strife between harness makers and trunk makers resumed in Paris. In 1746 and 1747, spectacular seizures took place at trunk makers’ La Feugère and Le Noir, at the request of the corporation of harness makers. The latter were later condemned at court and the seizures cancelled. The charters of coach harness ,trunk and chest makers were revised shortly before the French Revolution. Houses such as Dijon, Le Grand, Lonqueux, Montfort, or Boucher were but a few of the forty Parisian trunk makers.
By 1753, when Jean Maltier married, the Maltier dynasty was already well established in the region of Poitiers. Shortly after his wedding Jean succeeded his father Joseph, a carpenter and trunk maker.
In February 1776, 15 years before the Revolution, French Minister of Finances Turgot liberalized work and abolished corporations and charters. Confronted with the opposition of the trades, King Louis XVI yielded and gave them their charters back. They were swept away by the Revolution.
Because the trade was no longer regulated, a box maker and packer named Martin was able to set up his own trunk making house in 1792. The firm was renamed Morel, then Goyard, after the craftsman who took it over in 1852. Goyard was followed Vuitton in 1854, both originally box makers and packers. Thanks to the second transportation revolution (i.e. the invention of the steam engine and automobile), these traditional brands flourished.
As in past, when it was moved from castle to castle along with the travellers, the trunk has become a piece of furniture again. But after such a long trip in history, it has come to be not only a piece of luggage but the trip itself. It opens for us and opens us to the world.
Beyond history and centuries, Maltier le Malletier has resumed his unfinished journey. Near Poitiers, Benoît Maltier perpetuates the great adventure initiated by his ancestors and pursues his dream. He has studied marquetry at the prestigious Ecole Boulle in Paris, as well as design at Saint-Luc Higher School of Art in Belgium. Maltier le Malletier, the oldest French trunk maker, has revived his old trade: the story goes on.