This plate is a new acquisition to the Dubuque County Historical Society (DCHS). Its provenance, or history of ownership, links it to the De Griselles family (De Griselles being the family title), a prominent French aristocratic family who immigrated to America and eventually settled in Dubuque. In joining the DCHS collection, the plate is reunited with other artifacts from the De Griselles family, and together, they tell a more complete story of this family and the world in which they lived.
The De Griselles collection at DCHS pertains to General Phillippe Benoit Perreau, his wife, Louise Marie Theresse Banse, and their daughter, Louise Philippine Mathilda Perreau Valin. General Perreau served in the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte and later under King Charles X. A number of artifacts from the family collection are related to this military service. These include a sword purportedly given to Perreau by Napoleon on the field of battle and the general’s Grand-croix (Grand cross) of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit.
At first glance, this plate may not seem a significant addition to the De Griselles historical record. Closer examination and research reveal more. The plate seems to be copper with a thin layer of silver over it, which points to its likely creation using the “Sheffield plating” technique. Invented in the mid-18th century, this process fused silver onto copper and resulted in the two metals acting as one material. This allowed for the appearance of silver, but at a fraction of the cost. Eventually the technique progressed so that two thin layers of silver could be applied to either side of the copper, effectively sandwiching the copper and giving the illusion of a pure silver piece. This plate used the earlier technology, so that when the plate is turned over the copper is still visible.
The De Griselles family entered Dubuque history in the mid-19th century. The widowed Madame Perreau accompanied her daughter and son-in-law as they settled in Iowa. At this point, much of the family fortune was lost and America presented an opportunity to reclaim it.
As a new chapter in the family’s story began, they brought with them the possessions that reflected their life in France, including this plate. From a wealthier time in the family’s history, it shows that even the aristocracy looked for cost-saving measures and felt the need to “keep up appearances.”
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