International Exposition of Paris 1867

Agriculture, Industry and Fine Arts

April 1, 1867 - November 3, 1867


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Weights and Measures and Coins Exhibition

Weights and Measures and Coins Exhibition at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

In the middle of the central garden of the Champ de Mars palace stands a circular pavilion intended for the Exhibition of weights and measures and coins of various countries. This place was not originally allocated to it, as the weights and measures were to be housed in a turret in the middle of the main entrance hall. The desire to completely clear the main entrance to the palace caused the first project to be abandoned in favour of the one that has now been implemented. - It is therefore somewhat unexpected that the exhibition of weights and measures has been given pride of place. But would one not think that a high thought dictated the choice of this place? that one wanted to recall that weight, measure and number are the principles of all creation? In any case, the aim was to make this exhibition the material basis and pretext for an attempt which, if successful, will be one of the finest titles of glory of the international competition on the Champ de Mars: we are talking about the unification of weights and measures and of coins.

The little tower in the central garden intends to undo the harm done to the world by its elder brother, the Tower of Babel; the latter, a monument of the human mind that wanted to push it to the heights, has resulted in the confusion of languages and the dispersion of nations. The Tower of Weights and Measures, modestly hidden in the midst of the great mass of the Palace and rising barely a few metres above the ground, seeks to bring about the fusion of peoples by unifying their systems of measurement; it seeks, by showing clearly the extreme diversity of these systems, to bring out clearly to all eyes the necessity of forgetting old prejudices in order to come to an agreement at last on a point which is so important to all material interests.

Shortly after the Universal Exhibition of 1867 had been decided upon, a decree of the Minister of State, Vice-President of the Imperial Commission, dated 20 September 1865, instituted an international scientific commission under the Commission, which was to be charged, among other things, with the task of bringing about, by its studies, reforms of international interest, such as the adoption of the same weights and measures, of common scientific units, etc.

M. Le Play, in order to give effect to this idea, invited to meet again the people who during the exhibition of 1855 had already assembled in the same interest. Among the distinguished and competent men who responded to this invitation were Messrs Mathieu, Michel Chevalier and Arlès Dufour.

On the motion of Mr. Leone Levi, one of the most active promoters of metric reform in England, and a delegate of the Decimal Society and of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and Art, the meeting decided that one of the best means of attaining the desired end was to organise a complete exhibition of the weights and measures and of the currencies of the various countries.

An appeal was made to the national commissions set up for the Universal Exhibition, and a special committee of the scientific commission, made up of delegates from the participating countries, was charged with carrying out the project and developing its consequences.

This committee is composed of Messrs.

Mathieu, member of the Institute and the Bureau des Longitudes, president.
Leone Levi, Professor of Commercial Law at King's College, London, Doctor of Political Economy, Secretary.
Edmond Becquerel, member of the Institute, professor at the Imperial Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, secretary.
Baudrillart, member of the Institute, professor at the Collège de France, secretary.
B. de Chancourtois, chief engineer and professor at the Imperial School of Mines, secretary of the Imperial Commission.
Julien, director of internal trade at the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Public Works.
Pélicot, member of the Institute, auditor of tests at the Paris Mint.
E. H. von Baumhauer, member of the Academy of Sciences and of the Royal Commission of the Netherlands.
Bu Pré, chief engineer of bridges and roads, Commissioner of Belgium.
G. Magnus, member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and professor at the University of Berlin, member of the Central Committee of Prussia and the North German States.
Max Gunther, engineer, for Hesse, Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria.
Baron de Burg, for Austria.
Baron Hock, for Austria.
Feer-Herzog, National Councillor in Aarau, Commissioner for Switzerland.
Ramon de la Sagra, for Spain.
Le Maire, Deputy Commissioner for Denmark.
De Fahnehjelm, Commissioner from Sweden
Christiensen, Commissioner from Norway.
B. Jacobi, current State Councillor, member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
General Major Gloukoff, for Russia.
Faustin Malaguti, Rector of the Academy of Rennes, for Italy.
Colonel Essad-Bey, director of the Ottoman Military School in Paris.
Joseph Claude, merchant member of the Egyptian Commission.
The caïd Nyssim Samama, for Morocco.
Valensi, Commissioner for Tunis.
From Porto-Alegre, for Brazil.
Samuel B. Ruggles, Esq. for the United States of America.
Colonel Younghusband, for Great Britain.
Attached to the Committee as Assistant Secretaries were:
Messrs. de Billy, auditor at the Court of Auditors; de Lapparent, mining engineer; Peigné, artillery lieutenant; and d'Ussel, engineer at the Ponts-et-Chaussées.

The programme and plans for the special exhibition of weights and measures and coins are the first results of the work of the committee, which chose as treasurer M. Tagnard, receiver of finances, head of the accounting department, at the same time as M. Aldrophe, architect of the Imperial Commission, was responsible for the construction and installation of the pavilion, under the direction of M. de Chancourtois.

On the ground floor, under the marquee, the pavilion takes the form of an annular glass cage, divided by wooden uprights into 20 equal sectors, each of which is assigned to a nation or group of nations.

On the outside is a table of coins, which shows the weight, title, value and name of each coin. The tables are arranged in such a way as to present similar species at the same height.

The measures of weight are spread out on the bottom of the display case, and the measures of length line the inside: they have been arranged so that their bases are always in the same plane, and not only the scientific standards are shown, but even the measures used in the various trades. En outre, un fil métallique tendu, partant à la hauteur de un mètre au-dessus deTa base de la vitrine, permet de comparer à l'unité française les mesures de longueur des diverses nations.

The base of the showcases is occupied by the capacity measurements for solids or liquids, as well as by the hydrometers.

A central staircase leads to the first floor, whose display cases, lined with various coins such as banknotes, postage stamps, and calendars, will also house documents such as the yearbook of the Bureau des Longitudes, the knowledge of time, etc.

On the outside, the same floor has four clock faces, running simultaneously, and where the hours are indicated by Roman, Arabic, Turkish and Indian numerals.

At the top, above the glass dome, is a terrestrial globe whose axis makes with the horizon the angle of the axis of the poles with
This globe turns uniformly on itself in 24 hours, it is the symbol of the measurement of time.

A special catalogue will provide an exact inventory of all the objects exhibited: although not all of them have yet been installed, we can already form a fairly clear idea of the systems followed in the various countries.

Thus let us suppose that one has arrived at the entrance to the Pont d'Iéna: one finds, starting on the left, the exhibition of the weights, measures and currencies of France, where one can notice, next to the standard metre, the engineers' iron wheel, the surveyor's chain, the surveyor's cane and the various boxwood, ivory or whalebone metres used in the various trades. But all these measures differ only in form or material, while the length is always the same, as can be easily seen.

Then, in the Dutch display case, one notices the measures specially constructed for gauging barrels; in the Prussian display case, series of spherical weights; in the Austrian display case, among the coins, the thaler of Maria Theresa, which continues to be minted for the Eastern trade. The German and Scandinavian countries generally offer numerous series of measures of capacity in wood, metal and glass. Among the Turks, weights are the most widely represented.

After a few showcases for the countries of the Far East, comes the American exhibition, and finally that of Great Britain, where, alongside the measures currently in use, standards have been placed which give their transformation into metric measures, the decimal metric system having recently been legalised by act of Parliament.

Such are the main provisions of this pavilion where the public noise insists on installing the crown diamonds. For any serious and enlightened mind, the sight of the objects exhibited in this pavilion is more instructive than the contemplation of the Regent, and of the Koli-i-noor: and whatever accumulation of precious stones one might make in this enclosure, one could never amass a sum equal to that which the peoples would save if, renouncing routine and prejudice, they knew how to agree to adopt a uniform metric system and thus eliminate the thousand and one difficulties which arise from the diversity of measures.

In order to arrive more surely at such an enviable result, it was thought advisable to invite all competent men to international conferences to be held towards the end of June. To prepare programmes of discussion for these conferences, and to set out clearly the main points to be debated, is now the task of the special committee. Let us hope that it can be carried out successfully, and that its programmes will meet with the approval of enlightened men, and will then, by the force of circumstances, obtain the approval of governments.

Let us say in conclusion that this interesting and significant exhibition of coins, on which Mr. Michel Chevalier has promised to return, would probably have failed, if Mr. de Chancourtois had not persisted in bringing it to fruition despite the difficulties of all kinds that he encountered. The appeal addressed to the foreign commissions would perhaps have remained unanswered, if the repeated solicitations of the commissioners had not activated the adhesions and shipments of the interested governments. It was necessary to improvise everything, so to speak: the Haret company, overwhelmed with work, had to supply the masonry, the framework and the carpentry instantly: the locksmithing was supplied under the same conditions of rapidity by M. Hacquier: the very ingenious clockwork which marks the measure of time is from M. Borrel.

All the competent men of Europe are summoned to the congress of which this exhibition will be the occasion. The sessions will probably be held in the large room at the Suffren Gate, which has been prepared for the meetings of the Jury and the Commissions. The resolutions of this congress may have incalculable consequences for the future of international relations.

Friend reader, do not be put off by the dryness of the foregoing title. I shall not take the matter as high as the International Congress presided over by H.I.H. Prince Napoleon, nor do I have a voice in these matters like the diplomatic conference whose report I am surprised not to see published yet. I have always found it unenviable to stir up clear water in order to demonstrate that the mud is at the bottom. The question of the double standard, gold and silver, raised by our eminent colleague, Mr. Wolowski, as fearlessly as if he had spoken in the Warsaw Diet, at the risk of his life, was as close to dividing the Congress in two as the double formula of baptism divided Catholicism into the Western and Eastern Churches.

To avoid any economic schism, let us avoid complicating the question of weights, measures and currencies, and speak of it as a mere mortal. My ambition is to put it at the feet of the ladies, not, of course, in the risky form of Danae's golden rain.

Let us note, as a preamble, that all peoples have the same system of numbering. The words one hundred, ten, one, exist in all languages, and everywhere mean the same number. One hundred is everywhere the hundredth part of one, or the hundredfold of the unit.

But where is the unity, and on what basis is it founded? This is precisely where the differences begin. Without even referring to the different ways of interpreting unity in the various countries, is it not true that even here our way of measuring time differs from that by which we measure space?

The only way to represent unity by a measure that is the same for all peoples is to ask this measure to science, whose decrees cannot be interpreted differently.

The Convention, which has done such great things so violently, had appealed to the scientists of the whole world to settle this momentous question of unity according to the data of science. Because of the circumstances, his appeal was not heard everywhere; but what is significant is that the deliberation from which the metric system emerged was drafted by a foreign scholar.

The metre, which was to serve as a common measure for surfaces, lengths, weights and volumes, was calculated on the meridian, with equal divisions and equal multiples.

The French metre has been criticised for not being calculated accurately enough. So be it! Let us look for a more adequate measure to the meridian: but a more infinitesimal approximation will not change anything to the scientific data of the metric system, the only one which does not lend itself, as one says, to approximations.

The metric system, under the infallible guarantee of mathematical calculation, gives all peoples the means of specifying the unit in an invariable manner.

If the metric system was not, once discovered, instantly and universally adopted, it is because it is abstract, precisely because it is infallible; and we ourselves, who have adopted it as official and therefore obligatory, have not been able to make it penetrate as a measure of time, year, days and hours.

The metric system has as its forced consequence the decimal system, another abstraction which completes the first.

Calculating the year by months, weeks, days and hours is not scientific, and yet this way of counting is universally adopted, because it dates back a long way and has had time to materialise, so to speak.

This is the advantage of the duodecimal system over the decimal system, which is however more confused, less fractional and less multiple according to the exact data of science.

Measuring a field by acre, arpent or journal is a much more accessible thing to the imagination, although more uncertain and less precise, than measuring it by hectare, by are and by centiare. However, depending on the locality, the acre, the arpent and the newspaper measure different surfaces on which it is always difficult, if not impossible, to agree.

Measuring an area by the mile, by the verse or by the league is something that responds to local habits, but which does not lead to anything precise. This thing, concrete for us, which we call the league, is as unintelligible to the Russians as the verse is to us.

But when you present a measure of extent scientifically calculated in units, divisible and multipliable according to these data, no one can misunderstand the fraction of extent measured: it is the metre, with its divisions of centimetres and millimetres and its multiplier the kilometre.

The same applies to the measurement of length. Calculating by foot, by cubit or by step presents a concrete idea to the mind: the first measure is represented by the man's foot, the second by his forearm, the third by the average stride. This is the natural method; but it is not the scientific method. When you have counted several feet, several steps, several cubits, you will have no certain basis for calculation: confusion arises in the number, taken outside the scientific data. With the metre, on the other hand, you can calculate the length in its greatest extent and in its most infinitesimal fractions, without error being possible, without the data even being debatable.

A metre is the same for everyone; a foot or a cubit may vary from one country to another, even though these changing measures would be subject to the decimal calculation, unit, ten and hundred.

Every negotiable thing has its standard of value according to its weight, its surface, its extent or its volume: of these different qualities, sometimes it is one, sometimes the other that serves as the basis of appreciation. In order that no one may misunderstand this basis, it is necessary to formulate it in an invariable term, the same for all, which ensures the sincerity of transactions and the fairness of markets.

I buy a certain quantity of gold powder, the weight of which is specified according to a measure particular to the country of origin. I may be deceived or mistaken, whereas if I count in grams and if this data is accepted by my seller, error is not possible on either side, and all cause for dispute disappears.

We certainly do not have in France the most sophisticated means of measurement. The Japanese, as can be seen in the pavilion in the Central Garden, make their length measurements on bamboo ribs, whose natural curvature and unassailable varnish are far preferable to our artificial bevels and varnish. Their divisions of length appear, moreover, to be as precise as ours. Similarly, for fractions of a gram, the Americans replace platinum sheets, whose characters are almost always illegible, with polygonal wires whose number of sides indicates the exact figure of the weight. This is, incidentally, a very fortunate invention which is of real use for chemical and pharmaceutical weighing, etc.
But if we do not have the most perfect means of measurement, we have not only the best system of measurement, but the only good one.

It will be noticed that we have not yet said a word about currencies, which the International Congress and the Diplomatic Conference, who have been so much occupied with them, will perhaps find difficult to forgive us for - unnecessarily in my opinion. Indeed, monetary unity is a false trail which has diverted us from the real and only question, which is the adoption by all peoples of the metric system.

The unity of weights and measures will necessarily entail not the unity of currencies, which is perfectly useless, but their parity of weight and title for equal value regulated according to the infallible bases of the metric system, which is the essential.

I do not care whether the monetary unit is calculated here in gold, there in silver, and whether it is expressed here by 20, there by 25: as long as I know, beyond all doubt, that such and such a coin contains so many thousandths of a fine and weighs so many grams, it will have the same value everywhere, whether the coin is in gold or in silver. I am at liberty to reach this conclusion for the inventors of the double standard and for the fishermen in the murky waters of exchange.

Let me be given the universally adopted metric system, with its forced corollary, the decimal system, and I will take it upon myself, without further discussion, to include coins, which are the evaluating measure of all measurable products. Like all other values, coins will regulate their weight and their title, whatever they may be, in round numbers: that is enough for me.

If you have done me, ladies, the honour of reading the above, you will be in a position to fight with all the economists of the Congress and all the diplomats of the Conference, whose meetings will begin again in October.

But in order that it may be well proved to the eye that monetary unity is a fiction of which the unity of weights and measures is the reality, I have had the three slices of the exhibition of currencies corresponding to the three countries most dissimilar in morals, customs and habits of calculation, France, England and China, engraved. Please do us the grace to tell us what differences you see between these three accurately drawn coin exhibitions?

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée