Briot, Nicholas (DNB00)

BRIOT, NICHOLAS (1579–1646), medallist and coin-engraver, was born in 1579, at Damblein in Bassigny, duchy of Bar. From 1605 to 1625 he held the appointment of engraver-general of the coins of France, and having become acquainted in Germany with the improved mechanical processes for the production of coins, especially with the 'balance' (balancier), he determined to introduce them with further improvements of his own into his native country. From 1616 till 1625 he continued to persevere in his endeavour to get his processes officially adopted. In 1615 he had written a treatise entitled 'liaisons, moyens, et propositions pour faire toutes les monnaies du royaume, à l'avenir, uniformes, et faire cesser toutes fabrications, &c.' His proposals, however, encountered the greatest opposition, especially from the 'Cour des monnaies,' the members of which resisted the introduction of machinery, and upheld their own less rapid and more clumsy method of striking coins with the hammer. The pattern-pieces made by Briot for the French coinage are very rare, particularly the franc and demi-franc of 1616 and 1617, with the legend 'Espreuve faicte par 1'exprès commandement du roy Louis XIII.' Finding that his long-continued efforts were fruitless, and pressed hard by his creditors, Briot fled to England in 1625, and offered his services and improved machinery to Charles I, by whom he was well received. On 16 Dec. 1628, the king granted him 'the privilege to be a free denizen, and also full power and authority to frame and engrave the first designs and effigies of the king's image in such size and forms as are to serve in all sorts of coins of gold and silver' (Rymer, Fœdera, xix. 40). In January 1633 he was appointed chief engraver to the English mint, and in 1635 master of the Scottish mint. For the English coinage Briot made the crown, half-crown, and other denominations; his specimens, which are very neatly executed and well formed, being signed with the letter B, or with B and a small flower or an anchor. He also executed various pattern-pieces for the coinage, and made during the earlier part of the reign of Charles I a considerable number of dies and moulds for medals, the most important of which were for the coronation medal of Charles (1626), the 'Dominion of the Sea' medal (1630), and the Scottish coronation medal (1633). His medals bear the signature 'N, B.,' 'Briot,' or 'N. Briot.' After the outbreak of the civil war very little is known of Briot's life; but the common statement that he returned to France and died there about 1650 is certainly incorrect, as an official document of the time of Charles II (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, May 1662, p. 394) proves that he died in England in the year 1646. From 1642 till the time of his death he seems to have remained in the service of the English king, and to have followed him in his capacity of engraver to York and to Oxford. At the Restoration, the name of his widow, Esther Briot, was one of those which were ordered to be placed on the list for relieving the servants of Charles I, the sum of 3,000l. having been due to her husband at the time of his death.

[Dauban's Nicholas Briot, Paris, 1857 (Revue Numismatique, 1857, N. S. ii.); Hoffmann's Les monnaies royales de France, 1878; Annuaire de la Soc. Française de Numismatique, 1867, p. 152; Grueber's Guide to the English Medals exhibited in Brit. Mus.; Hawkins's Medallic Illustrations, ed. Franks and Grueber; Hawkins's Silver Coins of England, ed. Kenyon; Cochran-Patrick's Records of the Coinage of Scotland; Henfrey's Numismata Cromwelliana, pp. 5, 224.]

W. W.