Henri Barthe & The Lark Mirror; with a Taste of Ortolan Bunting
A lark mirror, known in French as le miroir à alouettes, was a tool to help hunters entice small songbirds to their location so they could be harvested.
In 1680, an early French dictionary referred to these mirrors for catching larks and ortolans. It defined them as:
A piece of wood carved into an arch where there are several notches which small mirrors are glued & which is supported by a peg in the middle of which there is a hole to put a string in order to make this mirror turn, that is driven into the ground between two sheets to catch ortolans & mainly larks.
These small songbirds were considered to be a delicacy and were cooked and eaten whole, in one large bite; head, bones and all. Ortolans were the most coveted and eating them has been represented in paintings and media over the centuries as a gluttonous, almost shameful act. Modern, French preparation of this delicacy would make the use of ortolans that were captured alive and blinded or kept in dark cages where they were force fed until they were twice their normal size. They were then drowned and roasted in Armagnac, a type of Brandy from the Armagnac region in southwest France.
The ritualistic service of the ortolan bunting involved the diner placing a napkin over their head; in part to contain the aromas for a full sensory experience as well as, traditionally, to hide their sin from God. Hunting, capturing and dining on ortolans has been banned in France since 1999 but there are still many consumed in private. This act has even recently been featured in modern TV shows such as Billions, Succession and Hannibal. The BBC has a short clip of a reconstruction of the French president, François Mitterrand’s lavish supper days before his death where he and his guests dined on these in 1995. It can be viewed here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00khmkk.
There is also a French TV segment archived by the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel which shows and talks about the preparation and consumption of this meal which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEPMuyGe7dg
The consumption of larks and other songbirds is not quite as bizarre as the ortolan feast though it is still much more uncommon than eating larger birds. They are still often cooked whole and commonly placed in a pie or jellied. A common representation of this is in the famous nursery rhyme where 24 blackbirds (another similar songbird) were baked in a pie.
The Lark Mirror
The small songbirds were attracted to the reflection of the sun from the mirrors and shiny glass on these objects which would be rotated back and forth by a string as the hunter waited for the birds to arrive. The Manufrance catalog, from which the image below was printed, gave a little overview on how to hunt these larks. They stated:
Take care to choose clear weather, without wind, and — important point — that the ground is covered with a good frost; in a word, to take advantage of the beautiful mornings of November and December.
You should take care to hide roughly behind a clump of wicker, a hedge or in a ditch, the helper will turn the mirror and call the larks with a decoy.
The lark is first seen as large curves in the distance, then quickly and suddenly comes to a stop at fixed point above the mirror to then moves away with a very sharp hook: it is this moment of stopping you must quickly think and take the shot.
There were many patented variations of these lark mirrors and even accessories such as a foot pedal which would allow it to be operated by the hunter himself. Toward the end of the 19th century mechanical versions were designed which made this even easier.
I picked up the following example of one of these mechanical variations.
It contains a clockwork-like mechanism inside that rotates the wooden mirror part back and forth.
You can see a video of this in action here:
Henri Barthe was a manufacturer of primers, wads and cartridges. His heritage traces back to the earliest manufacturers of primers and percussion caps. There is not a lot of info on the company but there is enough to piece together a general timeline.
In 1819, Bellot & Daguin, one of the earliest manufacturers of primers was founded.
By 1825 Jean Maria Nicolaus Bellot and François Victor Tardy formed Bellot & Tardy as their successor and registered a trademark on the mark “T B”.
In 1825 Louis Sellier started a percussion cap factory in Prague and would shortly incorporate with Bellot to create Sellier & Bellot.
By 1827, Tardy & Blanchet was formed as the successor to Bellot & Tardy and continued to use the trademark, “T B”. They remained one of the larger makers of percussion caps and primers for many decades.
On 15 March 1873, François Victor Tardy’s sons, François-Joseph-Ferdinand and Alphonse-François-Jean would start Tardy Frères as the successor to Tardy & Blanchet.
On 24 September 1873, François-Joseph-Ferdinand would take over sole ownership of the company and list himself as the successor to Tardy Frères where he still owns the TB, TF, and JC trademarks.
On 10 September 1876 Henri Barthe would purchase Ferdinand Tardy’s company and call himself the successor to Ferdinand Tardy and Tardy Frères along with their trademarks.
AU MIROIR & H B Trademarks
I am working to get copies of the actual trademark registrations, but sometime between the founding of Henri Barthe’s company in 1876 and 1881 he registers at least two trademarks. The first is Au Miroir which is used on centerfire and pinfire shotshells.
You will notice that the headstamp on the pinfire version has a depiction of the same mechanical miroir aux alouettes from my collection. They exist in a few sizes and all that I have seen have a dark brown case.
He would also register a trademark of the symbol of a grenade.
On 31 October 1881 Barthe would join forces with Dupont to form a new company called Barthe et Dupont, munitions de chasse et de guerre. This partnership would last until 11 April 1883 when the company would be purchased by Gévelot and become part of the new Société Française des Munitions de chasse, de Tir et de Guerre.
Henri Barthe would then move to Milan, Italy where he would found Enrico Barthe e C. and be the dealer for the Italian subsidiary of SFM known as Sociata franco italiana per le munizioni da caccia. This company would eventually become the well-known Leon Beaux.
This is an extremely interesting glimps to the culinary adventure of the 18th and 18th century of those who could afford this luxury!! Food and wealth! All the “toys” and invention to bring home the feast!! The pinfire was definitely one of these tool! Thanks!
An interesting article on another aspect of life possibly of all classes.