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d. 20 April 1865 in York Township, Canada West


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ARNOLDI, MICHAEL, silversmith; b. 19 June 1763 in Montreal (Que.), son of Peter Arnoldi, a soldier who came from Hesse (Federal Republic of Germany), and Philipina Maria (Phébé) Horn; d. unmarried 27 Aug. 1807 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada.

Michael Arnoldi seems to have served his apprenticeship in Robert Cruickshank’s shop in Montreal, since he was already in business with him by the time he was 21. In fact, an announcement in the Quebec Gazette of 14 Oct. 1784 advised the creditors and debtors of the firm of Cruickshank and Arnoldi that it would be dissolved on 1 November and that Cruickshank was “duly authorized” to collect accounts and to settle debts. When in 1787 a legal separation was being arranged between his sister Phebe*, who lived with him, and John Justus Diehl, Arnoldi was residing at Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie. That post seems to have been a busy one, where numerous silversmiths producing trade silver, for example Dominique Rousseau*, John Oakes, and Christian Grothé, at some point owned properties.

In 1788 Arnoldi stamped his mark on a silver cross he had made for the church in Varennes. Despite the announcement of 1784, he remained in partnership with Cruickshank until 17 Feb. 1789, when Cruickshank bought up the “Stocks Goods Wares and Merchandize,” as well as the accounts of the firm, for £150. In September, Arnoldi drew up a handwritten will bequeathing his furnishings and clothes to his brother Peter, and all his outer belongings to his mother. At that time he was residing on Rue Saint-François in Montreal.

Arnoldi was still living there when he signed a lease with his brother Peter and John Oakes on 9 May 1792; the two rented his shop and silversmith’s tools, valued at £113 12s. 4d., for a period of two years. The partners were to pay rent for the house and also to provide him with lodgings, heat, food, and laundry and to supply him “annually with a suit of extra-fine cloth of his choosing.” There was a clause pressing him not to move away, since the young partners would be deprived of the benefits of his knowledge. The lease indicates the reasons for Arnoldi’s action: “Given his disabilities and being no longer able to attend to his aforementioned profession of silversmith, . . . [he wishes] to aid the aforementioned Sieurs Pierre Arnoldi, his brother, and John Oakes in the aforementioned profession of silversmith.” A magnificent tea service resulted from this brief association: it bears Michael’s mark accompanied by another with the initials AO, for Arnoldi and Oakes. But the lease was annulled prematurely on 8 Jan. 1793, and the partners then owed Michael £17 14s. 4d. for the tools not returned to him. In April he disinherited Peter and made his mother his sole heir.

In February 1794 Arnoldi, “a silversmith living in Montreal,” inherited £150 from Johann Michael Mayer. He is believed to have subsequently purchased an inn at Trois-Rivières and to have given it to his mother on 11 April 1799. In return she was to undertake to keep him. In June an Arnoldi bought tools at the sale in Montreal of silversmith Louis-Alexandre Picard*’s estate, but it may have been Peter, who was in business as a silversmith on Rue Notre-Dame in 1797. In fact virtually nothing is known about Arnoldi’s life from 1795 until his death in 1807 at Trois-Rivières. At that time he was still mentioned as being a silversmith.

His own mark and his brother Peter’s are strikingly similar: the initials MA or PA are inscribed in a rectangle with a clipped upper right corner. A number of authors have until now attributed the mark CA to Charles Arnoldi, a brother. However, all the known primary sources say that Charles was a clockmaker. It may be supposed that the mark CA was used by the firm of Cruickshank and Arnoldi, especially since its shape and style of writing resemble unmistakably the mark used by Cruickshank, the principal partner. During the five years or so that it was in business, the firm was in a position to turn out the numerous objects of trade silver and the other examples of the silversmith’s art that bear the mark CA.

Michael Arnoldi’s brief career turned out to be important because of the partnerships formed and the superiority of his work to that of many other silversmiths. The abundance, variety, and aesthetic qualities of his works bear witness to his talent and enthusiasm, which unfortunately were trammelled by the state of his health.

Robert Derome

[Works by Michael Arnoldi are held in Quebec City at the Musée du Québec and at the archbishop’s palace; in Montreal by the Religious Hospitallers of St Joseph; in Ottawa in the Henry Birks Collection of Silver at the National Gallery of Canada; and in two churches in the province of Quebec: Sainte-Famille (Boucherville) and Sainte-Geneviève (Berthierville).

In my view statements by Édouard Fabre Surveyer, infra, in particular that Arnoldi was still practising in Montreal in 1802 and that he was reported to have taken on as apprentice his nephew Peter Diehl (incorrectly named John Justus Diehl), should be treated cautiously. A notarial act (ANQ-M, CN1-29, 5 Feb. 1800) indicates that this nephew was placed with surgeons as an apprentice for seven years.  r.d.]

ANQ-M, CN1-29, 19 Feb. 1783; 1 March, 11 Sept. 1787; 16 Jan., 17 Feb. 1789; 2 Sept. 1793; 18 Feb. 1794; CN1-121, ler sept. 1789, 9 mai 1792, 6 nov. 1793; CN1-134, 18 févr. 1817; CN1-185, 27 Dec. 1806; 23 July, 22 Aug. 1807; CN1-269, 6 June 1799. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, A762/J65.3.2, A762/M621.1. Quebec Gazette, 14 Oct. 1784, 30 Jan. 1806. Quebec Mercury, 24 Jan. 1817. W. H. Carter, Metallic ornaments of the North American Indians, 1400–1900 (London, Ont., 1973); North American Indian trade silver (2v., London, 1971). Robert Derome, “Delezenne, les orfèvres, l’orfèvrerie, 1740–1790” (ma thesis, univ. de Montréal, 1974). Langdon, Canadian silversmiths. Traquair, Old silver of Quebec. Édouard Fabre Surveyer, “Une famille d’orfèvres,” BRH, 46 (1940): 310–15. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Dominique Rousseau, maître orfèvre et négociant en pelleteries,” BRH, 49 (1943): 342–48. H. T. Schwarz, “Les orfèvres de la Nouvelle-France,” Vie des arts (Montréal), no.24 (automne 1961): 39–43.

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Cite This Article

Robert Derome, “ARNOLDI, MICHAEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/arnoldi_michael_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/arnoldi_michael_5E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Derome
Title of Article:   ARNOLDI, MICHAEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   April 20, 2024