On 7 October 1872, keen to give the members of the International Commission of the Metre a token of gratitude for their important work, Adolfe Thiers, President of the French Republic, asked the National Manufacture of Ceramics at Sèvres to decorate a piece of art for each of them, carrying the inscription "International Commission of the Metre, Paris 1872", together with their name.
The resulting egg-shaped vases are 70 cm in height and 28 cm across, with golden decorations and inscriptions and gilded bronze handles on a lapis lazuli background.
Fifty five of these vases were given to various scientists, and French and foreign personalities, between March and November 1873. The majority of the vases remained in the family of the recipients, however, some are visible in museums or observatories, to which they were offered. Among the vases that have been traced, we may note:
G. Airy (Royal Greenwich Observatory, London);
M. de Balcarce (Brunoy City Hall, Essonne, France, offered by the daughter of Balcarce);
J. Bosscha (Netherlands);
J. Henry (National Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., lent to the NIST);
M. de Jacobi (VNIIM, Saint-Petersburg);
E. de Krusper (National Museum of Hungary, Budapest);
U. J.-J. Le Verrier (Paris Observatory);
E. Péligot (Familly Savreux, given to the BIPM in 1988);
J. Stas (Laboratories of Chemistry of the University of Brussels);
H. Tresca (CNAM Museum, Paris);
H. Wild (Federal Bureau of Weights and Measures, now the METAS, Bern).
Among the French members of the International Commission of the Metre was the chemist Eugène Péligot (1811-1890), who was a member of the French Academy of Sciences and whose family lived in Sèvres, in a house which had belonged to the Duke of Chaulnes on Vaugirard (now Troyon) street.
On 25 April 1873, Eugène Péligot received from Quai Conti in Paris the vase which was made for him and which was later placed in his housing at Sèvres. At the time of the bombardment of the Renault factories by the Royal Air Force his house was destroyed during the night of 3 March 1942, but the vase was found intact by Maurice Savreux (husband of Marthe, grand-daughter of Eugène Péligot) the curator of the Museum of Ceramics at Sèvres from 1919 to 1926 and Director of the Manufacture in 1946-1947.
In 1975, the vase of Eugène Péligot was lent by Mrs Savreux to the General Conference on Weights and Measures for the celebration of the centenary of the Metre Convention. After her death, her son, Henri Savreux, took the opportunity of the annual meeting of the CIPM and the inauguration on 5 October 1988 of the Nouveau Pavillon, to give his great-grandfather's vase to Dr Terry Quinn, then Director of the BIPM, pronouncing an address which ended with these words:
My parents and I have always enjoyed British humour. We couldn't imagine anything better than giving to Dr Quinn, who is the first British director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, a vase which survived the Royal Air Force bombardment of 3 March 1942. This is something that does not lack piquancy.
Professor D. Kind, President of the CIPM, replied "Where better than with the BIPM, whose creation was the result of the work of the International Commission of the Metre, would it be possible to perpetuate the memory of Eugène Péligot and his actions for the expansion of the metric system? The work continuing here at the BIPM after more than a century, is the logical continuation of that begun by our forebears yours in particular. This vase will be the permanent witness to their remarkable perspicacity."
Sources: Letter from the French Ministry of Industry (22 March 1979) on the International Commission of the Metre (1872) and the Diplomatic Conference of the Metre (1875), by Mr Louis Marquet (ingénieur divisionnaire des travaux métrologiques, chargé de la documentation), and an article in the Bulletin Municipal de Sèvres, March 1991, also by Mr Louis Marquet.