Jean Plateau 1923-2019

With the death in January of Jean Plateau at the age of 96, the global aluminium industry has lost one of the most influential of the advocates of aluminium and one of the most learned historians on the history of aluminium. As a scientist Jean Plateau had a distinguished career in firstly the steel industry and then in aluminium. From 1965 to 1985 he was Director of the Pechiney Research Centre in Voreppe, President of the French Society for Electron Microscopy and a much-decorated metallurgist. In 1986 Jean was one of the founders of l’Institute pour l’Histoire de l’Aluminium. At the same time he began a collection of aluminium objects from the 1850s up to the present day, showing how the uses of aluminium developed. His collection grew rapidly to include all of the everyday aluminium objects found in the home, where light-weight and good corrosion resistance made it popular, to the most decorated of objects such as enamelled jugs and bowls and beautiful examples for every end use of aluminium, in transport, building and construction, packaging, office and scientific instruments and electrical applications, as well as pieces shown for their artistic merit such as jewellery, statues and medals.

To a first-time visitor to the collection, it can only be described as astonishing. Express an interest in opera glasses made of aluminium for example and a cupboard would be opened showing hundreds of exquisite examples, beautifully anodized or enamelled. The collection runs to some 25,000 pieces and takes up most of his chateau in Blois. The value of such a collection is that the totality of it is far greater than the sum of the parts. We sincerely hope that the collection will continue to be maintained and grow.

As well as a collector, Jean Plateau excelled as an author on the history of aluminium. He co-authored a book on the work of Paul Morin from 1857 to 1890 in Nanterre. Paul Morin was a French founder and metal worker in both aluminium and aluminium bronze. One of his most famous aluminium castings was of Diane de Gabies. The original Greek marble statue is in the Louvre and the casting is about half size. It is of the highest quality and it must be remembered that the aluminium used was produced by the sodium process, well before the commercial production of primary aluminium using electrolysis that started in the 1870s. A full description of the casting can be found by an internet search under “The World’s Oldest Aluminium Casting”. The engraved signature of Paul Morin can be clearly read on the base. This casting has been in the ownership of Aluminium Federation since 1950 and is now on permanent loan to the Science Museum in London.

In 2012, representing the Aluminium Federation, Will Savage and David Harris journeyed to Blois to visit the collection and to present Jean Plateau with a replica of the Diane de Gabies casting, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the global aluminium industry. We send our condolences to his family.

In 1986 Jean was one of the founders of l’Institute pour l’Histoire de l’Aluminium. Click here to see the website.


APRIL 2019.