English Legal History and its Materials

Armorie v. Delamirie (1722) K.B., 1 Strange 505, 93 ER 664

Alex Feerst & Carol DeMartino?

The Opinion

Before Pratt, C.J. at nisi prius.

The plaintiff, being a chimney sweeper's boy, found a jewel, and carried it to the defendant's shop, (who was a goldsmith,) to know what it was, and delivered it into the hands of an apprentice, who, under pretense of weighing it, took out the stones; and, calling to the master to let him know if it came to three half-pence, the master offered the boy the money, who refused to take it, and insisted to have the thing again; whereupon the apprentice delivered him back the socket without the stones. And now in trover against the master these points were ruled:

1. That the finder of a jewel, though he does not by such finding acquire an absolute property right of ownership, yet he has such a property as will enable him to keep it against all but the rightful owner, and consequently may maintain trover.

2. That the action may well lay against the master, who gives a credit to his apprentice, and is answerable for his neglect.

3. As to the value of the jewel, several of the trade were examined to prove what a jewel of the finest water that would fit the docket would be worth; and the chief justice directed the jury that, unless the defendant did produce the jewel, and show it not to be of the finest water, they should presume the strongest against him, and make the value of the best jewels the measure of their damages, which they accordingly did.

Key Legal Propositions

1. Finders Keepers (except against the prior owner)

This case is a staple of modern property textbooks for the proposition that one who finds a chattel is considered its owner against anyone in the world other than its prior and rightful owner.

2. Respondeat Superior

Armory is not considered an important case in the development of the doctrine of Respondeat Superior.

3. Spoliation of Evidence

Armory is considered “one of the first instances of spoliation of evidence. Under this evidentiary rule, courts presume that evidence a party has concealed or destroyed would have been injurious to their case, based on the interpretive canon omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatorem, (all things against the spoliator of the evidence). See Ariel Porat, Liability Under Uncertainty: Evidential Deficiency and the Law of Torts 11 (2001); Margaret M. Koesel et al, Spoliation of Evidence ix-x (2006).

Though it may not have been the court's intention, the great disparity in wealth and status between the two parties underscores the two rules announced in this case -- that one who finds property, even a climbing boy, holds title in it against the world, even the King's Silversmith, and that anyone who spoliates evidence, even one in so comparatively reputable a position as De Lamirie was compared to Armorie, will have all things presumed against him.

Interpellating Armory: Chimney Sweeps and their Apprentices

Legal historian A.W. Brian Simpson has this to say about the problem of tracking down Armory, the chimney sweep's apprentice:

"I’ve tried to find out more information about [Armory v. Delamirie], but so far I’ve got nowhere. I’m still trying. But the trouble is that if the people in the case are poor, they tend to leave no trace in historical records. So if you do a case involving fairly wealthy people, you often find information. It’s easier to find information in the nineteenth century, because there are extensive newspaper reports. They often give very detailed accounts of litigation, so you get a lot of information from them, but the further back you go, the more difficult it gets. . . It’s such a strange case. I mean, here’s this chimney sweep boy, they were the lowest of the low, somehow suing – who paid for his lawyer? He’s suing the most distinguished silversmith of the early eighteenth century. The defendant’s work now sells for a million dollars an item. And yet we don’t know anything about how the case happened . . .I’ve [tried to get information on the case] intermittently for years, but I haven’t gotten anywhere. History is sometimes just hopeless. Sometimes you just have to give up."

Short of finding the climbing boy at the center of this case, this section tries to do the next best thing -- to gather as much information as possible that is likely to describe someone in Armory's position.


Kathleen H. Strange, Climbing Boys: A Study of Sweeps' Apprentices, 1773-1875 (1982), Ch. 2

Benita Cullingford, British Chimney Sweeps: Five Centuries of Chimney Sweeping (2001), Ch. 4

Peter Kirby, Child Labour in Britain, 1750-1870 19-20 n.2 (2003)

Peter Kirby offers some empirical revisionism as a corrective to our populist love affair with the picturesque Dickensian and post-Mary-Poppins image of Chimney Sweeps' apprentices:

"Chimney-sweepers' apprentices, for example, loom large in the popular historical imagination but were very small in number. Much of their high visibility resulted from the campaigning of Jonas Hanway in the eighteenth century and Lord Shaftesbury and Charles Kingsley in the nineteenth [in the 1863 novel The Water Babies]. In 1841, the number of sweeps' apprentices aged below 10 in London was estimated by Mayhew to be 370 (at a time when London's population numbered 2.2 million). Hanway estimated that in 1785 there were 400 to 550 climbing boys in London, and an estimate from seven years later supposed their number to be 500. . . According to the census of 1851, there were 1107 British chimney-sweeps aged below 15 in Britain."

The Mechanics of Climbing

Mayhew records these comments on technique from a chimney sweep living in Bethnal Green in the 1840s:

"There are two or three ways of climbing. In wide flues, you climb with your elbows and your legs spread out, your feet pressing against the sides of the flue, but in narrow flues, such as nine-inch ones, you must slant it; you must have your sides in the angles, it's widest there, and go up that way."

Mayhew describes:

"Here he threw himself into position -- placing one arm close to his side, with the palm of his hand turned outwards, as if pressing the side of the flue, and extending the other arm high above his head, the hand apparently pressing in the same manner."

Here is a sketch of four boys in various flue-cleaning positions, and another of four boys in adjacent flues.

Scrotum Cancer

Soot and the chemicals it contained led to a notably high rate of scrotal cancer among chimney sweep's boys.

In a statement to the Children's Employment Commission (1863), Thomas Clarke, Master Sweep of Nottingham remarked:

"I have known eight or nine sweeps lost their lives by the sooty cancer. The private parts which it seizes are entirely eaten off caused entirely by 'sleeping black,' and breathing the soot in all night."

Brown & Thornton, Percivall Pott & Chimney Sweepers' Cancer of the Scrotum (1957)

Pott's 1775 treatise, Chirurgical observations Relative to the Cataract, the Polypus of the Nose, the Cancer of the Scrotum, . . . [etc.], which includes an account of scrotum cancer among chimney sweepers has been cited as the first description of an occupational cancer:

". . . there is a disease as peculiar to a certain set of people, which has not, at least to my knowledge, been publickly noticed; I mean the chimney-sweepers' cancer . . . it produced a superficial, painful, ragged, ill-looking sore, with hard and rising edges. The trade call it the soot-wart . . . The fate of these people seems singularly hard; in their early infancy, they are most frequently treated with great brutality, and almost starved with cold and hunger; they are thrust up narrow, and sometimes hot chimnies, where they are bruised, burned, and almost suffocated; and when they get to puberty, become peculiarly liable to a most noisome, painful, and fatal disease."

Henry T. Butlin, Three Lectures on Cancer of the Scrotum in Chimney-Sweeps (1892)

Butlin considers possible reasons that chimney sweeps on the continent suffer a much lower rate of scrotum cancer. He hypothesizes that it is owing to protective clothing which varies by local custom that:

". . . in spite of every other condition which may be regarded as favourable to the disease, including the employment of children as 'climbing boys,' it is really almost unknown in those countries."

Here's an image of a German chimney sweep, suited up in ninja-like protective garb.

Walter Jacobson, Diseases of the Male Organs of Generation (1893)

Jacobson argues against Butlin's belief in the protective properties of specialized clothing and also departs from medical consensus holding that improved sweeping technology has reduced the incidence of cancer by allowing one to sweep from below rather than inside the chimney. Instead, Jacobson proposes:

"A more important explanation than the intersection of machinery, is to be found in the fact that chimney-sweeps, being no longer employed in boyhood, the delicate scrotal skin is not exposed so early or so long to the irritation of soot."

The Art of Sweeping

William Blake published two versions of his poem "The Chimney Sweep," once in Songs of Innocence (1789) and then in Songs of Experience (1794).

Charles Kingsley's 1863 novel The Water-Babies, features a chimney sweep protagonist. It remained popular well into the twentieth century and generated many accompanying images of chimney sweeps.

In Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, the hero is spared from indenture into service as a sweep's apprentice by a magistrate who blocks Oliver's move to a master who "did happen to labour under the slight imputation of having bruised three or four boys to death already."


The corpses of two climbing boys being pulled out of a flue.

A trio climbing boys, still black with soot, tucking into a meal with some ale.

A widow sells her son into an apprenticeship with a chimney sweep.

A climbing boy on crutches in retirement.

A painting of a group of climbing boys gathered around a curdseller.

Two cherubic looking sweeps share a book.

A brush-toting sweep burdened by his pack.

Two more recent images of sweep's apprentices, one bilious, the other pensive.

Paul De Lamerie

Much more is known about the defendant, goldsmith Paul De Lamerie (spelled Delamirie in legal texts). De Lamerie was born in 1688 in the Netherlands to French Huguenot parents. The family soon moved to England. Little is known of De Lamerie's early education, but in 1703 he was apprenticed to Peter Platel, a London goldsmith, for a seven year term. Platel was a well-regarded and elegant silversmith, and de Lamerie was an ambitious apprentice. In 1711, his apprenticeship ended and De Lamerie made arrangements to start his own workshop. By 1713, he had entered his maker's mark at the Assay Office in the Goldsmiths' Hall and gave his address as "in Windmill Street near the Haymarket."

Repeated violations of Goldsmiths' Company regulations are noted throughout De Lamerie's career. In 1714, he was fined for "not having his work hallmarked"; further complaints were filed the following November because the fine remained unpaid. In 1715, he was accused of passing off work made by others as his own. Similar charges were made the next year. By 1717, he was known as the King's Silversmith, but was also named in a complaint for making and selling unmarked wares. In 1722, he was, of course, accused of cheating Armory, the chimneysweep's boy. And in 1726, he was involved in the trial of Robert Dingley, a goldsmith involved in exporting silver to Russia. Dingley was preparing to ship a large number of silver wares when the Goldsmiths' Company tried to intercept his shipment on the suspicion that pieces were not assayed and that the requisite duty was unpaid. Much of the wares, in fact, were unmarked, and around half of the goods were supplied by Paul De Lamerie. Nevertheless, Dingley avoided inspection by distracting Company officials in a tavern while the goods were being loaded and dispatched overseas.

In his extensive biography of De Lamerie, P.A.S. Phillips refers to Armory v. Delamirie as an "extraordinary incident in his career, which was to bring him into a different sphere of fame, although quite unintentionally and unexpectedly on his part." Nevertheless, while the suit was to become "one of the leading cases of the law of the land and to be known afterwards as ruling the law as to 'trover'", De Lamerie's business remained unaffected by his involvement in this or any other violation of Goldsmiths' Company regulations.

Prior to the lawsuit, De Lamerie's business had been flourishing. In 1717, he was admitted to the livery of the Goldsmiths' Company and would eventually secure the highest post offered by the Company, Prime Wardenship. By 1723, De Lamerie could already count members of the nobility and wealthy middle class at clients. Nevertheless, Susan Hare notes that "in spite of his title of King's Silversmith there is little evidence that he was fulfilling royal orders." Little question exists, however, in classifying De Lamerie as a shrewd businessman. Evidence introduced in Armory v. Delamirie reveals that in addition to a workshop, De Lamerie also kept an "open shop for ordinary trading purposes" where he also dealt in jewelry. This is confirmed by a document issued after his death for sale of his stock by auction. Hare notes that De Lamerie was a man of considerable wealth based on the "considerable investments in property he began making early in 1733" and "from his lending money on mortgage." Nevertheless, despite his wealth, when De Lamerie's father died in 1735, he was given a pauper's burial at St. Anne's Church, suggesting a certain callousness on the part of his son.

In a recent article, De Lamerie is referred to as a "pioneer of what became the Industrial revolution, operating a workshop or factory with a retail arm; he also began by making all the works that bore his maker's mark himself, then devising a system whereby his designs were manufactured by other craftsmen working under his supervision." De Lamerie designed but probably did not assist in constructing his masterpiece of Rococo style, the Maynard dish. E. Alfred Jones also states De Lamerie had "collaborators and apprentices just as had Vandyck and Rubens and other artists."

The above is compiled largely from two sources:

Beyond the Maker's Mark by Ellenor Alcorn

Paul de Lamerie: At the Sign of the Golden Ball by S.M. Hare

Other Articles on De Lamerie

Exhibition Review: Tessa Murdoch reviews an international exhibition of De Lamerie silver at the London Goldsmiths' Company, from The Burlington Magazine (1990).

Book Review: W.W. Watts reviews P.A.S. Phillips' biography of De Lamerie, from the Burlington Magazine (1935).

Article: Emil Delmar considers whether an elaborate bronze dish attributed to an Anglo-French goldsmith in London was the work of De Lamerie.

The Work of Paul De Lamerie

De Lamerie ranks as one of the finest and most prolific silversmiths of his time. Below are links to images of his work:

Shells: 1724-25

Taperstick: 1726-27

Coffeepot: 1728-29

Newdigate: 1743-44

Basket: 1744-45

Examples and highlights from the De Lamerie collection at the V&A museum, London.

Armory in Motion

Since it came down, the case has appeared in legal treatises on property, evidence, and tort law, judicial opinions, and case books on property law.

Application of the Armory rule has broadened over time. Here's a 2007 article by a barrister who advocates overturning the Armory rule because negligent lawyers now risk getting caught in a net designed for dishonest goldsmiths.

Occasionally, one can even find an Armory v. Delamirie memorabilia print available for auction on ebay.


Webs Webs

Attachments Attachments

  Attachment Actionup Size Date Who Comment
pdf 29900_file.pdf props, move 419.9 K 22 Dec 2008 - 19:57 CarolDeMartino De Lamerie silver
pdf 871967.pdf props, move 1141.2 K 22 Dec 2008 - 20:04 CarolDeMartino article on De Lamerie
pdf A_model_by_Paul_de_Lamerie.pdf props, move 1141.3 K 03 Dec 2008 - 18:20 CarolDeMartino "A Model by Paul de Lamerie" from the Burlington Magazine (1956)
pdf Armory_in_Indermaur.pdf props, move 378.6 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:51 AlexFeerst John Indermauer, Principles of the Common Law 275 (1880)
pdf At_the_sign_of_the_golden_ball.pdf props, move 1400.1 K 05 Jan 2009 - 21:16 CarolDeMartino Paul de Lamerie: At the Sign of the Golden Ball
pdf basket.pdf props, move 102.7 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:19 CarolDeMartino Basket
pdf Beyond_Makers_Mark.pdf props, move 762.0 K 05 Jan 2009 - 21:17 CarolDeMartino De Lamerie Book
jpg blake_chimney_experience.jpg props, move 23.7 K 02 Dec 2008 - 22:04 AlexFeerst Image of Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Experience (1794)
pdf boy_on_crutches_image.pdf props, move 121.0 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:54 AlexFeerst Boy on Crutches image
pdf boys_in_flues_diagram.pdf props, move 74.8 K 19 Dec 2008 - 16:08 AlexFeerst boys in flues diagram
pdf butlin_scrotum_cancer_article.pdf props, move 1922.1 K 02 Dec 2008 - 19:34 AlexFeerst Henry T. Butlin, Three Lectures on Cancer of the Scrotum in Chimney-Sweeps (1892)
pdf climbing_boys_strange_ch_2.pdf props, move 234.7 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:54 AlexFeerst K.H. Strange, The Climbing Boys, Ch. 2
pdf coffeepot.pdf props, move 1007.4 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:19 CarolDeMartino Coffeepot
pdf cullingford_ch_4.pdf props, move 391.4 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:55 AlexFeerst B. Cullingford, Five Centuries of British Chimney Sweeps, Ch. 4
pdf cullingford_title_page.pdf props, move 5.1 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:59 AlexFeerst Cullingford title page
pdf curdseller_image.pdf props, move 97.3 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:31 AlexFeerst curdseller painting
pdf ebay.pdf props, move 1727.8 K 18 Dec 2008 - 19:57 CarolDeMartino  
pdf fellow_students_image.pdf props, move 96.0 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:32 AlexFeerst fellow students image
pdf german_chimney_sweep_image.pdf props, move 53.9 K 19 Dec 2008 - 15:33 AlexFeerst German chimney sweep image
pdf glass_diagram.pdf props, move 148.4 K 19 Dec 2008 - 16:08 AlexFeerst boys in flues diagram 2 glass
jpg IMG_0726.JPG props, move 2478.9 K 20 Dec 2008 - 15:05 CarolDeMartino P.A.S. Phillips title page
pdf IMG_0727.pdf props, move 2800.7 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:53 CarolDeMartino  
pdf IMG_0729.pdf props, move 2881.4 K 20 Dec 2008 - 17:53 CarolDeMartino page from Phillips' bio of De Lamerie
pdf Jacobson_scrotum_cancer.pdf props, move 936.1 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:52 AlexFeerst From Walter Jacobson, Diseases of the Male Organs of Generation (1893)
pdf Newdigate.pdf props, move 79.5 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:19 CarolDeMartino Newdigate
pdf oliver_image.pdf props, move 123.6 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:33 AlexFeerst Oliver Twist scene image
pdf Paul_De_Lamerie,_Goldmsith.pdf props, move 967.0 K 03 Dec 2008 - 17:51 CarolDeMartino "Paul De Lamerie, Goldsmith" from The Burlington Magazine (1920)
pdf Paul_de_Lamerie.pdf props, move 802.8 K 03 Dec 2008 - 17:55 CarolDeMartino Review of De Lamerie exhibition, from The Burlington Magazine (1990)
else Paul_de_Lamerie_from_the_Cahn_Collection.webarchive props, move 209.8 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:37 CarolDeMartino  
pdf pott_scrotum_article.pdf props, move 731.0 K 02 Dec 2008 - 21:20 AlexFeerst Brown & Thornton, Percivall Pott & Chimney Sweepers' Cancer of the Scrotum (1957)
pdf review_of_De_Lamerie_biography.pdf props, move 684.3 K 03 Dec 2008 - 18:23 CarolDeMartino Review of Phillips' De Lamerie biography, from the Burlington Magazine (1935)
pdf shells.pdf props, move 78.7 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:20 CarolDeMartino Shells
pdf strange_title_page.pdf props, move 45.0 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:59 AlexFeerst K.H. Strange, title page
pdf sweep_image_1.pdf props, move 82.9 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:56 AlexFeerst Sweep's Apprentice Image 1
pdf sweep_image_2.pdf props, move 125.1 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:57 AlexFeerst Sweep's Apprentice Image 2
pdf sweep_soot_o_image.pdf props, move 84.6 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:50 AlexFeerst Sweep Soot O Image
pdf sweeps_house_image.pdf props, move 137.3 K 17 Dec 2008 - 20:57 AlexFeerst Sweep's House Image
pdf taperstick.pdf props, move 65.9 K 18 Dec 2008 - 20:13 CarolDeMartino  
pdf two_dead_boys_image.pdf props, move 138.0 K 21 Dec 2008 - 10:17 AlexFeerst Dead boys in flue
pdf water_babies_image.pdf props, move 70.5 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:34 AlexFeerst Water Babies image
pdf water_babies_text_+_image.pdf props, move 124.5 K 21 Dec 2008 - 08:36 AlexFeerst Water Babies text + image
pdf Watts.pdf props, move 684.3 K 20 Dec 2008 - 17:17 CarolDeMartino Review of De Lamerie biography
pdf widow_sells_son_image.pdf props, move 133.8 K 18 Dec 2008 - 17:04 AlexFeerst widow sells son image
r21 - 23 Aug 2014 - 20:10:31 - EbenMoglen
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