Savings banks

Savings banks

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Title: Savings and providence.

Author : CHAPLAIN Jules Clément (1839 - 1909)

Creation date : 1885

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 5.8 - Width 5.8

Technique and other indications: Uniface medal in silvered bronze, struck Obverse of the medal of the Caisse d'Epargne de Paris

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Picture reference: 90-005862-01 / MEDOR187

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: June 2011

Historical context

The social question and the savings account booklet

Savings banks appear in various European countries at the end of the 18th centurye century (Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, France…). A defined interest is then served to the depositor, who retains the right to withdraw all or part of his savings at any time.

A guarantee of success, this flexibility of operation aims to transfer "woolen stockings" to the banking sector, at the same time as accustoming large parts of the population to the latter. The law of 1835 thus made savings banks private establishments of public utility, which reflected the institutional consensus around their moralizing virtues.

Image Analysis

A compendium of philanthropic values

Jules-Clément Chaplain holds here in the space of a medal the essentials of the philosophical and social foundations of the savings bank movement. The branch that serves as the background is a clean and welcoming place with a light fixture. The scene itself illustrates the words engraved at the bottom of the coin, “Savings and Provident”. The Savings are represented both by the craftsman, recognizable by his apron and his tools, who came to hand over a leather purse inflated with family savings, and by the feather and urn of the allegorical female figure.

Taking up the antiquistic clichés of neoclassicism, she is dressed in a toga and seated on a raised seat, her grave demeanor finally inspiring the necessary confidence in the deposit. Beside the worker stands his wife, the Provident, who embraces the infant itself, a symbol of the future. The finesse of the engraving by Chaplain, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts since 1881, here contributes to the impression of serene clarity sought.


"Working classes" that would no longer be "dangerous"

"Let us try to make people understand the benefits, one can almost say the miracles, of the economy" Quoted by Daniel Duet, Savings banks, p. 18: this injunction formulated by Benjamin Delessert, founder of the Caisse d'Épargne de Paris in 1818, clearly reflects the nature of the savings bank movement, backing from the outset the question of pauperism and economic and social change of the XIXe century.

The solution envisaged within it is based on a characteristic neither-nor: neither a return to traditional political forms, nor the state taking charge of the condition of the most modest. The effort must be individual, family, and requires promoting healthy behaviors regarding household finances. The trivialization of the deposit of cash saved on household resources induces beneficial habits both for the individual and for society: temperance, foresight, etc. This policy comes under the famous notion of "good father" management, recommended for put an end to the immoral acts then attributed to the popular classes.

  • allegory
  • bank
  • bourgeoisie
  • medal
  • silver


Louis CHEVALIER, Working classes and dangerous classes, Paris, Perrin, 2007, [1958].

Carole CHRISTEN-LECUYER, Social and cultural history of the Caisses d'Epargne en France, 1818-1881, Paris, Economica, 2004.

Jean-Pierre DAVIET, The Industrial Society in France, 1814-1914.

Productions, exchanges, performances, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1997.

Daniel DUET, Savings banks, Paris, P.U.F., 2002.

Benoît OGER, History of the National Savings Bank: an institution serving the public and the State, 1881-1914, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2006.

Jean RIVOIRE, History of the bank, Paris, P.U.F., 1992.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The savings banks"

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