Fundamentale Bases Copper Pans and Pots.
November 19, 2020
To fully appreciate the history of ancient culinary copper pots, one must not look, neither with eyes, nor with too modern ideas.
An example of what I call "modern":
Today, you win the lotto 1,000,000 euros and as you are a great fan of culinary copper pots, you decide to become a supplier.
Who do you contact to have your pots made?
You will have the choice between MAUVIEL, BCC, SOY, ECT, DE BUYER, etc ... You just have to ask them!
And even if some of these manufacturers only work for themselves, they might tell you yes!
You will have to deal with a single intermediary, your supplier / manufacturer.
He will take care of making the pots, mounting the handles, tinning and polishing. He will also stamp the copper pots with your name on them. The service is comprehensive.
There you go, the 3 or 4 sentences above sum up what it takes to become a copper pot supplier these days. Nothing more, you will admit that it is very simple and very modern.
In 100 years, if someone does a search, they will almost certainly find what manufacture it is.
You will never leave this circuit, nor this unique relationship and even if it were the case by changing providers, there would always be only you and your provider.
A single type of manufacturing, coming from the same workshops, made by the same machines and men.
Everything is well structured, well planned. It has not been necessary for a long time to search for new technologies, tinned copper pots have been made in the same way (or almost) for decades.
If we take the example of the Mauviel house, it has supplied so many wholesalers and resellers from the 1960s to the present day, that we think it has always been like that!
So here is the "modern" image that most people have in mind:
1 (you) + 1 (your supplier) = 2.
And sadly, this image remains on far too many minds when they look into the past.
It is essential that certain things are well understood by all enthusiasts of ancient culinary copper pots.
When you look at old copper pots, you have to do it with a different perspective, with other ideas.
In a way:
1 + 1 = 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ...
Yes, I know, it’s weird, but you will understand as you read on.
Here are some basic notions that must be remembered so as not to get lost, in our passion, on winding paths.
I give you the first things that come to my mind and of course, there are others that I will add if the need arises.
You will see that things are not easy.
Defining who did what, when, how, becomes a very complicated question.
In the past, there were a lot of manufacturers like Mauviel.
So, let's forget Mauviel for the moment and just imagine Villedieu and Paris in 1900.
You absolutely have to imagine the work is not done in 1 + 1 = 2.
It is an essential thing!
It was like taking all the steps and types of fabrications and mixing them together like you grind a soup!
Let's go for a little tour in 1900!
1 - The Parisian manufacturer can manufacture, in Paris, part of its range and in Villedieu, another part of its range of products.
2 - Villedieu manufactures rough pots and sends them to Paris. No tinning, no handles, no hammering, no stamping.
3 - Villedieu manufactures fully finished pots with stamping and shipping to Paris.
4 - Villedieu manufactures completely finished pots without stamping and shipping to Paris.
5 - Villedieu manufactures in about 50 workshops which employs 250 boilermakers. 150 other boilermakers work at home on their own or on behalf of a boss. Usually, these home boilermakers only do one type of manufacturing. For example, only saucepans or marmite or fishmongers, etc.
6 - Villedieu can receive an order from Paris which will not have to be delivered to Paris, but for example in Brittany, in England, in the USA, etc ... In this case, there is no need to return the material to Paris, it is more economical to send it directly to the final destination. This is why Villedieu has stamps from Parisian wholesalers or resellers. These stamps may be old and no longer correspond to those of Paris. But that doesn't matter as long as the manufacturer or store in Paris hasn't changed address. And it's even less serious if the stamp does not contain the address! A Villedieu supplier can therefore apply a stamp that the Parisian manufacturer has not used for 30 years!
7 - A manufacturer from Villedieu can have one type of hammering carried out by one of his hammers for a Parisian manufacturer and another type of hammering by another hammer for another Parisian manufacturer. And then, one of the 2 hammers can die, retire, move, change jobs. Then the same hammer will do the same hammering for the 2 Parisian manufacturers. And then a new hammer will replace the one that is missing, which will give a 3rd type of hammering, therefore 2 different for one of the 2 Parisian manufacturers. And so on...
8 - A manufacturer from Villedieu or Paris may have a team of boilermakers who work on copper pots in one piece, mass-produced by stamping. That same manufacturer, at the same time, may have freelance workers working for him. By making copper pots entirely by hand, in several parts and mounted in a "dovetail" way. This means that this manufacturer supplies both "modern" and "old" pots at the same time.
I would like to point out in passing that the small punch that we often see in the middle and at the bottom of the pans is not at all, contrary to what many believe, always a sign of manufacture entirely made by hand. It is either a manufacture of man, helped by machines, or a manufacture of machines, aided by man. The only copper pots that can be considered handmade are the "dovetail" ones, I remind you that I am talking about 1900. Obviously, if we go back further in time, a real work with a hammer, by hand, is that which allows to make a pot with a single sheet of copper! In 1900, there are still artisans who work this way, but this work is not the most representative of the total production! We often see the indication "hammer-made", a real handmade pot for a pot made by a machine or a machine and man!
All the subtlety of the matter can be found in a sentence from a catalog of the Grands Magasins du Louvre:
“All of our pots and pans are hand hammered, we don't sell machine-made pots that are misused. "
In the first part of the sentence they talk about hammering.
In the second part of the sentence they talk about mechanically made pans, saying that they are not good material.
A subtle announcement that suggests that all their pots and pans are handcrafted! With the hammer, the old fashioned way. Sign of quality, customization, unique object.
We mislead the buyer by passing them from one subject to another in the same sentence! By making him believe that his casserole is made entirely by hand. In reality, it is the hammering that is done by hand.
9 - The manufacturer of Villedieu or Paris can carry out 3 main types of manufacturing to give its shape to a pan. The fully (or almost) mechanical one, the mechanical and manual one (or vice versa), the fully manual one. I do not go into the details of mechanical-manual or manual-mechanical work here because it is a rather complicated subject to explain. Just understand that this is a manufacturing process that cannot be done without labor provided by man and machine. With methods that either require more human work or more machine work. In a way, the boilermaker can give a first shape to his pot by stamping with a machine, then iron it in the fire to restore its malleability. Then the pot goes through a second machine to give depth, etc ... This reminds me of another misconception, a pot that has a thinner wall at the top and thicker on the way down and at the bottom is automatically a pot done with a hammer. WRONG! It's a pot made by machines.
10 - So the manufacturer from Villedieu or Paris can make pots very uneven in thickness. I'm talking about the same pot, depending on where you measure. And again, contrary to popular belief, this is not a sign of manual manufacturing.
11 - Villedieu or Paris can stamp a quantity of pots which ultimately is not delivered to its initial recipient. Whatever the reason. There can be so many these reasons! In this case, we can resell this stock to another wholesaler or reseller, at a lower price. And of course, stamp the new name on top of the first one. In general, this material is not sold in stores and it is not compulsory to present it to the public. It can be sold as downgraded, promotion, in restaurants or other large administrations that the manufacturer knows personally, etc ...
12 - Almost all boilermakers, with the DEHILLERIN, GAILLARD, LEGRY, JACQUOTOT, etc ... houses in the front line offering the take-back of old copper cookware. It doesn't matter where it comes from. Nothing prevents these boilermakers from stamping their name over a stamp already present. Nothing prevents them from stamping pots that had no stamping. The argument will be, at the time of resale, "We have refurbished this pot, do not hesitate to ask our services for future tinning or repairs. "
13 - Paris receives the rough pots and takes care of mounting the handles, tinning, hammering, stamping.
14 - Paris receives the finished pots and can sell them immediately.
15 - Paris receives the finished pots without stamping, the wholesaler or the reseller places the stamps for himself or for others.
16 - Paris sends rough pots to Villedieu who will assemble the handles, tinning, hammering and then send the material back to Paris.
17 - The Parisian manufacturer can have several ranges for the same product. For example ordinary 1.5mm saucepans, made in Paris in its workshops. Ordinary 2mm saucepans, made in Paris in another of its workshops. The ordinary extra strong and hammered casseroles, made in Villedieu. The ordinary over-extra strong casseroles with "dovetail", made by another manufacturer in Villedieu. And yes ! At this time when "dovetail" work is already a thing of the past, some customers absolutely and only want this type of copper pot! Which can mean an incredible amount of different fabrications and also different stamps!
- 18 Wars, economic crises, stockouts, copper inflation, the bankruptcy of a manufacturing partner, the temporary stoppage of the work of a manufacturing partner, the decline in the quality of raw materials, the origin of raw materials, the change of specialized workers (death, pensions, military service, etc.), are all elements that will effect changes in the manufacture of copper pots.
In another sense, there are times when the demand suddenly increases. And there, it is necessary to appeal, temporarily, to other manufacturers and partners !!!
Whether in times of recession or recovery, nothing prevents a manufacturer from buying inventory of old pots. Many manufacturers have had to shut down their businesses. Thousands of copper pots have been purchased by others. All that remained was to stamp them!
It is even certain that manufacturers who have gone bankrupt had already stamped pots in their stocks for their regular customers. One more reason to stamp over it after redeeming these stocks.
In summary, for this period, we should not isolate each manufacturer with its unique manufacture, its unique stamping, its unique style. You should not imagine him working alone in his factory or workshop.
You almost have to look at this as an incredible mix of a lot of people working with a whole bunch of partners. In a multitude of different ways.
There are so many reasons for this and that in those days that it is difficult in our minds today to fully define how it all worked.
Nowadays, it's much simpler but also much less magical!
- We can define the time of a copper pot from the DEHILLERIN house stamped 1 rue Montmartre.
- We can define the time of a pot from the PERSONNE house because we know when it ceased its activities.
- But how to define the era of a pot stamped with the "Coq"? First created and used by the CHARMOIS company (1871-1888), then taken over by the J. LASNIER company (1888-1907), then taken over by the DEHILLERIN company who perhaps continued to use it a little afterwards the takeover in 1907?
- How to define the era of a GAILLARD pot? By placing a one-piece sauté pan next to another made in a "dovetail" shape, everyone will surely tell you that the "dovetail" one is much older! WRONG!
As explained above, the one made from a single piece of copper could very well be made in 1910 in Paris with an oval stamping containing "J and E GAILLARD" while the "dovetail" one will have been made in 1912 in Villedieu with a "long" stamping, also with "J and E GAILLARD".
This is the whole difficulty of this subject.
The period from 1900 to 1940 is made up of all these things that are difficult to imagine today! It is the most beautiful period of culinary copper pots. The best pots that have ever been made in the world!
Trying to define precisely who did what, when, how, before 1940 is something we would like to do. But unfortunately, almost impossible.
We often say: "Why make it complicated when you can make it simple?"
But this does not concern at all what you have just read because it is complicated and nothing can ever make this period simple.
You have to make the effort to try to assimilate, understand and realize that all of this participates in the magic that comes from these copper pots.
We often hear people say they love old copper pots because they talk to them!
And if we ask them: "What are they talking to you about?", The answer is often quite vague.
Simply because people feel that something is emanating from these copper pots, but they don't know what! A kind of feeling between the owner and his copper pot which is not definable if we do not know a bit of history.
And in truth, it's all these things that you just read that are imbued in these old pots. You subconsciously know that there are so many stories in their past.
I hope these few lines will help you appreciate your culinary copper pots even more!
To all Copper Lovers !