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40cm stewpot “H.B.”

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This pan is lovely but it’s at the end of its useful life.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”
50cm stewpot
  • Type: Tin-lined stewpot in hammered finish with brass handles fitted with three copper rivets
  • French descriptionFaitout étamé et martelé avec poignées en laiton munies de trois rivets en cuivre
  • Dimensions: 40cm diameter by 21 cm high (15.7 inches by 8.3 inches)
  • Thickness: 2.7mm at rim
  • Weight: 9124g (20 lbs)
  • Stampings: “H.B. 40”
  • Maker and age estimate: Unknown; 1870s-1900?
  • Source: charmantiques

I consider myself a copper collector (as well as a copper user) and once in a while I take a chance on an antique piece that turns out to be in rougher shape than I’d hoped. That is the case with this pot. (No fault to the seller — they fully disclosed the condition and the price was fair.) It’s been used quite a bit during its lifetime; it’s hard to estimate its precise age, but it feel like it’s from the early 20th century or probably earlier.

Of course, the pot looks absolutely beautiful. I asked for the seller to send it directly to Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning who did everything he could to refurbish and repair it, but there is only so much that he could do. The problems with this pot are structural: it’s falling apart and there’s no real way to reverse it. The best I can do for this pot is to stop time, so to speak, by taking it out of active use and keeping it for display.

The base of this pot has taken a beating. I don’t know if heavy things were carried in it, or if someone actually punched or kicked it or something, but the bottom was convex when it got to Erik so the pot wouldn’t sit flat and sort of lolled around. When you buy a used pot of any material, always ask if it sits flat. If you cook with a gas stove you can still work with an uneven base, but if you use electric, ceramic, glass, halogen, or anything like that, the uneven surface can diminish the efficient transfer of heat into a pan.

Take a look at the bottom of this pan. There are a few unusual things going on here.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

Do you see the double dovetailing? There are two concentric seams in the base of this pot. This is the sign of a repair, but it’s well done — the pieces were joined neatly. Some copper repairs I’ve seen have prominent scars from where new materials were joined with old, so this fix was done by an expert hand. A large piece like this was likely expensive and worth the investment to fix it properly.

Look also at the texture. Erik tried to flatten the base as much as he could, but the problem is that once copper is stretched it’s not really possible to shrink it back to its previous dimensions. The best Erik could do was to press it as flat as he could, which meant popping the rounded base inward — in other words, reversing the previous convexity into a concavity. The pot now rests relatively flat but the base is now slightly domed.

But now let’s look at the interior.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

The dovetail seams are starting to separate. With two concentric seams, there are a lot of potential points of failure, and some of them have started to go.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

Erik is a master and he did his best to seal up the joints with extra tin, but there are no guarantees that it’s water-tight. And for a stewpot — any pan, really — not being able to hold liquid is a critical flaw.

Finally, one of the dovetail seams on the side of the pot is starting to part at the rim.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

Unfortunately, in this condition, this pot isn’t really trustworthy for cooking. It’s a lovely 2.7mm thick but its large size and broad dimensions it feels a bit fragile to me. (This may be a case where repeated retinnings and repolishing have actually removed some copper — it may have started service at 3mm and has just thinned over the decades.)

But let’s finish on an optimistic note. This pot has had a full life. It’s stamped with a chef’s initials “H.B.” Someone loved this pot enough to put his or her name on it, and I love it still. And of course Erik spiffed it up with new tin and a good polish and it’s as pretty now as the day it was made.

40cm stewpot “H.B.”

I consider myself this pot’s conservator. Its cooking days are behind it but it still has great value to me as a symbol of beauty, craftsmanship, and heritage. This is a worthy purpose for this lovely thing and commensurate with its dignity.

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