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40cm Gaillard rondeau

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For me, the appeal of early Gaillard copper like this rondeau is both its craftsmanship and character.

40cm Gaillard rondeau

  • Type: Tin-lined rondeau in hammered finish with brass handles fitted with three copper rivets
  • French description: Rondeau étamé et martelé avec poignées en laiton munies de trois rivets en cuivre
  • Dimensions: 40cm diameter by 8.5cm tall (15.7 inches by 3.3 inches)
  • Thickness: 3mm at rim
  • Weight: 6562g (14.5lbs)
  • Stampings: “GAILLARD 81 FAUBG ST DENIS PARIS”
  • Maker and age estimate: Gaillard; 1880-1900s
  • Source: FrenchAntiquity

Gaillard made heavy copper for restaurants and royalty with beautiful hand-cut dovetails, elegantly shaped handles, and neatly polished rivets. These pieces have survived for more than a hundred years — proof of how well they were made — and their enduring beauty is testament to the consummate sensibilities of the atelier du chaudronnerie Gaillard.

These pieces also bear the marks of their history and this is the character that I love. A busy chef in Paris would scoff at my reverence for a copper pan, for these were (and still are) kitchen tools to be hauled in and out of cupboards, slid across stoves, and energetically and harshly scrubbed. This hard use over several decades (often followed by storage in neglect) laid down scratches, corrosion, pits, dents, bends, cracks, and tears.

The thing is, I love these scars. They’re what make owning vintage and antique copper such a pleasing tactile experience for me: much as I appreciate how beautiful these pieces look, the real pleasure is to hold them and run my hands over these scrapes and scratches. When these pans show up at my door, I can’t ask them where they’ve been or who they’ve served before they came to me, but they’ll tell me their story if I know how to listen with my fingertips.

All this lengthy preamble is my effort to explain why I’m so into this one.

This rondeau has been months in the finding and fixing and I was thrilled when it finally arrived at my door. It was a commission from Steve Nash at FrenchAntiquity who travels around Europe in search of copper; he has an excellent eye but also welcomes special requests. A while back I asked Steve to be on the lookout for a big early Gaillard rondeau for me, and when he came across this one he thought I might be interested. (If you are looking for a particular vintage piece, you would do well to contact Steve and ask his thoughts on how to acquire it.)

Here is how the rondeau looked when he found it. I think this is fairly typical condition for early French copper (and by early, I mean 19th to early 20th century): lots of tarnish, blown-out tin, corrosion around the handles. Of particular interest to me was its Gaillard stamp, which is a version I haven’t seen very often and that was not already in my collection.

But the pan also had some issues. Steve is always very up-front about his copper and he obligingly sent me the photos below to make sure I understood its condition: slightly out of round, slight convexity in the base, and cracks in one of the brass handles. We discussed the pan over email and I decided that none of these was a dealbreaker for me.

However, I knew that the pan would need not just polishing and tinning but possibly repair. I asked Steve to send it directly to Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning in Denver. I warned Erik about the handles and the pot’s geometry and asked him to use his best judgement as to whether and how to repair it.

As you can see from the photos of the finished piece, Erik did an absolutely fantastic job with it. It looks gorgeous, and I’d like to show you some highlights of Erik’s work.

40cm Gaillard rondeau

The most important repair was to the handles. Erik’s father Peter — who founded the company — came out of retirement (so to speak) to help. Peter applied silver solder to fill the cracks in the brass handle to stabilize it and prevent further movement and damage. He sent me the gorgeous photo below of the silver soldering in progress.

40cm Gaillard rondeau

He then polished the repair patches to integrate them cosmetically with the handle and I think the results are beautiful. Below is the “before” photo and the repair from multiple angles; I can just barely distinguish the repair spots.

Erik also did a beautiful job with the polishing and retinning. My experience with big pans like this is that they seem sometimes to have been used as a prep and cutting surface, so that the floor is pitted and scarred. Keep in mind that until household dish soap was invented in the middle of the 20th century, normal practice was to scrub pots with sand to clean them, which no doubt abraded the copper (and shortened the life of the tin considerably!).

Erik snapped a photo of the bare copper and you can see the texture. Tin smooths this out a bit, of course, but you can still see the underlying terrain of the copper. Trying to polish this away would remove too much copper from the pan’s most important cooking surface, and in any case, my experience is that these surface irregularities don’t affect cooking.

With the restoration complete, the finer points of the pan’s design emerge and began to speak to its era of construction.

The first indicator of age are the cramp seams, or dovetails. The jagged yellow lines running around the perimeter of the base and up the sides are the seams where three pieces of copper were fit together and brazed to make a strong and water-tight seal. Until coppersmiths began using machinery in the early 20th century to bend and shape copper sheets, cramp seams and hammering were the way to construct big pots and pans like this. (Odd-shaped pieces like Mauviel’s daubières are still made this way but the seams are soldered, not brazed.)

I have some other Gaillard pieces with dovetails and the craftsmanship is beautiful. I suspect these are hand-cut — they are lovely and regular but not as perfect as a machine-punched edge would be. These details point to the mid- to late-1800s construction. The seams are in great shape with no signs of weakness or breakage that I can see.

The handles are the antique Gaillard design with a pronounced downward point. The rivets look early to me, and by that I mean hand-made and hand-riveted; the exterior heads look hammered and the interior heads are flush to the surface of the pan. I know that rivets are not a totally reliable way to date a pan because they can be replaced, but these look original to me, and particularly the flush interior treatment.

Another sign of age are the pan’s marks of significant use. Its handles are a tad cockeyed, as you can see below. I suspect the pan may have been dropped square on one handle, perhaps contributing to its cracking.

40cm Gaillard rondeau

There’s gorgeous patina on its sidewalls and handles. Erik does a great job of polishing vintage pieces without buffing away the surface character, and I appreciate his “sympathetic restoration” (as Steve Nash calls it).

Look closely at one of the handles and you’ll see a mystery spot: a patch of braze near one of the rivets. This was a repair but I can’t tell what the issue was. Erik speculated that it might have been a rivet hole for a different handle at some point, but the two current handles seem identical to me. But if this pan is a good 140 years old, who knows what it’s been through?

40cm Gaillard rondeau

This restoration and repair has extended this pan’s useful lifespan, and for me it’s a wise investment. I’m so grateful to Steve, Erik, and Peter for their work to find and restore this pan so that I can enjoy it, and to you for coming along with me as I tell the portion of its story that I know.

40cm Gaillard rondeau
GAILLARD in ST DENIS
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5 Comments

  1. HI, what a beautiful rondeau! Was Eric able to make the pan sit a bit flatter?

    Steve

  2. Hi Steve — I can’t quantify the change because I didn’t handle the pan before it went to Erik. I know he worked on it and he is usually able to make some improvement. It’s stable but it is not entirely flat; from what I understand, fixing a deformed base is a process of evening out the bumps rather than magically ironing them away. Once copper stretches it’s virtually impossible to compress it back into shape. I’m happy if the pan is stable but I don’t expect perfect flatness.

  3. Thanks for your reply and it makes a lot of sense. I recently aquired a 46cm Gaillard rondeau that needs some attention including a convex base as your pan had. I will be sending the pan to JIm at East Coast tinning who, as you know, also does stellar work on these vintage pans.

    Steve

    1. He does indeed. I think Jim will be able to get it back into its best shape. Again, in my experience, convexity gets repaired into a slight concavity or other irregularity so it’s never quite going to be the way it was, and you may need to live with a slight rock. I’m sure Jim can tell you what’s possible once he gets a look at it.

      Congratulations on the purchase of the big rondeau! I just love those old pieces! Let me know if you’d like to do a guest post on it 🙂

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