This gorgeous specimen belongs to reader and collector Stephen Whalen, and it’s a beauty.
- Type: Tin-lined rondeau in hammered finish with brass handles fastened with three copper rivets
- French description: Rondeau étamé et martelé avec poignées munies de trois rivets en cuivre
- Dimensions: 46cm diameter by 11 cm tall (18.1 inches by 4.3 inches)
- Thickness: 3.5mm to 3.8mm
- Weight: 12700g (28 lbs)
- Stampings: “Gaillard 81 FauB. St. Denis PARIS”; 46
- Maker and age estimate: Gaillard; 1880-1900
- Source: eBay
- Owner: Stephen Whalen
Gaillard made copper from about 1880 to the 1980s. As TJFRANCE points out, there’s not really one “house of Gaillard” but rather a succession of Gaillard family members who inherited or branched off from the family chaudronnerie. You will see pieces stamped for Jules Gaillard, J. Gaillard, J. & E. Gaillard, and just plain old Gaillard in multiple stamp designs representing work over decades. (I am engaged in a long-term effort with my field guide to place these stamps in some kind of order but it is not progressing very quickly!)
But while a piece with a Gaillard stamp could have been made by one of many iterations of the Gaillard line, they all share a common aesthetic — the Gaillard brand, if you will: symmetry, proportion, and quite often, heft. Gaillard was one of the primary restaurant and hotel suppliers of its day, and also to the houses of royalty, which is why so many of the pieces that survive to this day are of a monumental scale, such as this one.
But don’t let the enormous size of this pan put you off — in my opinion, a big rondeau like this is more useful and adaptable than you might think. It was designed to take large batches of food in a big busy kitchen, but for smaller-scale tasks it becomes a sort of plancha. I have found that I larger rondeau can be a stand-in for a skillet: food has plenty of room to spread out, letting air circulate for the drier techniques of browning. The high sides of the rondeau shape help contain oil spatters as well; I have had great success sautéing pork and fish in my big rondeaux with much easier stovetop cleanup than I experience with a shallow skillet.
The downside to using a big piece like this for everyday cooking is, of course, its mass. This pan weighs about 28 pounds unladen. Of course, it is the volume of copper creating all that weight that is also conveying the best qualities of this metal for cooking: even heating, rapid heat distribution throughout the pan, and heat retention. You cannot cheat physics.
The stamp on this pan puts it during the golden age of Gaillard, from about 1890 to 1920 or so. (Again, I am working to narrow this down.) It also has a size stamp, 46 of course, using the distinctive Gaillard-style “4” that can be recognized on other pans.
A pan of this size and weight requires large-scale hardware to resist the mechanical torque of hauling the thing around, and this pan has gorgeous monumental hardware. The rivets are large and flattened on the outside, a treatment I associate with hand-insertion and hand-hammering. On the interior surface they are flush-set, another sign that the rivets were hand-cut and hand-flattened.
Stephen sent this pan to Jim Hamann at East Coast Tinning for refurbishing. It was in fairly good shape when he received it from an eBay seller in France, but one of the handles was loose — not an unexpected turn of events for a large old pan like this, as the copper rivets can deform under stress. (According to Stephen, the pan was in use in a restaurant in France as recently at 2018. ) Jim fixed the handle, retinned the pan, and did a great job with a respectful restoration that preserved the exterior character of the pan.
Stephen captured a series of before and after shots that give a sense of what the restoration accomplished. First and foremost, a good cleaning and polishing brightened up the exterior quite a bit.
But in my opinion the goal of the exercise is not to erase the marks of age on the pot. As you can see below, in some ways the cleaning ended up emphasizing the scrapes on the surface. I think these are absolutely beautiful and I love seeing them on a pot, but I fear that not all metalworking shops see it the same way. (I am a little sensitive to this because I once had a local metalworking shop obliterate the character marks on a Jacquotot Windsor, including its stamp. Never again.) This is a reason to work with a true copper restorer like Jim who knows how to clean and polish a copper pot without wiping off its history.
With these pans the major concern over time is corrosion. Iron-handled pans can suffer the worst, as galvanic corrosion and rust begin to eat away at the iron, which in turn can react with the copper. (Clean and dry your pot handles well!) The risk is decreased somewhat on brass-handled pans like this, but nevertheless food oils in the crevices around handles can stimulate corrosion as well. Judging by the photos below, this pan was kept in pretty good shape, but there were some minor deposits around the baseplate that Jim’s cleaning was able to remove.
The tin was in fair shape. I see this cloudiness as indication of a universal layer of oxidation on top of the tin; to the best of my knowledge, it’s not toxic in any way, but I don’t believe it provides the great low-stick surface that a good working tin lining can provide. In theory, the layer of oxidation can be removed to reveal fresh tin underneath, but I tend to be skeptical that this is a practical option. A tin lining is no more than .2mm to .3mm thick, and in an older pan like this, possibly thinner; it seems likely to me that attempting to abrade or dissolve the layer of oxidation could dig right through to the copper, in which case you’d need to retin anyway. That said, I have seen an example on Chowhound of a reader who was able to remove oxidation and found good tin underneath, so I may be wrong on this. In any event, Stephen opted to retin the pan (as I would have as well) and Jim put down a lovely even layer of tin that will see another decade or two of use.
The photos below also illustrate that the pan was slightly out of round. Look on the lower left quadrant — about 7 o’clock on the circle — and you will see some flattening. The after photo shows the geometry restored.
The base is hammered all over, another sign of hand-craftsmanship. It’s beautiful.
I’d like to thank Stephen for sharing this pan with us. I love seeing old pieces like this restored, particularly by a knowledgeable and respectful craftsman like Jim Hamann. This pan is a gorgeous example of design from more than a century ago, and due to its solid construction, it is as useful today as it was then.