This beautiful piece was made for a queen… or perhaps her daughter.
- Type: Tin-lined braisière with iron handle fastened with three copper lids; cap-style lid with iron handle fastened with two copper rivets
- French description: Braisière étamée avec queue de fer munie de trois rivets en cuivre; couvercle emboîtant avec queue de fer munie de deux rivets en cuivre
- Dimensions: 23cm wide by 14cm deep by 14.5cm tall (9.1 inches by 5.5 inches by 5.7 inches)
- Thickness: 1.4mm
- Weight: 1798g (4 lbs) without lid; 2588g (5.7 lbs) with lid
- Stampings: “VA” cypher with crown
- Maker and age estimate: Unknown; 1840-1861, possibly as late as the 1880s
- Source: Newlyn Tinning
I have a few daubières — box-shaped pots with brass handles for low-and-slow cooking in an oven. But this is a braisière, an earlier design for cooking in a hearth. The French word braise means “ember,” as in the hot coals of an open fire; the method of braising was originally to nestle a pot like this deep into the warmest part of the fire where it would sit for a few hours, tightly capped.
What differentiates a braisière from a daubière is its projecting handle. It comes in handy to help a cook position the pot deep into the fire, but when ovens came into common use towards the end of the 19th century, the braisière needed a redesign to fit into a tighter space. Voilà, the familiar suitcase-like daubière — the same idea, but with close-set brass handles that are much more compatible with the confines of a modern-style oven.
This piece’s pre-oven design is one reason why I think this piece is from the mid-1800s. Another reason is the stamp: the letters V and A intertwined beneath a crown, the dual cypher of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England. They were married in 1840 and Albert passed away in 1861.
But sharp-eyed reader EJ Nagel points out that the crown is not the crown of the monarch but instead that of a marquess. Take a look.
Under what circumstances would the dual cypher of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert be used with a heraldry crown of lesser rank? EJ was kind enough to do some research and he noted that in 1871 Victoria and Albert’s daughter Princess Louise married John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll, most commonly styled Marquess of Lorne.
I throw this question out to historians familiar with the reign of Victoria and the proprieties of the use of royal devices: In what context would it have been appropriate to use the VA dual cypher alongside John’s marquess crown? Louise is regarded as perhaps the first non-traditional British royal who sought an identity of her own separate from the royal court; her controversial marriage to John, who was not a nobleman but rather a British subject, required the explicit decree of Queen Victoria herself. Louise was an intelligent and artistic woman who, later in life, traveled under the alias “Louise Campbell” at times in an effort to avoid the fuss of royal attention. I am by no means deeply familiar with Louise’s life, but even from what little I know it seems incongruous to me that Louise’s household would use her husband’s crown with her parents’ cypher, particularly as their marriage experienced long periods of estrangement.
But there was one period of time during which the couple’s royal lineage was of explicit importance: John’s service as Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883, when he and Louise lived at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. According to Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty, the couple’s direct connection to Victoria and Albert was of great significance to the Canadians. Though their tenure in Canada was initially controversial — the Canadian press was suspicious of the insertion of British royalty into Canadian government — the Canadian people saw in them an opportunity to demonstrate fealty to and love for Victoria and Albert. Louise and John’s royal tour in 1882 in particular was an occasion of extravagant demonstrations of loyalty and royal fervor across the country. In this context, John’s marquess crown surmounting the dual cypher of Louise’s parents could be seen as a straightforward visual documentation of Canada’s connection to the British commonwealth during this period.
Could this piece have been from the royal household in Rideau Hall in Ottawa? Or perhaps could it be a souvenir made during their time in Canada, with no connection to them at all? I acquired it from Stephen Pearse at Newlyn Tinning in Cornwall, England; it has been more than a century since Victoria and Louise’s time, which is plenty of opportunity for a little pot like this to travel between England and Canada — or not at all. As is always the case with research I do for this hobby of mine, I would be very grateful to any historians who could speak to this period of time and from whence this symbolic stamp might have sprung.
But regardless of its imprint, this little daubière is absolutely exquisite, and worthy of royal service.
The geometry is just beautiful. It’s a lovely perfect lozenge shape. The curve at each end is absolutely even. The interior corners are smooth and regular with no lumps or bumps anywhere.
The base is dovetailed. A craftsman cut crenellations into sheets of copper to form the base and the body of the pan and brazed them together with brass. You can trace the yellow lines around the base and up the side under the handle.
The lid is perfectly fitted. It slides over the top and fits like a glove.
It is a couvercle emboîtant with a recessed area. I believe the indentation is intended to collect condensation on the interior of the pan and direct it to drip down onto the food.
The rivet work is particularly fine. They are flush to the interior surface both on the pan body and on the inside of the lid.
The handles have experienced some deterioration — nothing too serious, but there is definite pitting in the iron. It adds some interesting texture to the piece but I’m going to keep the iron well waxed to forestall additional rusting.
The hammering is subtle on the flanks of the pan. It feels like a ripple under the fingertips and is only visible in light.
I wish I knew who made this. It seems most likely to me that it’s English — I find it hard to believe that the royal household would have looked to France for its copper cookware. But the handle baseplate — usually an indicator of a pan’s country of origin — is unfamiliar to me: it’s neither the near-oval that became the dominant French aesthetic, nor the arrow-head shape that is associated with English makers, nor even the bar with rounded ends of the American style. My poor amateur scholarship of 19th century copper is thin prior to the 1880s and even more threadbare outside of France, so I have little speculation to offer as to its maker.
But whoever made it was wonderfully skilled. It’s a marvelous piece of work and worthy of the kitchen of a queen’s palace. Nearly two hundred years have passed and it has come down in the world quite a bit, of course, but even with the passage of time, its innate quality has not faded. This is a beautiful pan and just as useful today as it was then, and I am so grateful to have it.
As noted above, I am indebted to reader EJ Nagel for spotting the marquess crown and pointing out Louise’s marriage to John, Marquess of Lorne. I encourage any reader who spots a possible error or omission in my posts to reach out to me with a comment or an email to VFC at vintagefrenchcopper dot com. Thank you!