This beautiful pan has served in one of the finest restaurants in the world — and I think I know which one.
- Type: Tin-lined sauté in hammered finish with iron handle fastened with three copper rivets and copper helper handle fastened with three copper rivets
- French description: Sauteuse étamée et martelée avec queue de fer munie de trois rivets en cuivre et poignée d’assistance en cuivre munie de trois rivets en cuivre
- Dimensions: 41cm diameter by 12.5cm tall (16.1 inches by 4.9 inches)
- Thickness: 3.1mm
- Weight: 9530g (21 lbs)
- Stampings: Waldorf Hotel
- Maker and age estimate: Unknown; 1893-1897
- Source: eBay (US)
I watched this pan for quite a while before I purchased it. It’s one of the most costly pans in my collection, but it’s worth it to me. First and foremost, it is a monumental pan in great physical shape. It also has a helper handle, an unusual addition that makes the pan easier to manage. And finally, it has a stamp on it that, if I am correct, pinpoints its history very specifically.
Let’s start by looking at the pan. It’s lovely. The seller kept it in fine physical shape but it was clear that it needed new tin. I asked the seller to ship it to Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning, and he did a fantastic job with this heavy piece.
This is a monumental restaurant-scale pan. It is 3mm thick, providing plenty of metal to spread heat across its broad surface and up its walls. I can imagine this pan at work on a busy hotel kitchen, managing six or eight filets of fish or chicken or beef at a time, holding the temperature steady as cool food was added, heated, and rotated out.
The pan has one single stamp, “Waldorf Hotel.” There are many small scars from cooking but no other stamps that I can find — no size number, no maker’s mark, no other owner’s marks. In my experience this is unusual for large old pans like this because they tend to pass through multiple hands over their lifetime. The seller of this pan tells me that his mother bought it at a flea market in the United States many years ago; it’s possible this pan stayed with one owner after its tenure in the hotel kitchen.
The helper handle is made of solid copper. It would get quite hot during cooking; my guess is that this handle was not intended to help jump the pan, but simply to assist with moving it around the kitchen.
The rivets on the iron handle are smooth and subtly faceted. They show the marks of hammer strikes, evidence that they were inserted and finished by hand prior to the advent of riveting machines. And they are polished to a shine.
The handle is huge, as it needs to be in order to lever up so much weight. It extends 41cm from the body — equal to the diameter of the pan — and its baseplate is about 23cm wide. I don’t know how much of the pan’s total weight is bound up in the handle, but I suspect it’s substantial.
This pan weighs 21 pounds unladen, and while I have a healthy respect for the brawn of chefs and sous-chefs in world-class kitchens, I find it hard to believe that someone would actually jump this pan in the air. I expect they would tip it on its front lip and slide it vigorously if they needed to agitate it. In support of this theory, there appears to be an area of damage right at that spot. There’s a small spot of yellow brazing at the edge under the helper handle, and the interior in that area shows some distortion. I expect that is the spot that experienced the most stress during use.
Aside from that one indication of wear, the rest of the pan is in pretty good condition. I am especially impressed with the flatness of the base. Copper is a malleable metal; large-diameter pans like this, with a span of 16 inches of unreinforced base, often stretch out and wobble. This pan’s base is almost perfectly flat, with only a millimeter or two of movement.
It is, however, out of round. This will make it impossible to put a fitted lid onto this pan — I’ll have to use a universal-style lid, perfectly flat, that will rest on the rim. I happen to have a big old Gaillard lid that will work just fine, but to be honest, it’s often easier just to use a big baking sheet!
As it happens, I have another pan quite similar to this one and I have a theory that they were made by the same place.
On the left above is my 36cm sauté with helper handle, and on the right, this 41cm saute. As you can see, both are monumental pieces with an unusual copper helper handle. When I saw this 41cm saute online I was immediately struck by the similarity.
The shape of the baseplates is identical. Look at the slight “smile” of the baseplate; the curve underneath and the set of the rivet holes are the same. The 36cm’s rivets have been flattened more than the 41cm’s rivets, but I’m more interested in their positioning. (While you’re at it, take a look at the stamps and marks on the 36cm — that’s the level of tattooing I expect to see on a pan of this age.)
The rivet similarities are even more clear when you look at the set of the internal rivets.
The baseplates are the same “pillowy” style, with a rounded profile.
The hanging loops are identical. The rake of the handles is not quite the same, however — the 41cm’s handle rises at a greater angle than that of the 36cm.
And the copper helper handles are not quite the same. The 41cm’s baseplate has gentler points along the under-curve.
The handgrips are also slightly different. The arms of the 36cm’s handle flare out while the 41cm’s are straighter. But the difference is pretty slight.
What do you think? I think they were made in the same place but I don’t yet know what that place was. I’m certain they’re French based on the style of the handles (identical to other stamped French pans in my collection), and my best guess at the moment is that they were both made by Dehillerin, but it also could have been Gaillard. If you have any information about this, or if you own or have seen similar pans with maker’s marks, I’d be very grateful if you’d reach out.
Here is this pan’s one and only stamp: “Waldorf Hotel.”
While multiple “Waldorf Hotels” have existed over time, I believe this could refer to one of two places: The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, or the Waldorf Hotel in London, now the Waldorf-Hilton.
The Waldorf-Astoria was two separate hotels that merged in 1897. William Waldorf Astor began construction of the Waldorf Hotel in 1890 at the corner of 5th Avenue and 33rd Street in New York City and it opened its doors in 1893. In 1897, William Astor’s cousin John Jacob Astor IV built a separate competing hotel next door called the Astoria. The two men were apparently rivals within the family but this game of one-upmanship gave way to a shared interest in commerce and the two hotels combined to create the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (For a time, the hotel’s official name was the Waldorf=Astoria with an equal sign to symbolize their unity.) Both buildings were demolished in 1929 to become the site of the Empire State Building, and the Waldorf-Astoria reopened in 1931 at its present location at 301 Park Avenue.
In 1908, another Waldorf Hotel opened in London’s West End, a venture by a theater promoter named Edward Sanders and his partner Thomas Wild. According to the hotel’s own records, Sanders and Wild raised money from investors including William Waldorf Astor (he of the original Waldorf in New York) to build a grand hotel along the newly-built Aldwych in the theater district. Sanders and Wild named it the Waldorf Hotel to thank their major investor but also to borrow some of the allure of Astor’s more famous hotel in New York City. It was designed in the American style with a restaurant and cafe that was open to the public and not simply reserved for guests.
So to which of these hotels could my pan have belonged?
As I show above, the pan has multiple signs of hand-work that were rapidly becoming obsolete as steam- and hydraulic-powered machinery came into use. That breaking point, as far as I can tell, was right around the turn of the 20th century. That this pan has so many signs of hand-work puts it in my mind into the late 19th century. That favors the New York hotel that opened in 1893 over the London hotel that opened in 1908.
But then there is the stamp. Here is mine, and for comparison, another Waldorf-Astoria stamp and well as the caption on a postcard for the Waldorf Hotel in London. You know how I am about typefaces: the W and H on my pan are more similar to the letters on the London postcard than they are to the script on the Waldorf-Astoria pan.
This raises a couple of possibilities. If the pan is from the New York hotel, then it is from 1893 to 1897 before the Waldorf and the Astoria joined forces. Or, alternatively, the pan is from the London Hotel.
The third factor for consideration is the pan’s history from the seller. He lives in the United States, and as I mentioned above, his mother found it at a flea market quite some time ago and it’s been in the family for a while. That suggests to me that this pan was in private hands after its service at the hotel (and there are no other owner’s marks on it at all). In that scenario, it seems likely to me that the pan was ordered from a French supplier and shipped over to the hotel in New York, rather than that it was brought from the UK to the US by a retired chef or something like that. This is intuition, however, and I don’t have any evidence to back it up.
Given all this information, my current theory is that the pan is indeed from the Waldorf Hotel in New York before it joined the Astoria — 1893 to 1897. The strongest evidence for me is the pan’s construction, and specifically the big fat rivets. That’s 1890s work in my experience, not 1910s.
What do you think? Have you seen other Waldorf or Waldorf-Astoria pans like this? Do you know who happened to supply these hotels with copper cookware? As always, I would love to hear from you.