Mysteries

Have I been fooled? (Solved!)

VFC

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I’m starting to suspect this isn’t an antique French pan but instead a modern reproduction. And a reader has solved the mystery for me!

Two petite daubières of early and late design

I bought this pan because it’s charming. Its petite size, its hammered texture, its slender brass handles — it looked to me like a handmade piece. I could imagine an itinerant chaudronnier whipping one up with just metal shears and a hammer. I even wrote it up as a pre-industrial piece, estimating its era as 1800-1880 or so.

Reader, I think I was wrong. I am coming to suspect that this is a relatively recent item, possibly vintage as I define the term — that is, pre-2000 or so — but most likely no older than the 1970s or 1980s.

First, it has welded seams, not dovetails. This should have been obvious to me but when I bought it and wrote about it I wasn’t as familiar with joining techniques as I am now. I assumed the maker had used some kind of clever means to fuse the copper together, but after much more reading, I now know there was no such thing. Pans had to be dovetailed until the invention of the acetylene torch (patented in France in 1901) made welding possible. These seams have no tell-tale brazing — they’re clearly welded. (There’s even what looks like a spot of solder on the base.)

 

Second, there are multiple exact duplicates floating around eBay and Etsy. I know that one box-shaped daubière looks like another, but these are absolutely identical, down to the hammering. Here are three four that I see as I write this. This makes me think these were mass-produced.

 

I don’t mean to ding these sellers — I mean, if I thought the pan was antique all this time, who am I to point fingers at them for thinking the same thing? For all I know, they may even have come to this site and read my own assertion of its age as fact. Sigh.

Third, it just doesn’t look French to me any more. I am coming to suspect that it was made overseas and sold at a souvenir shop in Villedieu-les-Poêles. I know anecdotally from travel sites and stories in local Normandy newspapers that Villedieu’s copper stores have been overrun with inexpensive reproductions made in China. I can understand why — many tourists come to Villedieu looking for souvenirs, and this one would certainly appeal. But looking at it now, it looks more like an imitation of the French style. The hammering around the flange of the lid, for example — what is that? It’s not functional martelage because those sharp little strikes won’t do a thing to work-harden the copper. They’re also too tiny to have shaped it — you’d use a broad flat hammer to bend and flatten metal. I think the hammering around the lid’s edge was done to make the pan look primitive and handmade.

What do you guys think? As always I’d love to hear your comments if you care to share them.

This poll is no longer accepting votes

Was I fooled?
9 votes

Update: Reader Martin found an example that carries the stamp for “M. Matillon Artisan Villedieu.”

 

I have already done some research into Matillon for my post The copper renaissance in Villedieu. “M. Matillon” is Michel Matillon (b. 1925), son of Pierre (b. 1897) and brother of Jean, all of whom made copper. Michel opened his workshop in Villedieu in 1959 and ran it until his retirement in 1989; his daughter Catherine continued to run the store until it closed in 2018. If Michel made this pan then it is certainly a 1960s to 1980s piece, what I would call “vintage” but not “antique.” It’s also possible that Michel acquired this pan somewhere else and put his own mark on it, but given the prevalence of so many of these identical pieces I am inclined to think that he came up with this design and they all came from his shop.

It’s a charming little pan, of course, and Michel Matillon was a talented coppersmith, but do not be deceived by claims that it is 19th century or even early 20th!

My sincere gratitude to sharp-eyed reader Martin for spotting this pan and solving the mystery for me. Thank you!

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8 Comments

  1. Hello VFC, I voted “not antique”, for a couple of reasons. Mostly because I agree with your assessment of the piece after having become more familiar with the history of joining techniques. I bought what I thought was an antique coffee roaster some time ago on a classified site. Later, I asked about it and the seller said he bought it from a dinandier fifteen to twenty years earlier in Villedieu. Like you, I had reason to believe it was not very old, though no claim of its age was made.
    I believe that aside from the big copper houses, there were (still are?) independent shops in Villedieu producing copper wares and old-timey products like my coffee roaster, bed warmers and other items intended as decoration. It is possible that with modern tools and machines, a small enterprise could produce enough daubiers like this one that finding a handful of them today on ebay would not be an unlikely thing. As intended for decoration or historical signifigance these reproductions, if actually made in France are understandably attractive items to have. However, if fabricated in some faraway land solely for sale to tourists in a historical setting, well, that is unfortunate. It is certainly possible that your seller believed it was genuine.
    There are no bad examples if something is learned. Your daubiere can now serve as a useful example of what to be on the lookout for when buying “antique copper”. It has already begun educating people.
    Thank you,
    Greg Morain

  2. Hello VFC
    I am going to stick my neck out and say they look north African made, mainly from the top handle, Algeria, Morocco or possibly Tunisia. There was quite a trade between France and these countries at the height of the copper fashion over here in the 1970s and 1980s. They were mainly more decorative pieces and crudely made (as we all know, often crudely made is perceived as old or antique) I presume they are quite a thin gauge of copper and have non ‘French traditional’ joints. The arbitrary hammering seems to be consistent with this form of copper making – for aesthetic purposes or generally to give them a feel of ‘hand made’. There seems to be no manufacturing marks or country of origin either on these pieces, as with the very old French pieces, just to make it that bit harder.

    There was also in this period, a market for more decorative items made/commissioned by the French Copper Shops in Villedieu like Tourtieres and Daubieres that we made without tin linings for putting by your fireside or to decorate your kitchen, these of course have been grabbed by the less scrupulous dealers, possibly retinned and sold as the antique originals. I personally don’t think that these are they though as the manufacturing is not that authentic French.

    As far as little shops making copper in Villedieu les Poeles they seem to be long gone! The majority of copper I have seen lately at Villedieu has been sourced from either Mauviel or Atelier du Cuivre who I believe get some of their wares/blanks from Mauviel too. The Cornille Havard foundry has a gift shop, I believe has only their souvenir bells and Mauviel items now with other gifts (stuffed toys) sourced from other local places.

    Chinese reproduction cooking items over here are very difficult to find, indeed I have only seen modern pans, not ones that could even be imagined as French but they may be doing their job far too well!
    I am due a trip up there I will definitely have a good look around and report back VFC
    Best
    Fid

    1. Hey Fid! Thank you, as always, for another thoughtful and knowledgeable comment. I’ve never visited Villedieu and I’d be very grateful for your impressions while you’re there! My allegation about Chinese-made items for sale in the tourist shops comes from comments on travel sites from disgruntled visitors who were taken aback the cheap copper items they found in the stores, but of course the “official” Normandy papers and magazines make no mention of this. I’d be very interested in information direct from the residents — it seems counterproductive to me that Villedieu would sell non-French copper, but on the other hand, the French stuff is usually pretty expensive. For example, Atelier du Cuivre has teeny tiny souvenir pans for 4 euros, but their smallest actual pan is 50 euros. I can see an enterprising shop owner wanting to sell a “real copper pan” for less.

    1. Martin, thank you so much! Michel Matillon opened a store in Villedieu in 1959 and ran it until 1989 when his daughter Catherine took over the business. (It was finally closed in 2018.) With that stamp, the pan is certainly 1960s or later — what I would consider “vintage” but certainly not “antique.” I am so grateful for your help to find a stamped example! I’m going to amend the post with this information.

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