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!
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.
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!