Two 28cm sauté pans, both alike in dignity…
… but compare their measurements.
28cm by 8.1cm
3.3mm at the rim
4602g (10.2 lbs)
28.5cm by 7.9cm
2.6mm at the rim
5354g (11.8 lbs)
The vintage pan measures 3.3mm at the rim, .6mm thicker than the antique pan, and yet the antique pan weighs a pound and a half more.
How can that be? Well, to paraphrase, it’s all about that base. Pans made in the 19th century and in the early 20th can be thicker in the base than up the sides, sometimes by a couple of millimeters. This unevenness is not a bad thing and can even provide a benefit for stovetop cooking — the floor of a pan is its primary cooking platform while its sidewalls play a lesser role. Gaillard, for its part, made no bones about the fact that its pans were thicker in the base than in the sides and provided cutaway images in their catalogs to show it.
Would you have known just by looking at the two sauté pans above that the one on the right was so much heavier? This is why weight matters: it can often tell you more about the quality of a pan than measurements at the rim. Copper thickness predicts how a pan will perform when you cook with it, and in many cases correlates to the worth of a piece. (In fact, I calculate the price paid by weight for each piece in my collection so I know which ones have been the best value.) Rim thickness tends to be more reliable for pans made after WW2, in my experience, but for a 19th or early 20th century pan you should get the pan’s weight as well and compare it to others of known uniform thickness. (I’ve put together a bunch of data tables if you need reference values.)
Very good information!
I’m early in my collecting and I’m concentrating on older vintage pieces.
I have paid attention to weight after reading in chowhound about weight differences on newer pots vs older versions.
Thank you, Lisa! Chowhound helped me become aware of this issue, too!
Hi, this is not only interesting but of relevance to anyone of modest means building a batterie de cuisine en cuivre, great pans are often overlooked because the rim looks thin. Ideally pick the pan up to feel the weight. If buying online look for the “dot ” and a wrought, rather than cast handle as a guide to age plus a noticeable bevel on the outside where base meets wall. Thick bases resist dents and rarely crease or ripple. When dents occur they tend to manifest as a more gentle curve.
Great information, thank you! I found an old copper pan with silver lining (I think) and very heavy. There are some deep scratches in it. Is it safe to use or should I look into getting new silver?
If the total area of bare copper adds up to less than about a square inch and provided you keep it clean then no worries. If you see green on the cooking surface this must be scrubbed off as copper salts are mildly toxic. Do not leave acidic foods in beyond the cooking time, which is a bad policy anyway. Always use only wood or plastic utensils to prevent further damage and enjoy.
Elizabeth, Roger’s good advice matches what I’ve read on Chowhound and also aligns with common sense. Bare copper in direct contact with the acids in food can react to form toxic compounds, but like all chemical processes, this takes time. Little scratches don’t create much surface area and normal cooking doesn’t provide a lot of time. If the total area of exposed copper on the cooking surface adds up to a square inch (the size of a US quarter coin) it’s time to consider relining. And as Roger suggests, it’s safer to store cooked food in glass containers (or food-safe plastics) than in metal containers.
If your pan is indeed silver-lined, congratulations — silver makes a terrific lining for copper. But bear in mind that the silver is electroplated to the copper, so it’s quite a thin layer — thinner than a hand-wiped tin lining. Silver is quite heat-resistant but rough treatment (metal cooking tools, scouring, etc) can scratch it more severely than a tin lining. If you like, you are welcome to send me a few photos of the lining and I’ll give you my opinion on its condition. Email me at vfc @ vintagefrenchcopper dot com.
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