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30cm saute “Frankenpan”

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This pan is… strange.

  • Type: Tin-lined sauté with iron handle fastened with three copper rivets
  • French description: Sauteuse étamée et martelée avec queue de fer munie de trois rivets en cuivre
  • Dimensions: 30cm diameter by 10cm tall (11.8 by 3.9 inches)
  • Thickness: 1.8mm at rim
  • Weight: 3310g (7.3 lbs)
  • Stampings: “H•B”; “30”
  • Maker and age estimate: Unknown; 1880s?
  • Source: Etsy

This pan is dovetailed in a way I’ve never seen before on a sauté: Instead of a circular seam on the flat base, the seam runs around the vertical sidewall about an inch above the floor of the pan. Why was it done this way? Was it an unconventional method of construction? Perhaps a repair? Or could it be a re-assembly, the product of a clever coppersmith who combined two damaged pans into a working one?

 

It reminds me of someone.

 

I didn’t even know that joining two pans was a thing until a chance sighting of an example online. The photo on the right is from The Lazy Frenchman and it shows a saucepan made of two parts joined together with the same sidewall dovetail seam. In this case, however, you can clearly tell that two different pans were joined because the tone of the two pieces of copper is different. (This doesn’t surprise me, as copper in the 19th century was frequently recycled and could contain all kinds of impurities.) But my pan shows no such difference: the two parts are indistinguishable to my eye. If this pan was made from two different donors, perhaps they were both the work of the same chaudronnerie.

Unfortunately, this joining seam has delaminated in one spot just below the handle. A dovetail (or cramp seam) is formed of leaves of copper — laminae — that are pounded together and sealed with brass to form a resilient and watertight join. As you can see below, the outer leaf has separated and has peeled away.

This is not a fatal flaw for the pan because it has not become a crack that penetrated through to the interior. Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning did the restoration of this pan and recommended against repairing the delamination. He explained that because the gap does not penetrate to the interior of the pan, it would need to be repaired from the outside. This would seal the gap but would leave an unsightly blob of silver solder, and as the flaw is cosmetic and not a functional flaw, he recommended leaving it be. I trust his judgement and followed his advice, but it is an unfortunate situation as it makes the pan feel fragile to me and I’m a bit reluctant to use it.

The craftsmanship to join the pan body to the handle is also… unconventional. The interior rivets are sunk into cup-shaped depressions as though the copper had to be pushed out to join the handle.

 

I think this was necessary because the handle looks to be the wrong size for the pan. If you look at the to photos below — taken from the top, and then from the bottom — you can see that there is a sizable gap between the iron of the handle and the copper body of the pan.

 

This gap has accumulated a buildup of grungy carbonized stuff. Normally I would consider this to be dirt and try to remove it, but in this case I think it’s stabilizing the handle against the pan and I don’t want to mess with it.

 

So what do I have here? I think it’s a paradox: a pan pieced together from parts, mismatched and a little clumsy, and yet owned and loved. It does not have a maker’s mark, but it is stamped with the initials “HB” as well as “30,” its diameter in centimeters. Someone claimed this pan at some point in its life.

 

And of course, someone else made it. Someone had the idea for this pan and the ingenuity to assemble it, albeit with a few messy seams and gaps here and there, and his work has held together for more than a century. His name may be lost but his work survives.

He is dead who called me into being, and when I shall be no more
the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish.

— Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

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3 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Interesting saute and slightly odd proportions. The cast iron handle with undersized attachment is decades later than the copper body of the pan. It appears to be at a slight angle to align with two of the holes and on the inside the rivet head on the right seems to be covering a hole elongated to match the handle hole. I would expect a wrought iron handle which is susceptible to rusting, much more so than cast and the likely reason for a replacement.
    The depressions round the rivets would have fitted corresponding ones in the original handle because rivets have high tensile strength but are easily sheared. The copper should have been annealed and hammered to accept the replacement handle. It seems unlikely to be the work of a professional.
    Copper was sometimes reused and pieces adapted. I have a lollipop lid with a dovetail seam running across it so plainly cut from the wall of an earlier vessel. It is possible that the pieces of copper perhaps salvaged from something else dictated the construction of the pan. Could the base have been for example an existing hand raised skillet lid from a big stewpan to which sides were added to make a saute? If that were the case the dovetails would have to be carefully placed to cover the old holes on the outside but might be visible inside.
    Roger

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