These two big pots are a master class in 19th and 20th century Gaillard coppercrafting.
|Type||Two tin-lined saucepans in hammered finish with iron handles|
and brass helper handles fastened with three copper rivets
|French description||Deux sauciers étames et martelés avec queue de fer|
et poignée ancillaire en laiton munies de trois rivets en cuivre
|Dimensions||36cm diameter by 21.5cm tall|
(14.2 by 8.5 inches)
|34cm diameter by 30cm tall|
(13.4 by 11.8 inches)
|Thickness||3.6mm at rim||2.5mm at rim|
|Stampings||“J.E. Gaillard 81. Faubourg Saint-Denis Paris”; “36”; “E.M”||“Jules Gaillard 81 Faubg St Denis Paris”; “34”|
|Maker and age estimate||Gaillard;|
I love these giant pots with an irrational passion. There’s something marvelous and a little unreal about how big they are. I’m convinced that the helper handle is there just to help carry them around empty; fill them up with an additional 40 or 50 pounds of liquid and nobody would be silly enough actually to try to lift them. I think the handles would just snap off. These pots are not for the faint of heart or weak of upper body.
What they are for is serious restaurant cooking as Gaillard intended. These were made during the Belle Époque when Paris was at the height of her beauty and influence from 1871 to the outbreak of war in 1914. Restaurants and hotels and cafés were filled with people who wanted a taste — a literal taste — of the exquisite spirit of the city of lights. And the chaudronnerie Gaillard made the copper pots and pans for the grand hotels to cook for them, thick sturdy pieces that could be relied on to keep every last ladleful from scorching.
And I think they are gorgeous.
You’ll notice right away that the piece on the left — the “Jules Gaillard” — is taller than the “J.E. Gaillard” on the right. In fact, the Jules has got strange proportions for a saucepan: It is nearly as tall as it is wide. If you want to get fancy (and you know I love to get fancy) I have observed that saucepans maintain a ratio of diameter-to-height of about 1.6-1.8 to 1; the J.E. is 1.67:1, but the Jules is a mere 1.13:1, almost the 1:1 ratio of stockpots. This odd proportion is the first sign that the Jules is an old pot, made prior to the powered presses and die stamps of the 20th century that nudged the industry to standardized sizes and proportions.
And that also nudges me to the central point I want to make with this post: these two beautiful pots give us a chance to look at Gaillard work before and after that important transition.
The Jules is a 19th century dovetailed pot, pieced together from interleaved slices along the edges of each sheet of copper that were hammered together and sealed with brazed brass. The yellow seam runs around the perimeter of the base and up the side of the pot under the iron handle; you can see the overlap of the copper leaves at the rim.
The J.E., by comparison, is an early 20th century pot made from a single piece of seamless copper. It was shaped from a flat sheet by a machine with a piston that forced the metal into a cup shape, most likely over a series of steps. When the finished item is deeper than it is wide — like this pot — the process is called deep drawing, or emboutissage in French. This pot is also quite a bit thicker than the Jules — 3.6mm at the rim, versus the 2.5mm of the older pot. I suspect Gaillard’s adoption of powerful machine presses in the early 20th century enabled them to work with heavier gauge copper sheet than they had been able to bend with crank presses.
The cast iron handles are both of the pillowy French style of this period with a bulbous mass in the baseplate that adds length and perhaps additional strength to the copper rivets that hold it to the pot. Each baseplate is about 18cm wide but the handle on the older Jules is slightly shorter, measuring 34cm from pot to tip versus 38cm on the younger J.E. The Jules handle is also mounted sightly higher, appropriate to its greater height. But in other respects the iron handles appear identical, made of iron with the same pewter-like sheen and set with the same rake.
It is the riveting that shows more significant differences. On the older Jules pan they are hammer-faceted, while on the younger J.E. they have a button-like uniformity.
The interior rivets show additional distinctive details. The rivets for each main handle are as large as one would expect for big heavy pots like these, but the inside heads on the Jules are set slightly more flush to the inner surface. The same holds for the inside rivets on the helper handles: they’re almost totally flush to the surface, while the J.E.’s rivets show a bit of mushroom head. At the moment my understanding is that the flush-set finish is more likely hand-done 19th century work, while the mushroom head rivets are more likely 20th-century machine-assisted.
Unlike the iron handles, the brass helper handles are set at the same height. The handles themselves are virtually identical, but the younger J.E.’s is about 1cm smaller.
Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning did the restoration and, yes, repair of both pieces, as they both had damage that needed fixing. First and foremost, the 36cm J.E.’s helper handle was snapped off during shipping. This is always a risk with shipping big pieces internationally, and particularly when the packages weigh 30 pounds or more, and it’s why I implore sellers to wrap things carefully.
Erik reassured me that he could re-attach the handle with some silver solder that would be stronger than the original brittle brass. I think he did a wonderful job with it, as I had to look closely to see any sign of repair. Thank you, Erik!
But both pots needed repairs to cracks in the same spot: that vulnerable front edge, the point of the base of the pan opposite the main handle. Both pots have some flattening here and the copper has cracked. Below is the before and after for the Jules repair; I don’t have a before photo for the J.E., but you can see that the finished repair is lovely.
I’d like to wrap up with a good look at the stamps.
These pots are both the work of the house of Gaillard, a storied Paris chaudronnier that spans 1795 to the 1980s. It’s a prized mark on antique and vintage copper for good reason: its pieces are of high quality so they’re resilient and useful in the kitchen, and they’re also sought after by collectors like me. These two pots carry different styles of Gaillard stamps that I believe are quite close in time — the late 1890s and the early 1900s.
Throughout this post I’ve called the 34cm saucepan “Jules” because it’s the work of Jules Gaillard at the beginning of his long career in coppersmithing. I don’t know the dates of his birth or death, but I believe he joined the family chaudronnerie around 1890 as an apprentice and continued to make copper until the 1930s. From about 1890 to 1903 he produced copper under his own name; there are two Jules Gaillard stamps of which I am aware, and I think this one — set inside an oval — is the later of the two, as it more closely resembles the oval Gaillard stamps that follow. That suggests that this pan was made perhaps 1895 to 1903 or so.
I’ve called the 36cm pot “J.E.” because its “J. E. Gaillard” stamp dates it to the family chaudronnerie after 1903 when Jules and Émile Gaillard — brothers or cousins, I am not sure — joined forces. They operated the family firm together until the First World War. That helps to pinpoint the 36cm saucepan to 1903 or later.
Each pot is stamped with its diameter in centimeters, and the 36cm Gaillard carries an additional “E.M”, an owner’s mark.
I know my affection for these pots is a bit irrational. It’s unlikely I’ll use them for their intended purpose — I’m not called upon to cook for a crowd that would require, say, twenty-eight quarts of chili. I love these pots not necessarily for what they are but for what they represent to me (and isn’t that the central psychosis of the collector right there). I love the expanse of copper on their broad flanks; I love the burly bulbous baseplate of the iron handle; I love the elegant brass handle with its delicate curves. And I love their countless nicks and chips and, yes, cracks and scars, too.