I have a cockamamie idea. Heh.
There is an unusually beautiful design of brass handle that I’ve seen on some antique pans. Where the prongs of the handgrip join the baseplate, there is a curved scrollwork decoration that adds a bit of flourish — a touch of rocaille, if you will. There is nary a straight line to be found anywhere along the curve of the baseplate, the spread of the prongs, or along the handgrip. These subtle design treatments transform a sturdy utilitarian element into something elegant while sacrificing neither physical strength nor visual solidity.
It catches my eye whenever I see one of them.
I’ve picked up a few pieces with this handle, all of them lovely antique items with 19th century craftsmanship. They must have been made by the same maker, but which one? None has ever carried a maker’s mark so it has always been a mystery.
Until now. Behold — the missing link!
This pan has the scrollwork handles and a maker’s stamp in the form of a rooster. (Or, because I am very fancy, a cockerel.)
I think this cockerel stamp is the maker’s mark for pieces with this distinctive handle design. I have a few pieces with this handle design. Left to right, there’s a 26cm daubière; a 24cm stockpot with fitted lid; an 18cm saucepan with a cast-iron handle; a set of three roasting pans that are 30cm, 35cm, and 40cm long; a 29cm rondeau; and twin 16cm and 18cm stewpots.
I have a theory about who made them, but before I get into that I’d like to look at the pieces and consider what they have to tell about when and how they were made.
Two of the pieces — the rondeau and the saucepan — have the cockerel stamp. Look closely at the tufts of grass, the angle and shape of the bird’s head, and the number of feathers. While the image is of the same stylized rooster, these impressions were not made by the same stamp.
Stamps wear out through use. We’ve all seen pans with crisp sharp stamps and others with the same stamp where the lines are thicker and less defined. These two examples are clearly careful renderings of the same design but the minor details have shifted a little, which suggests that the stamp was re-made at some point. This was no small task — while a text stamp could be typeset, a drawing like this would need to be re-drawn. No wonder the details are a little off.
This is why I think this is a maker’s mark and not an owner’s mark — it seems to me that a stamp would last for hundreds of pans at least before losing its edge.
The side handles
Here are those beautiful handles. The same scrollwork design is interpreted for multiple configurations: the classic three-rivet handle; a two-rivet version for the small 16cm stewpot; and a low-profile roaster handle with a handgrip that projects vertically.
To my eye, the stewpot and stockpot handle baseplates have a similar “frown” that feels antique to me, while the daubière, rondeau, and roasting pan have a less exaggerated downturn that more closely resembles the classic French shape. These differences suggest different molds for the brass casting, possibly a different supplier, and maybe even different time periods for their manufacture.
The lid handles
Two of these pieces have fitted lids, and the lid handles have a scrollwork detail at the base of the handgrip and elaborately shaped brackets. As with the side handles, the handgrip is not a utilitarian bar but widens subtly at the midpoint. They’re beautiful and share the aesthetic of the side handles.
The round pots have a small mark at the geometric center of the base. I believe this mark was left by the point of the compass that the smith used to cut the circle out of a sheet of copper. This is another sign of handwork, before metal punches made it easy to cut shapes of consistent diameter.
Every piece except for the rondeau and saucepan are assembled with dovetails. This is an archaic technique to join sheets of copper: the smith cuts crenellated “teeth” long the edge of each piece, slides them on top of each other, hammers them together, and seals the join with molten brass. Well-made dovetails on a well-kept pot can last for quite some time, but the join is nowhere near as strong as a welded seam. Large-scale industrial welding became feasible after 1901, with the invention of the acetylene torch in France, and my observation is that dovetailing disappeared on pots and pans by the 1920s.
The dovetails on these pieces are finely done and they have held up quite well.
The rivets (and a digression)
While the external rivet heads across all the pans look very similar — small, rounded, smooth — the rivet heads on the inside of the pots are different. Some of them look hand-made while others look machine-made. And then there’s the stockpot with rivets that look both hand-made and machine-made, which challenges my existing understanding of rivet craftsmanship.
The stewpots and the roasting pan have rivets with flat heads set flush with the inner surface of the pan. I have always considered this to be an indicator of hand-made rivets, custom-cut by the smith to fit the pot.
The rondeau, saucepan, and daubière have slightly domed internal rivet heads that are stamped with numbers. I have always considered this to be an indicator of a machine-made rivet with a mushroom head stamped with a size number.
But now here are the rivets on the stockpot. The rivet handles are flat and flush-set like a handmade rivet, but there are also unmistakeable numbers on them, as on a machine-made rivet. I’d think they were replacements but the lid handle has the same exact rivets, making it quite likely that these are the original rivets for the pot.
This kind of stuff matters to me because details like this help date pans. Up to the 19th century, metalsmiths would clip short lengths off a rod of copper and flatten one end to make the cap that would become the interior rivet head. The first rivet-making machine was invented in 1836 and by the mid-1860s there was a French machine could turn out thousands of rivets per hour. It’s hard to say exactly when a given French chaudronnerie stopped spending hours making its own rivets and turned to buying machine-made rivets en masse, but my guess is that mass-produced rivets were such a cost- and time-saver that most firms had switched over by the 1880s.
My best guess is that this stockpot has early machine-made rivets. Perhaps for a period of time the rivet makers produced flat-head rivets akin to those that smiths had made for themselves. But I imagine that mushroom-head rivets offer advantages in metalworking: they can withstand greater pressure, provide more mass to spread to seal the hole, and so forth. Perhaps it was only “light duty” objects like kitchenware that could get by with flat-head rivets, and so after an initial period of experimentation, demand petered out in favor of rivets with a more robust head like those on the daubière, rondeau, and saucepan.
The conclusion I come to is that timing-wise this stockpot falls between the stewpots and roasting pans with their flat and featureless rivets and the rondeau, saucepan, and daubière with their mushroom-head style. I’d love to hear what you think of this.
But I digress.
My crazy idea
The copper has spoken for itself. It has pre-industrial and early industrial craftsmanship — dovetails, the dot, rivets that look like they span the hand-made and machine-made era. These pieces look to me to have been made without powered machinery, which pits them in the mid-19th century. That covers the how they were made, and in my assessment, when they were made as well.
So that leaves the question of who. And for that, let’s go back to the bird.
I’ve seen this bird before: it’s the logo of Dehillerin. Please look closely at the top of the early 20th century Dehillerin advertisement on the right: the cockerel drawn at the top is very, very similar to the one in the copper stamp, from the splay of the tail feathers to the lifted front leg. To me it looks like the logo and the stamp are renderings of the same bird.
So did Dehillerin make these copper pots and pans? The timing is off. Eugène de Hillerin did not get into the copper business until the 1880s and did not open his store at 18 Rue Coquillière until 1890. The many Dehillerin stamps he used are all variations on the same theme: a text stamp with the store’s name and all-important street address. It would seem that Eugène sought to ensure that every piece of copper that left his hands carried with it the means to help guide customers back to buy more. None of the Dehillerin stamps I have ever seen have featured the cockerel or any other fanciful designs.
Why would Dehillerin just flat-out copy the symbol from someone else’s copper? Could the cockerel have had some significance to the family, or perhaps to the store on Rue Coquillière? I looked into this. The cockerel is not the de Hillerin family crest, which is three rosettes. And while the French word for cockerel is coq, it’s not a pictorial for Rue Coquillière — the street was named in the 13th century for Pierre Coquillier who owned the land in that area of Paris. (And for what it’s worth, coquillier comes from cockles — coquilles — a far evolutionary leap from chickens.) A coq wouldn’t help a French-speaking customer find their way back to Rue Coquillière.
No, I think that for Dehillerin the cockerel represented something else entirely: legitimacy.
According to the company history, Eugène de Hillerin started his coppersmithing business on his own in the early 1880s with the purchase of a small workshop at 7 Rue de Bouloi. (I still haven’t been able to confirm this with my own research, but perhaps it was a very small operation that didn’t show up in business records of the day.) But what truly put him on the map, so to speak, was the purchase in 1885 of the chaudronnerie Lagaldie frères at 1 Rue Montmartre, a terrific spot right in the heart of les Halles, the food and cookware marketplace in Paris. But perhaps more importantly, Lagaldie frères was just the most recent of a series of chaudronneries on that spot going back to 1820. Buying Lagaldie gave Eugène not only a long-established business on a piece of prime real estate, but also a 60-year lineage that would bolster his credibility as he established his reputation in Paris.
So this is my cockamamie idea: I think the cockerel came with the workshop at 1 Rue Montmartre. The first chaudronnerie on that spot was Charbonnelle in 1820, and it passed to Vibien in 1837 and Guirbal in 1852 before becoming chaudronnerie Lagaldi in 1860. The company became the more French-ified “Lagaldie frères” in 1873 and acquired the chaudronnerie Personne (established circa 1843). The firm lasted another ten years before closing in 1882.
My theory is that the name Lagaldi is the origin of the cockerel logo. Lagaldi is a French rendering of the Italian name La Galdi, and gallo is Italian for rooster. If you squint a little, the cockerel could be considered a clever pictorial for Lagaldi.
I think Eugène de Hillerin adopted the Lagaldie frères cockerel when he purchased the business in 1885 — which also gave him ownership of the company’s logo — and I think he took it with him when he opened his new store at 18 Rue Coquillière five years later. Eugène wanted to assert his connection with Lagaldie frères and Lagaldi, and thence to Personne and Guirbal and Vibien and all the way back to Charbonnelle. Look carefully at the photo on the right of the Dehillerin storefront in 1909 and you can see the words “Anciennement Maisons Personne & Lagaldie” over the front window. Look at the letterhead on Dehillerin documents into the 1940s — they still mention Lagaldi and Personne. Lagaldie is the reason Dehillerin can claim it has been around depuis 1820.
But it would seem that while the cockerel logo survived into the Dehillerin era, the cockerel stamp did not. Eugène had his own 1 Rue Montmartre stamp that he used until the transition to Rue Coquillière. I think copper with the cockerel stamp is Lagaldi (1860-1872) or Lagaldie frères (1873-1882) production, and now, thanks to this “missing link” rondeau, we can identify these pans based on the scrollwork handle as well.
Let me restate my case.
These pans with the cockerel stamp and scrollwork handles have dovetails, dots, bevels, and rivets that are right in line with French craftsmanship in the mid- to late-19th century. Dehillerin used a virtually identical cockerel logo in its advertisements, but to my eye the craftsmanship on the pans predates Dehillerin, suggesting that the stamp came first and Eugène de Hillerin deliberately copied it. I suspect Eugene took this logo — and the legal right to use it — from his acquisition in 1885 of the existing Lagaldie frères business. I think the cockerel logo came about as a play on gallo and “Lagaldi” and that copper with this stamp is the work of Lagaldi and Lagaldi freres between 1860 and 1882.
What do you think? Is the connection I’m drawing between the cockerel and the gallo of Lagaldi too tenuous? Do you have a better theory — or, better yet, a source document! — to explain the origin of the Dehillerin coq? Do you have a cockerel-stamped piece that you’d like to contribute to this study? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!