A unique stamp meets a beautiful handle design.
There is an unusual 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.
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. Take a look at the Dehillerin advertisement below: the cockerel at the top bears a striking resemblance to the copper stamp above. And if you look even more closely you can spot the key clue to its origin.
Towards the bottom, just above the all-important name “E. Dehillerin,” is the phrase Maisons Réunies Personne, Delzangles, J. Lasnier (Aubry & Charmois). This is Dehillerin’s lineage: these are copper workshops that Dehillerin acquired, absorbing their capabilities and customer lists and laying claim to each firm’s history as its own. And in the case of the last firm named above — Charmois — Dehillerin also absorbed that firm’s cockerel logo. I first see the cockerel mentioned in Charmois advertisements in 1881, and you can see the cockerel in use by Charmois in the advertisement at right, dated 1885.
The firm was purchased by Lasnier in 1887 and then Dehillerin bought Lasnier in 1907. So a pan with the cockerel stamp could be Charmois (until 1887) or Lasnier (1887 to 1907). I now wonder if the two slightly different stamp examples we’ve seen represent work during these different periods.
An earlier version of this post erroneously credited this mark to Lagaldie Freres, the firm that Eugène de Hillerin purchased in 1885. I apologize for my error.
September 24, 2020: Reader Karolina W. has a saucepan with the same cockerel stamp and an intriguing owner stamp: “A de R PARIS.”
I believe this is a Rothschild owner’s stamp, similar to those on my three Edmond James de Rothschild pans but without the baron’s coronet. There are two “A de R” who lived in Paris to whose households this piece might have been attached: Adèle de Rothschild (1843-1922), married to Salomon de Rothschild in 1862 and widowed in 1864. She did not remarry and lived in Paris until her death in 1922. The other possibility is Mayer James Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), known as Alphonse, eldest son and heir of Baron James de Rothschild, who inherited his father’s estate in 1868. Neither Adèle nor Alphonse held a royal title.
Her cockerel stamp looks to me to be a third physical stamp. Compare hers to my two below — it looks most like the closed-beak version on my saucepan, but the details still look a little different. Sharp-eyed readers, what do you see?
My sincere thanks to Karolina for reaching out, photographing her pan at my request, and agreeing to share the photos with all of us!
Are you related to Sherlock Holmes? Outstanding work 🙂
the simpler and less interesting explanation could be that someone just took the Gallic rooster which apparently became more popular during the Third Republic as a national symbol and used it as their logo, both appealing to people’s taste and inferring the product’s country of origin. I doubt copyright laws at the time existed or were enforced in such a way that no two entreprises could use the same animal as their logo, especially when it’s the national symbol anyway…
Hi Peter! Yes, the cockerel is one of many symbols for France. But what struck me here was not just two uses of a rooster symbol, but two uses of the very same depiction of one. France was the first country in Europe to have trademark laws; the first was passed in 1803, followed by a more comprehensive law in 1857 that remained in force until the 1960s. Based on this, I found it hard to believe that Dehillerin could have gotten away with the wholesale duplication of a mark that had already been in active use in the market, and that’s what made me think that they must have had a legal right to do so. The Lagaldie acquisition fits this scenario but I have no positive confirmation that the cockerel was Lagaldie’s logo, and I see that as a major weakness in my argument.
I have seen pans with this stamp and tried in vain to find any information. I don’t think that you are right on the rivets, the difference between flush and mushroom head is like the difference between counter sunk or pan headed wood screws. When a flush rivet is fitted a depression must be made for it resulting in the pan wall being pushed out in a sort of bump. The cast handle will have a corresponding hollow for this bump to plug into. It is important to understand that rivets have high tensile strength but are easily sheared so the pan wall locking into the handle greatly strengthens the attachment. Domed rivets are easier to fit because there is no need to create a depression for them, but modern pieces have to have sturdier thicker rivets. I think all the rivets pictured are machine made.
Hey Roger! Thank you for the correction. My idea that flat-head rivets are handmade comes from this site’s description of how they were made: http://rivetsfrance.com/histoire_du_rivet_UK.html
Take a look and tell me what you think. Am I over-relying on this one source as the basis for my flat- versus mushroom-head distinction?
Hi Peter, I’ve a similar theory about the rooster being a national symbol. However, the “raised leg” rooster on VFC’s pans is a much different presentation than the Gallic “crowing” rooster that is the French symbol. Interestingly, a raised leg rooster IS the national symbol of the Walloon Region, a French community in Belgium. In fact, the hallmark is near identical to the “coq walon” on the flag of Wallonia. During the industrial revolution, Wallonia was second only to the UK in industrialization – making it an region that would certainly enjoy the luxuries of copper cookware. Two versions of the hallmark lead me to think these lovely pans may be from a Wallonian chaudronnier as opposed to marked for a specific kitchen.
The current Wallonia flag is based on a painting from 1913 of a coq hardi or “bold rooster”. Previously the flag was black, yellow and red..
I’m not discounting a connection. I am the lucky current owner of a pair of copper pieces also carrying the rooster stamp. Originally they were part of a bain marie set and have “TAV. DE STRASBOURG” stamped on them. Both have the dot and dovetail seams, which is consistent with VFC’s pieces. Regionally the Wallonia region of Belgium is closer to Strasbourg than Paris.
However, if the rooster stamp was inspired by the Wallonia flag, based on what we (think we) know about cooper construction re: the dot, dovetails and rivets, the two timelines leave a fairly small window between creation of the current Wallonia flag and the disappearance of hand cutting and dovetails.
My comment from yesterday was swallowed up by a black hole on the internet. So now a first variation.
THE GALLIC ROOSTER
The rooster is, among other things, a symbol of France. The origin is not clear, as no evidence can be found on old coins and gravestones, etc. It is believed that the Gallic rooster originated from the ambiguity of the Latin word gallus (“rooster” and at the same time “Gauls”). In the French Revolution in 1789, the rooster on the army flags replaced the insignia of the Bourbon kingship. Napoleon I replaced him with the eagle, but the government abolished it during the restoration period. After the July Revolution, the rooster was reinstated. In 1852 it was replaced again by the eagle.
As Bryan already told us, today the Gallic rooster is used as a heraldic animal for Wallonia, that is the French-speaking population of Belgium (the other part of the population speaks Flemish), and the French national football team.
Since April 2015, the French Olympic Committee (CNOSF) has used a stylized version of the Gallic rooster in the logo.
Dehillerin uses the rooster as a logo in his internet presentation. However, the rooster can also be seen as a logo on countless French and Walloon / Belgian) products.
I also found some pans with the rooster stamp. Since no seller was able to give me reliable information about which manufacturer used this trademark, I contacted TJ France a few weeks ago. He thinks he knows the long and complex history of the rooster, but put me off by solving the puzzle until his own site was revised. This will soon be the case (but I have read this several times).
I got a vague hint from a seller who directed the track to a small manufacturer called “Koessler” in Strasbourg/France. My research only revealed that the name Koessler appears several times in population statistics in Strasbourg. However, I did not find a workshop. In Germany there is a variant of this name: Kessler. Both types of writing have their origins in the craft of the boiler maker (“Kesselmacher”, French “chaudronnier”)
So since I could not solve the riddle, I eagerly read the detective interpretation of VFC.
Interesting site, that film reminds me of some rather alarming footage I have seen of ship builders forming a chain of men between forge and point of use, each throwing the red hot rivet some distance to the next who caught it in a metal cone before throwing it on to the next.
This site is based on industrial steel rivets, I imagine that they are made by similar means to copper ones except that steel is worked hot to make it malleable and the fitted rivets contract and tighten as they cool.
Most of the copper we find is post 1880 so we don’t see that many handmade rivets, anything with a number is obviously machine made.
When I worked on a farm one job that had to be done fairly regularly was to replace handles on pitch forks. A metal socket goes over the wood and is secured by a rivet. We used a piece of mild steel rod which in this size could be worked cold and formed a head on both ends by hammering alternatively on each end with the other against an anvil. I would expect a similar method to be used for fixing pan handles i.e. both heads to be formed on a short piece of copper rod as it was fitted. If this were done skillfully then the inside could be as neat as the outside.
Rivets as you know often get hammered to re-tighten them so hammer marks are not necessarily an indication of hand manufacture.
I read somewhere that Coppersmiths made their own rivets by rolling up off cut scraps of sheet copper but have never seen an obvious example of this having being done though I don’t buy really primitive pieces.
I bought the book “Kunsthandwerkliche Kupferschmiedearbeiten” (Handcrafted coppersmithing) by R. Einsiedel, 2nd edition 1988. The most important techniques of copper craft are described in detail here. Hence the production of rivets. The author describes that rivet heads have been formed in all sorts of forms over the centuries and sometimes even decorated with ornaments. Even in the Middle Ages, valuable objects were no longer content with wide-cut metal pens. In the 1920s, masters often had rivets made by their apprentices in their own workshop.
The rivet iron is used to hold the round copper (copper pin) from which rivets of different diameters can be punched. It consists of 2 flat steels that are clamped in parallel in a vice. In the middle where the flat steels meet, blind holes are drilled to a certain depth and with the desired diameter. The holes are 1 / 10mm wider than the desired diameter of the rivet. The depth of the blind holes corresponds to the length of the rivet shaft plus 5-10 mm. Shortening rivets that are too long is always possible. From annealed copper wire, thickness z. B. 4 mm, pins are sawn. The pins are deburred and inserted into the blind holes, 1.7 x thickness above, i.e. 6.8 mm in the example. The outstanding copper is compressed with a 250 g hammer. The “Döpper” (strapper?) or headmaker is placed on the copper. The head of the rivet can be shaped with a few strong hammer blows. The vice is relaxed and the rivets can be removed from the opened rivet iron.
Another method is described how to make rivets yourself.
I hope the translation is fairly understandable. Unfortunately, I cannot insert sketches from the book here.
Those who are proficient in French might find this book interesting. Jean Marret: “Histoire d’un vieux métier La Chaudronnerie, de l’an 1292 aux temps modern”
Martin, thanks for this, and also for the lead to the Jean Marret book. I have purchased it and look forward to reading it!
Gladly, especially since you gave me the idea to sniff in antiquarian libraries. Now I search there more often than I look for copper. It is fun to study history and old handicrafts.
As soon as I posted the reference to this book, it was already sold. I immediately thought of VFC. I hope you find new insights here that you can tell us about.
Thanks much for this lovely article. I had inquired of a copper friend regarding a large heavy antique gratin with the rooster stamp, and while the gratin does not have the stylized handles, it certainly fits the bill for the other items described here. Based on other Dehillerin pieces I have seen from this time period, it very much matches the quality and weight.
Joel, that’s wonderful! I’d love to see those non-scrollwork handles — let me know if you can share a photo!
I have come across several vintage copper molds with this stamp and they are also stamped with the numbers 255, 268 and 317. Would these numbers help to identify the maker? Maybe they show up in an old Dehillerin catalog?
I do to have the pans and water cooker with rooster and letters A. DE. R Paris .Read other articles about it and all seam very interesting. Funny is I was thinking of using them ,but not sure how to clean the inside .
Hey Karolina! I’d love to see photos of them. I’ll send you an email.
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