“I found it in the basement of an antique shop for only $40.”
VFC says: This post was written and photographed by reader Amy L.
My husband and I stopped at an antique shop while we were on our way home from my monthly visit to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston to treat my chronic leukemia. I’m very comfortable talking about my experience — my chronic leukemia is well managed in Boston once a month so I feel fortunate. I have become accepting of it over time and I’m proud of my journey. I wouldn’t have found this great pan if my husband and I weren’t driving home from the hospital!
The shop is located about half way between DFCI and our house, so we decided to stretch our legs a bit more before returning home. The pandemic has left us feeling cooped up, like everyone else.
When I found the sauté pan it was covered in very thick dark patina, so thick that its hammer marks were barely visible. It was the thickest of a group of pans hanging from an old pot rack suspended from the ceiling. I didn’t have my caliper with me, as our stop was spontaneous, but it seemed thick enough to take a chance on for $40. $40 was also just about what I had available for a spontaneous, unplanned purchase at the time, as my husband and I are in the thick of house renovations, and as I have purchases arriving in the fall that I have financially prioritized. I guess it was meant to be!
When I arrived home I measured the pan and happily discovered that it was 2mm. I was even more excited to wash and polish it, as it cleaned to a shiny rose gold hue, revealing few scratches and dings for its age and history. Gorgeous, well-defined hammer marks also emerged, which was exciting. I love the look of hammered copper.
The only thing I knew about this pan came from its visible characteristics. The teardrop and curve of its iron handle, its even hammer marks, and the stamp that included France indicated, to me, that this pan was made in France. Any dream that it was once handled by Julia Child at Le Cordon Bleu was squashed after reading about rivets (and discovering information I learned later). The style of rivets indicate that it was made during or after the 1970s, so well after Julia’s time as a student at Le Cordon Bleu. Sigh. That’s okay though.
The following morning, during my favorite time of the day, my morning ritual where I eat peanut butter toast, drink a cup of hot coffee, read blog articles, and search the internet, I decided to research my pan. I discovered that BIA Cordon Bleu’s headquarters is in California. This is where current BIA Cordon Bleu products are manufactured, with some products also made in Asia. Regarding my pan, I though, this can’t be — it had to be made in France!
In an attempt to solve my confusion, I contacted a local BIA Cordon Bleu sales representative in my area, sending images of my pan and hoping that he would provide information. He forwarded my email to his manager who responded later in the day to say that it was a Mauviel make from the mid-1970s. She also sent me an image of a catalogue from the 1970s that displayed my pan (#142320) and others with product numbers.
I feel so lucky! I found a total steal for $40!
VFC says: Amy, that really is a lovely pan and a terrific buy, and I love the story of how you found it. It was a great idea to reach out to the present-day BIA company to ask about it, and I am so pleased that they replied — and provided the photo from their old catalog! It is excellent to have them confirm the manufacture of their BIA-branded copper so buyers know the quality they’re getting. Thank you for doing this and for sharing it with us!
This also gives me an opportunity to look at the history of BIA Cordon Bleu, a US-based kitchenware and housewares wholesaler established in San Carlos, California in 1952. I think I figured out what the “BIA” stands for — the French trademark for “BIA Cordon Bleu France” is registered to “Belgian Importers Association, Inc.” a US company registered in Burlingame, California in 1969.
BIA initially appears to have focused on importing European kitchenware brands, but in 2000 it was purchased and relocated to Galt, a town near Sacramento, and shifted to manufacturing and importing high-quality porcelain and stoneware products from Asia.