“At first, only the words ‘castle kitchen’ caught my attention.”
VFC says: This guest post was written and photographed by reader Martin with some research contributions from me.
A friend recently drew my attention to an offer of three copper pots with lids, which were supposed to come from the palace kitchens of the noble dynasty of the Welfs, specifically from the Marienburg and other castles of the Elector of Hanover. At first, only the words “castle kitchen” caught my attention. Contrary to my usual habit, I did not consult the seller, but contented myself with the photos and the description of the advertisement. As it turned out later, the description was not entirely correct. So I only kept the lids, the rest was taken back by the seller without any problems.
Two lids have stamps that clearly identify them as specimens from the court kitchens of the Elector of Hanover. The heavier of the two, stamped “N.30” is stamped with two slightly different crowns and thus indicates more extensive royal possessions. Both lids are additionally stamped with the capital letters EP. The writing is very old and small, serif-style with finely worked additional decorations. Numbers are also stamped, with the larger lid “N.24.” and for the smaller lid “N.30.” These numbers should correspond to the usual inventory numbering of a large kitchen. [VFC says: It’s interesting that the smaller lid has the larger number!]
The “N.30” lid
The “30” lid has a diameter that fits a 17.5cm pot. This measure, which is unusual for mainland Europe, happens to have one of my little sauté pans for which I had not yet found a lid. Great! However, the weight of this small lid is even more extraordinary: 771g (1.7 lbs). Even my 22cm lid with a similar short handle on the side weighs significantly less at 655g (1.4 lbs).
How did the coppersmith manage to make the edge of this nested cover from a very thick material so cleanly? Then I had the idea that the lid was put together from two discs, as is known from the particularly thick bottoms of some old pots, whereby the edge of the upper disc received the necessary shape and the slightly smaller lower disc was soldered on. The connection point is not visible because the cover was then tinned.
I put the three lids one behind the other so that you can see the different depths quite well. The “30” lid is the one on the right.
The well-known circle point in the middle of the lid, which is visible not only on the top but also on the underside of the lid, also indicates this production. It should have been like that.
This lid is stamped for its owner, its identifying number for the kitchen, and its maker.
In the upper area is a crown stamp (impressed twice), a cypher, and the letters EP. (The EP likely stands for elector princeps — more on this history below.) The cypher is composed of the letters EAR for Ernestus Augustus Rex, suggesting that this piece was stamped for the household of Ernst August of Hanover who reigned from 1837 to 1851. Compare the stamp’s design to the cypher on this Hanoverian penny coin dated 1842 during Ernst August’s reign.
Below the royal crown and cypher, underneath the “N.30” stamp, is the maker’s mark: FL Paulman Hannover. The final letter “N” in Paulman has a horizontal line over it, which is the archaic notation for a double NN. The smith’s full name is Friedrich Ludwig Paulmann.
The rex stamp of Ernst August and F. L. Paulmann’s maker’s mark suggest that this piece was made sometime between 1837 and 1851.
The “N.24” lid
This lid was stamped with two crowns, whereby the second crown was stamped over the other crown and is almost no longer visible today.
The deep EAR cypher and “N.24” are of the same series as the N.30 lid above, and mark this piece to the era of Ernst August of Hanover. The more faint crown stamped above the cypher GKF. This is possibly Georg Karl Friedrich, referring to Georg Friedrich Alexander Karl Ernst August — better known as George V, son of Ernst August and the last king of Hanover. Georg V was born in 1819, ascended the throne on his father’s death in 1851, and reigned until he was deposed in 1866.
Based on these stamps, the N.24 lid likely entered service during the reign of Ernst August (1837-1851) and continued in the royal household under George V until 1866. Though this lid does not have a maker’s mark, the handle baseplate is identical to that on the N.30 lid and it seems reasonable to assume it is also the work of Paulmann.
The lightest is the lid that I named “the Knight.” It weighs only 312g (0.7 lbs) and fits pans with a diameter of 19-20cm (7.5-7.9 inches). After all, the weight corresponds to a modern lid of this size.
I called him the Knight because he doesn’t wear any nobility insignia. After all, it is stamped with 3 letters: P E and below in the middle I. They are letters with serifs.
As far as I know, knights are near to the bottom of the aristocratic hierarchy and had to take the fall for their masters and go to war. At least the edge of the lid looks correspondingly taken along. Which is pretty wavy. The tinning on the underside is also not very carefully applied and shows a few small hills.
This lid also appears to be marked on the top and bottom of the lid. In fact, it’s a tiny hole. The compass point was set on the underside. Due to the relatively thin copper, the tip went too deep and pierced the copper. The Knight was hit with a lance early on — fortunately, this did not result in any serious injury.
The rest of the design reveals it at least as a relative of the other two lids. One can assume that it was intended for less demanding tasks in a castle kitchen. Such hierarchies are also known at manufacturers such as Gaillard, Dehillerin, and Mauviel, who offered different material thicknesses for different needs.
All 3 lids have short handles on the sides, which I really appreciate because they heat up less quickly and take up a little less space than longer handles. These handles are likely to have been forged. After a restoration by the previous owner, they were coated with a fire-resistant metal paint. The handles were fastened with copper rivets, which are flattened on the outside and are flush with the inner wall.
I did a long research and dealt with the old noble family of the Welfen (Guelphs) with their countless cross-connections across Europe. Especially since their origin lies in the region in which I live. Although I am a staunch democrat, the preoccupation with the history of the nobility was still very interesting. Don’t worry, I’ll be satisfied with a few essential facts from the past 300 years. The original headquarters of the Welfen around the year 1000 was in southern Germany. In the 16th century however, northern Germany and the region around Hanover was the area they ruled.
The Welfs now belonged to the high nobility and carried the nobility title “Elector.” In the Holy Roman Empire (Heilige Römische Reich), an Elector was one of the high nobility who was entitled to elect a king or emperor and they could be elected king by their peers themselves. Electors carried different titles of nobility (king, duke, archbishop, count, margrave, and palatine). In contrast to today’s usage, the title of Elector did not refer to the ruled territory, but to the empire. Whereby kings did not always rule over huge areas in earlier times.
The Kingdom of the Electors of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and Hanover was a relatively small region too, but when Georg Ludwig von Braunschweig-Lüneburg was elected King of Great Britain as Georg I in 1714, the time of “personal union” with the German headquarters of the Welfen in the Hanover region began. So George I was ruler of two kingdoms.
This remained with other rulers on the British throne until 1901, although the personal union with the northern German territories had already been dissolved in 1837. The famous Queen Victoria also had her roots in the noble family of the Welfen/Guelphs. In the following years these roots were partially cut and replaced by the House of Windsor. The Welfen/Guelphs were, however, represented in most royal houses in Europe through clever marriage arrangements.
But now really to letters. As I said before, an elector is fundamentally entitled to royal dignity. However, he must be elected king by his peers. An elector is also called in English “Electoral Prince” (Latin: princeps elector), EP for short. The Knight bears the same letters on the upper line, but in reverse order, ie PE. I am not sure what they mean. Is it the abbreviation of Princeps Elector in Latin spelling? A pretty daring guess! I haven’t found an explanation for the letter I either.
According to the seller, the lids were bought at an auction in Marienburg Castle in 2005. At that time, the treasures of the kitchens of various Welfen/Guelph castles came up for sale, but especially works of art of great value. The aristocratic family earned a whopping 44 million euros with the sale of 20,000 objects, according to media reports, minus a commission to the auction house Sotheby’s, up to €37 million are said to have remained with the Welfen/Guelphs. This auction was highly controversial, as many objects could not be purchased by museums and the proceeds did not benefit the German state. But representatives of a small copper museum in Bavaria also took part in this auction and were able to acquire beautiful copper pans and moulds for their museum.
The Welf family still exists today. Their current leader of the “Welfenclan” is Ernst August Prince of Hanover, born 1954 and married to Caroline of Monaco in 1999.
VFC says: You may have noticed that the lids have multiple stamps on them. Martin and I have been working to interpret them but we cannot agree on their meaning! We would like to throw these questions out to you, our readers. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Mystery 1: Why two crown stamps on the N. 30 lid?
You will have noticed that the crown and cypher on the N.30 lid is stamped twice. The EAR cypher looks the same for both stamps, but the crowns are of different design. The crown on the left is open at the top, while the crown on the right is dome-shaped; the horizontal band is different on each crown as well. These are two different stamps and two different crowns.
What could this mean? With the EAR cypher — Ernestus Augustus rex — both crowns should be for the rank of King. Compare them to the examples on the heraldic crowns page. The crown on the right looks somewhat like the crown of an Elector in the Holy Roman Empire — appropriate for the family, though obsolete after 1806. Could the crown on the left be a later stamp, replacing the Holy Roman Empire Elector crown with one of a more modern Hanoverian design?
Mystery 2: What are the other letters and numbers on the N.30 lid?
The discussion above focuses on the most prominent stamps on the N.30 lid, but there are other stamps that have been nearly polished out. Take a look at the stamped area again, but this time please focus on the faint marks. What letters do you see?
We see a P and R, and there are likely other letters partially obscured. As the Wikipedia entry for F. L. Paulmann notes, royal Hanoverian copper cookware was stamped for a specific location. Here is a list (in German) of German castles and palaces in Lower Saxony, roughly corresponding to the former Kingdom of Hanover. (It’s more detailed than the corresponding list in English.) Do you see any possibilities there?
Mystery 3: What are the other letters and numbers on the N.24 lid?
Like the N.30 lid, the N.24 lid also has additional faint markings that have been almost obliterated. Again, take a good look at the stamp area and see if you can identify the letters and numbers.
We saw a possible “N.12” as well as the letters A, I, and C. The different numbering system suggests the lid was transferred from one kitchen to another, where it was reassigned the number 24. But which kitchens? Can you spot any good candidates in the Lower Saxony castles list for the initials A, I, and/or C?
Please let us know in the comments what letters you see, and what you think they might signify. Thank you in advance for your contributions to this research project!