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A family resemblance?

VFC

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It’s the nose, right?

Type Tin-lined sauté pan with iron handle attached with three copper rivets
French description Sauteuse étamée avec queue de fer muni de trois rivets en cuivre
Dimensions 24cm diameter by 6.5cm tall (9.4 by 2.6 inches)
Thickness 1.7mm at rim
Weight 2038g (4.5 lbs)
Stampings “J. DE R. PARIS 15”
Maker and age estimate Unknown; mid-19th century?
Source barttof (eBay)

I’ve been keeping an eye out for “de R” pieces online ever since I realized how much I enjoyed researching and writing about my three Edmond James de Rothschild pans. It seems that the copper from the Rothschild residences in France has been scattered to the winds but still turns up on the online marketplaces now and then. When this particular “J de R” piece came online from barttof — he who also sold me the Edmond de Rothschild pieces — I was drawn to it as well. But while I am almost certain it is also a Rothschild pan, I still have doubts.

It is a lovely thing. It is a lissome 1.7mm thick at the rim and based on its total weight and its feel in the hand I do not think it is substantially bottom-heavy. This is a pan well suited to the sauter — that is, tossing food in the pan with a flick of the wrist, the “jumping” that gives this shape of pan its name. (I am certainly guilty of overly praising thick heavy sauté pans whose mass keeps them resolutely earthbound in defeat of the pan’s purpose.) Before stovetops were fitted with knobs to adjust the output, a chef moderated the heat under the pan by lifting it away; I believe this pan was built for that era, perfectly balanced and lightweight, like a wing at the wrist.

Its handle is curved in a lovely swoop. The iron is very smooth, almost soft to the touch, like cloth. The iron doesn’t have the striations I associate with wrought iron, and so if it was cast, it was really beautifully finished. There are no burrs or traces of filing marks.

On the handle baseplate, the two side rivets are unusually prominent. It’s easier to see this in the profile photo above — the side rivets protrude about five millimeters from the baseplate, but the center rivet is smooth like a button. My first thought was that there have been some rivet replacements, but looking at the interior rivets, I am not so sure. They all three look to be contemporaries to me. Perhaps the center rivet was sheared off?

 

Its closest match among the E de R pans is this 23cm sauté, one centimeter smaller in diameter and half a centimeter shorter.

 

The two pans are cousins, not brothers. The baseplates are slightly different: the J de R baseplate is an elongated oval while the E de R baseplate is a lozenge shape. The hanging loops are a similar shape and size but the E de R hanging loop has a sharper cut. But I sense the same aesthetic at work here, suggesting that these could simply be normal manufacturing variations in an era when handles were hand-cut and -shaped.

 

The most distinctive quality the handles share is the same striking profile. The shaft of the handle has an offset at the base like a bump on the bridge of a nose. This J de R pan has it, as do the 23cm and 21cm E de R sauté pans, and I believe it is an intentional adaptation to shift the handle away from the body of the pan in order to accommodate a lid. This shared physical quirk strongly suggests to me that these pans came from the same workshop.

 

And finally let’s look at the stamp on this piece. There is no maker’s mark that I can see, but it has a prominent “JE DE R PARIS 15.” At the moment I suspect that this pan belonged to the household of Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868), patriarch of the French branch of the Rothschild banking family. I have a photo of a very similar stamp from a large turbotière stamped “J de R FERRIERES” from the Château de Ferrières, Baron James’s residence outside Paris. This is not the best example photograph but even at this resolution the Ferrières stamp looks quite similar, down to the uneven alignment of each letter. (I hope to acquire a better photograph of this turbotière’s stamp and will update this when I do.)

 

But the last piece of the puzzle remains unsolved: from which Rothschild residence did this J de R pan come? The eBay seller barttof tells me that he acquired it from a woman whose family worked for the Rothschilds at their residence in the 15th arrondissement — “PARIS 15.” But here’s the problem: I can’t find evidence of a Rothschild residence in the 15th. The family had several glorious houses in Paris but none of them was in this part of the city. I contacted the The Rothschild Archive London and they are not aware of such a property ever held by the family.

Could this pan have belonged to a minor Rothschild family member who shared the same initials as Baron James, but who lived a quiet life in an undistinguished house in Paris that has escaped the notice of history?

Could the “15” be not a location in Paris but instead a kitchen identifier number? (In this I am reluctant to overrule barttof, who was quite firm about the link to the 15th arrondissement.)

I may never know. Copper stamps are a fascinating subject of study but do not always yield clear answers. As I write this post, there is a spirited debate going on between readers in the comments of another post about the utility of the study of stamps. I am coming to a more holistic approach to assessing copper (and am working on an article to put it into words), but I continue to find stamp research to be a satisfying part of copper appreciation even in situations where it is not conclusive. As always, I’d be grateful for your thoughts in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. When I saw this sauté pan with the stamped initials on Ebay, I immediately associated Rothschild. A short research was enough to identify James de Rothschild (originally Jakob Mayer Rothschild) as the alleged owner. However, I did not succeed in assigning the number 15 under the initials to one of the city palaces or one of the banker’s castles. Then it occurred to me that the street names in Paris were occasionally renamed. But I didn’t get any further. I do not know whether the city districts (“arrondissement”) also changed.

    Although this sauté pan naturally had a special charm, not least bcause of its initials, I waived a bid because the pan was too lightweight for me. But it´s not VFC’s fault! I leave the jumping of the food to the professionals. Exceptions: pancakes and crepes. In any case, it is better that this Saute is now with her relatives. By the way, I also appreciate the distance between the handle and the top of the pan. Only in this way can practically all lid shapes be used. Mauviel sauté pans are constructed in a similar way. Congratulations VFC!

  2. On the web you can also see a beautiful watercolor of the kitchen in the city palace of Baron Gustave de Rothschild (23 avenue Marigny, Paris). 40 copper pots and pans are ready for cooking. The size of the kitchen reminds me more of a ballroom.

  3. I am always attracted to pans with elegantly curved handles like this. Handles evolved over the past 150 years and are of some help with dating. I associate lovely sinuous curves like this with the art nouveau era. I don’t believe anyone actually intended to produce an art nouveau saute or saucepan but you could hardly live in France without absorbing the style of every poster or new metro entrance.

  4. Please use your beautiful saute pan to make something special to go with that bottle of wine – in about 7 years. It’ll be worth the wait.

  5. I have one pan with with a Château stamp, “Chateau Mouche”. I am rather less impressed with the translation. Oh well.

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