When a seller underestimates the quality of a piece, it can mean that a deal is to be had.
There are a lot of copper pieces listed on eBay and Etsy that look like this one: unpolished dull copper, rusty iron handle, tin lining mostly gone. But it was listed by one of my favorite eBay sellers, lazylou2002, and I find that her items are usually worth a second look. (It was also well-priced at £85, about US$118 at current exchange.) So I clicked on it.
ANTIQUE RARE FRENCH R MIQUELARD COPPER 24cm SAUTE PAN SKILLET 2mm RIM
Of very high quality, stamped with maker’s mark R. Miquelard and what looks like 14 Rue Brochot. There are also initials which look like VB (probably the initials of the original chef owner). Very hard to come by, Miquelard is considered amongst the top quality makers of quality copper cookware. In overall good solid condition with surface marks associated with age and use. There is one light ding near the base. The pan is somewhat ‘out of round’. There are remnants of burnt on food inside and some loss to the tin lining. It would benefit from being stripped and re-tinned.
Approx. dimensions – 24cm dia x 7cm deep / Handle length 24cm / Weight 3.1kg
Here are some photos from the listing. I’ll tell you what I see.
| A quick Google search shows that there is a rue Frochot (not Brochot) in Paris, but I don’t recognize the name Miquelard. It could have been a small chaudronnerie, or perhaps a store that offered a batterie de cuisine en cuivre. But even though I don’t know to whom it refers, the style of the stamp is promising.
My observation of copper stamps over time suggests that there seems to have been a common style across makers in an era: from simple word marks in the mid-19th century to oval cartouches in the late 19th to early 20th and then to more plain and compact designs towards the mid-20th. The vertical alignment and the design of this stamp reminds me of stamps for Gaillard and Dehillerin from the 1890s to early 1910s. That’s not enough to date this piece definitively, of course, but it’s a sign that it may have been produced during what I consider the first golden age of French copper (circa 1880-1920).
|Those black patches on the outside are most likely cooking oils that have been heated to the point of polymerization, forming a thin plastic-like substance that’s very hard to clean off.
I think Lazylou is right that this pan needs to be stripped. A good retinner can soak this off with strong chemicals or abrade it away with a buffing wheel.
|“Some loss to the tin lining” — that’s a bit of an understatement. The lining is shot and the greenish swirls look like verdigris to me, which is what builds up when bare copper sits untouched for a long time.
As Lazylou said, the pan is also somewhat out of round, meaning the rim has been distorted a little so that it’s not a perfect circle. The problem with an irregular rim is that fitted lids won’t seal on top of them. In my opinion, how much this matters to you depends on your intentions for the piece. If you plan to cook with it, you will need to have a solution to cover it (such as a flat universal lid or even a baking sheet), but if it’s a piece for display, it might not matter if the lid doesn’t quite settle neatly.
Fortunately, wonky geometry like this is usually fixable or at least improvable by a good retinner.
|There’s a benefit to built-up tarnish like this because it’s a tell-tale for irregularities in the floor of the pan. Copper is quite malleable and will stretch under force, and if a pan is overloaded the broad expanse of unsupported weight-bearing base is particularly vulnerable. If a pan does not “sit flat,” it has distortions over the base of the pan that give it a wobble on a flat surface.
If you look across the surface of the base in this photo, you can see a few bright spots of copper — protruding areas that are scraping against surfaces as the pan is moved around. I see contact points at the center of the base that show that the copper has been distorted a little there, but I also see contact all around the outer edge. That’s a promising sign: it suggests that despite the low spot towards the center, the pan is still resting on its outer edges.
As with wonky geometry, a wobbly base is not necessarily a dealbreaker for a collector piece but it’s a real inconvenience for a cooking pan. A good retinner and restorer can address this but in my experience the fix is never quite perfect: stretched copper can’t snap back to its original dimensions and the floor of the pan will likely always be a little bumpy. The impact depends on the type of pan and your intentions for it: a dry-cooking pan like a sauté can be difficult to use as oils pool in certain spots, but for a stewpot or stockpot, it doesn’t matter.
This is a sauté, and in my opinion a flat base is important for this type of pan. But based on the contact patches I see on the base, I don’t have serious concerns about the floor of this piece.
|There is superficial rust on this iron handle consistent with the condition of the rest of the pan, but I don’t see signs that the iron is eaten away. I also see some dark greasy buildup on the copper in the hard-to-clean areas around the neck of the handle and in the crevices of the rivet holes. This is grody but the cleaning process for retinning will take this away.|
What I see is a solid-looking pan in rough cosmetic condition. In my opinion Lazylou does a good job documenting this pan’s flaws in words and photos (and that’s one of the reasons why she’s one of my recommended sellers): it needs retinning and is a bit out of round, but it’s in pretty good shape otherwise and the base looks to be more or less flat.
But this isn’t enough for me to want to buy this pan, even at £85. Lazylou measured it at 2mm and in my opinion that is not an exceptional thickness of copper. There are a lot of antique pans at 2mm but while they are beautiful pieces (and I own a few of them!) they are not, in my opinion, useful for much beyond display. Kitchen hearths and wood- and coal-fired stoves in the 19th century produced less heat than modern stoves do now; a copper pan 2mm thick was perfectly capable of managing the heat from a 19th century stove but would be flooded with heat on a modern one. (This is why I recommend 2.5mm thickness for cooking, with few exceptions.) A 2mm pan without a collectible significance for me does not automatically meet my threshold for purchase.
But here’s the trick about antique pans: their rim measurements can be misleading. Many pans were made thicker in the base, meaning that the measured thickness of the sidewalls does not represent the effective thickness of the pan. Before I pass on this pan, I owe it one more check: its weight. According to Lazylou, this pan measures 24cm diameter by 7cm tall and weighs 3.1kg. Here’s how its weight compares to other 24cm sauté pans I have measured.
|24cm sauté pans||Height||Weight||Rim thickness|
This pan is heavier than a 3mm pan. Either Lazylou’s 2mm measurement is an underestimation, or this pan is seriously bottom-heavy. But in either case, there is more copper in this pan than the description suggests, and for £85 it is a bargain and quite possibly a brilliant diamond in the rough.
That’s what tipped the scale, so to speak. I bought the pan and asked Lazylou to send it directly to Erik Undiks at Rocky Mountain Retinning for restoration. Here it is, refreshed, retinned, and ravishing.
I knew it would brighten up considerably with cleaning and polish but it’s still such a pleasure to see it. Erik cleared away the polymerized oils from the surface, cleaned the interior thoroughly, and laid down a beautiful mirror-like lining of fresh tin.
He also removed the encrusted oils around the baseplate.
Cleaning and polishing the copper revealed its surface texture. The copper shows some pitting in areas, and the hammered martelage has been softened by repeated polishings. I see this same texture on some of my big restaurant pieces and so to see it on a pan this small is unusual. This small pan has seen some serious use.
But it also has a couple of pleasant surprises that tell me that this pan is in great cooking shape.
As the photos in the listing showed, the base does have some slight distortions to it. You can see some irregularities in the reflections in the photo below. But set on a flat surface, the pan shows just the tiniest movement, perhaps a shift of no more than a millimeter or two. In my opinion this is a negligible amount of irregularity, and makes this pan very usable on flat cooktops.
The second pleasant surprise is that Lazylou’s rim measurement was off. The rim is not 2mm but in fact 2.5mm thick. Even so, it is still heavier overall than a 3mm pan of the same diameter, so I think the base must be a bit over 3mm to account for the extra weight.
These are both very pleasant surprises and further establish this piece as a diamond in the rough.
Finally, I did some research on Miquelard. There are several persons with this last name in Paris who worked in the kitchenware industry — one an étameur (tinner), another selling articles de menage (housewares) — but the first time “Miquelard, chaudronnier” appears at 14 rue de Frochot is in 1902. Business records show that it was active until 1938, and possibly longer; WWII disrupted the records that I can review online and I do not see the name Miquelard in the records that resumed in the 1950s.
But the information I can find suggests that Miquelard was making copper for at least 35 years from 1902 into the 1930s. This pan’s craftsmanship is consistent with this time period: thick copper pressed into shape, a cast iron handle, mushroom-head rivets with the faint remnants of numbers. This is a wonderful period of copper production in my opinion: pieces are thick, symmetrical, sturdy, and elegant.
What makes this a diamond in the rough?
For me, this piece belongs in the category of Great-looking antique pans that are also in fantastic shape for cooking.
It’s a small but thick. In my experience it’s difficult to find antique copper pieces that are thick (3mm or better) at home cook scale (30cm or less in diameter). My observation is that thick copper was usually reserved for restaurant-scale pieces, while smaller pieces were consumer grade at 2mm or so. I expect this was a pragmatic decision: restaurants would have more powerful stoves that demanded thicker copper (and justified the investment in a heavy set of pans) while home cooks had no use for super-thick pieces. (I think the situation is different now because the heat output of our home cooktops would overwhelm a 2mm antique piece.) Any time I spot an antique piece that is home cook size at restaurant quality thickness, I consider it an outlier worth a second look.
Its base is flat for cooking on a range of surfaces. Many a lovely old pan’s career is undone by its wobbly base. A gas cooktop is forgiving, but electric and halogen cooktops rely on direct contact to transfer heat. If you cook on a flat cooktop, you need pieces to make maximum contact and so you must be particularly careful to buy antiques that sit flat. This piece works for gas as well as flat cooktops and that increases its appeal and potential resale value.
It’s got character. The surface has texture and visual interest without looking too beat-up. It’s instantly recognizable as an antique piece but has a solid physical presence, and I find pieces like this hopelessly charismatic. (Here‘s an example, and another one.) I love cooking on antique copper but not if it’s a gimmick. I’m just not a skilled enough cook to work with frail pots and pans; the pieces I use have to be at least as good as the modern stuff, otherwise I won’t reach for them. What is special about this specific pan for me is that it delivers the experience of cooking with an antique piece along with all the very tangible benefits of thick pure copper. I find this combination of sentiment and practicality powerfully compelling and it makes cooking incredibly satisfying for me.
I want to thank Lazylou for pricing this pan so well. As I said at the top of this post, I do think she underestimated this piece; the 2mm rim measurement was low, and in combination with the pan’s drab condition, may have depressed the asking price a bit. But on the other hand, Lazylou prices pieces fairly in my opinion — she seems to want to move product, so to speak, and she sets reasonable prices and accepts decent offers. She’s one of the eBay sellers I scan almost every day because her listings are a fertile hunting ground for diamonds in the rough.
Quick note: Just to be clear, I have no relationship with lazylou2002 or any other copper sellers; my endorsement is based on my experience buying copper from her and there is no financial incentive for me in my recommendation. Honestly, I doubt she even knows who I am!