Was Jules ahead of his time?
|Type||Tin-lined saucepan in hammered finish with cast iron handle fastened with three copper rivets|
|French description||Casserole étamée et martelée avec queue de fer munie de trois rivets en cuivre|
|Dimensions||32cm diameter by 18cm tall (12.6 by 7.1 inches)|
|Weight||10030g (22.1 lbs)|
|Stampings||Jules Gaillard 81 Faubg St Denis Paris; 32; R|
|Maker and age estimate||Jules Gaillard, circa 1890-1903|
As many collectors do, I’ve got my favorites, and at the top of my list of makers of antique French copper cookware is Jules Gaillard. The Gaillard family in Paris was large and prolific in the 19th and 20th centuries and I’ve done my best to trace the careers of individuals by studying stamps and business records. At this time I believe that young Jules Gaillard was a sort of apprentice working from the family workshop at 81 Faubourg Saint-Denis, producing copper under his own stamp from about 1890 to 1903. After that, my research suggests that he took a leadership role in the family “main-line” chaudronnerie in 1904 with Émile Gaillard as J. & E. Gaillard and then from the early 1920s to late 1930s as J. Gaillard. What I call the first golden age of French copper — from the 1880s until the 1920s — is also, for me, the golden age of Jules Gaillard.
So that is why I have a special fondness for pieces stamped for Jules himself: they are his work from the first decade of what would be a long and productive career. There are two Jules stamps of which I am aware: a simple two-line linear text mark and an oval cartouche. I think the oval stamp — the one on this saucepan — is the later of the two, but that is an educated guess based on its similarity to other oval Gaillard marks that followed. If my research is correct, this saucepan with its oval stamp is an example of work done towards 1900.
And what a beautiful piece of work it is.
Saucepans are not the most exciting piece of cookware out there, and so for me, appreciating this one is not so much about shock and awe but more about understanding what it represents.
First, a little history as I understand it. The years 1870 to about 1910 span an eventful period of time because this is when I begin to see thick copper come into production. My perspective is that this was the product of economics and technology. The economic element was the advent of the Belle Époque, a period of (relative) peace and prosperity in Europe from about 1880 to World War I. Paris truly was the center of European culture and power; its hotels and restaurants produced chefs who mastered haute cuisine and drew the cosmopolitan patrons from around the world who demanded it. And there was also technology: the maturing industrial revolution steadily modernized metalworking over the course of the 19th century so that by its final decades machinery could smooth, cut, and bend thick sheet metal far more quickly and economically than manpower alone. I believe that by the 1890s the confluence of these two forces that produced both the supply and demand for “restaurant grade” copper cookware, 3mm to 4mm to even 5mm: thick enough to capture and manage the intense heat of restaurant’s gas-fired professional stove, scaled for a busy dining room, and sturdy enough to withstand the clash and clatter of harried line cooks hustling to keep up the relentless pace.
If I am correct in my conclusions from my research, Jules Gaillard was making copper right at the peak of the pace of this change, and in my opinion, this particular saucepan is an absolute triumph of power over mass.
Consider the size of this pot: 32cm diameter by 18cm tall (12.6 by 7.1 inches).
It is truly 4mm thick. I measured it at several points around the rim and it does not vary. It weighs 10030g — a hair over 22 pounds unladen — and at that weight it is likely consistently 4mm throughout.
And it is absolutely seamless.
How the devil did Jules Gaillard do this?
I don’t ask this question in the technical sense: I believe this piece was deep-drawn, meaning that a flat disk of copper was punched with a powerful metal press to form a cylinder. Deep-drawing a pot this tall from a sheet of copper this thick would have been quite a feat. The metal has to bend and stretch into the shape — it is said to “flow” like a liquid. This process exerts considerable force on the metal; observe how the regular surface pattern of the flat sheet in the photo at right is distorted in its final form.
In addition, the straight-sided saucepan shape forces the metal to flow into a cavity that is smaller than the diameter of the sheet metal. The diagram at right is a top-down view as if you were watching a metal press from above. As the central circle — the die — presses onto the sheet, the metal flows towards it, compressing as it approaches the die and then stretching down the sides of the cylinder. Copper is better than most other metals at withstanding these changing stresses without cracking, but even so, a great deal of force is required.
But what gets me is how early I think this piece is. My 1890s to early 1900s pieces that approach 4mm are shallow sauté pans or windsors; deep pieces of this period, such as stockpots or soup pots, tend to be dovetailed. Other comparable pieces in my collection — that is, seamless saucepans approaching 4mm thick — carry stamps that I have tentatively dated into the 1910s or later. (The closest other piece I have is a 36cm J & E Gaillard saucepan — by my reckoning the next stamp in the Gaillard sequence — that is 3.6mm thick.)
What is unusual about this particular saucepan is that it is both extra deep as well as extra thick. When I compare my Jules Gaillard pieces to others that I believe are from the same period — main-line Gaillard, early Dehillerin, Duval, Charmois/Lasnier, and a few others — my Jules pieces are thicker and heavier across the board. Is this selection bias on my part, or was Jules Gaillard at the forefront of the transition to “restaurant-grade” copper? Readers, what do you think?
Per Roger’s request, here are some more detail shots of the handle. The rivets are small rounded buttons; the interior rivet heads are flat, almost flush. I can’t detect any trace of numbers on the rivet heads.