“The person passes, the thing remains.”
VFC says: I am delighted to present this project by Martin and Arndt to explore the history of this German coppersmith and showcase examples of its production. They worked together to research the company, and each acquired representative pieces and provided beautiful photos to show their beauty and detail. Please note also that Arndt restored and retinned all the pieces shown.
Arndt and I have been collecting copper pans for years, especially the well-known French, Belgian, and English brands, but also nameless but noteworthy copper. We were surprised that there were hardly any good quality pans to be found from manufacturers in other countries. Arndt (who has a particularly good eye for unusual and still inexpensive copper) and I came across two German manufacturers who were previously unknown to us and who made distinctive products: “Gebr. Schwabenland” and “Vogelsang & Kuhn,” both based in Southwest Germany near the border with France.
Arndt gradually acquired a few pieces.
At first I was a bit skeptical, especially since my collection was already extensive, but then followed with a few purchases of my own.
For a long time we found almost no information on these manufacturers. But finally Arndt phoned the managing director of “Gebr. Schwabenland,” which had somehow survived the times, is now based in Berlin, and offers extensive services for large kitchens. In fact, Arndt received a catalog from the original company from 1922, which is now to be posted at VFC. Then Arndt drew my attention to another catalog from 1927 and publication for the 30th anniversary of the company from 1927, which was offered in antiquarian bookstores. I didn’t hesitate and bought both rarities despite the high prices. But the effort was worth it.
Founding and early years
At the end of the 18th century, each of the brothers Wilhelm and Karl Schwabenland had their own small shop in Ludwigshafen am Rhein (southwest of Germany). At that time, Wilhelm was running a digestive and spice shop. Karl, originally a cook, gave up his profession for health reasons and founded the company “Karl Schwabenland” in 1896 in Bismarkstraße 83, Ludwigshafen, a shop for cooking equipment, professional linen, and chef’s knives. He benefited from his previous professional experience and good business relationships.
During this founding phase, Wilhelm supported his brother without giving up his own business. This gave Karl the opportunity to go on business trips and visit customers, as was customary at the time to establish and maintain business relationships. Wilhelm kept the books, did the shopping, and shipped the ordered goods. The first few months were tough. In particular, there was a lack of one employee who had good experience in the laundry industry. M. Henniger would be hired for this job in 1897.
Wilhelm Schwabenland recognized the company’s development opportunities with commercial foresight. He sold his own business in order to bring all his strength into the company. On July 1st, 1897, the company “Gebrüder Schwabenland” was founded as a general partnership based in Ludwigshafen / Rhein.
Wilhelm S. managed the company with care and energy, while his brother Karl S. and his employees visited the customers. The business was initially expanded to include waiter’s linen. But a complete range of items that are required for kitchen operations soon followed. For this purpose, relationships with new delivery companies have been established. The 1898 exhibition for cookware in Stuttgart offered a good opportunity for this. The company Gebr. Schwabenland was represented at this exhibition with its own booth for cooking supplies, achieved its first public success, and received an award for its offer. The business relationships that were established during the exhibition formed the basis for the rapid further development of the company. The trade in commodities for large kitchens was started. The range has thus been expanded to include the first machines. New storage options had to be found.
The first catalog
Wilhelm S. had recognized that only with intensive advertising of the products offered could new groups of customers be reached. During half a year of intensive work, with the help of numerous experts and with high financial commitment, a first large catalog was created, which offered an overview of thousands of items for large kitchens. The way the products are presented is similar to the catalogs by Gaillard and Dehillerin. The drawings must be understood as exemplary images, not comparable to the exact photographs of today. Further information was obtained from the representatives or you had to take the trouble to visit the warehouse of the trading house. In later years there were also supplementary brochures for special goods.
The impact of this catalog exceeded all expectations. Sales increased several times over in the first year after the catalog was published. The company developed accordingly. The name “Schwabenland” became a term for quality goods in specialist circles. The business premises had to be enlarged and the staff increased. Since a spatial expansion in Ludwigshafen was not possible, the management decided to relocate the company headquarters to Mannheim, which offered a more favorable location in terms of traffic and significant advantages for the expansion of the company. Buildings Q7, 38 and 45 were acquired in square Q7 (Mannheim had no street names at that time; the city was completely divided into squares).
In July 1901, just four years after the business was founded, the company moved to the new houses that thus became the actual headquarters of the company, especially since these were the first owned buildings.
The management was aware that the name Schwabenland would establish itself even better if its own devices and types for kitchen use were developed and offered. First an improved straining machine followed, then “Schwabenland’s original coffee machine” was brought onto the market as a “revolutionary new product.” The success of this patented invention was resounding. At the time the Festschrift was written, 30,000 of these machines were in operation.
A new invention soon followed, which made specialist circles sit up and take notice: copper dishes in a particularly heavy design, with double bottom, corner protection and reinforced edges, which triggered a true revolution in the field of kitchen technology, but initially also aroused skepticism and hostility, as in the 1927 catalog mentioned. “Today, after the protection period has expired, our design is copied across the board.”
In addition, there was the heavy patent tin-plating, which gave the copper pots a much greater durability. All items that were excluded from the offer have been thoroughly checked for quality and usability beforehand, in accordance with the company’s business principle: “Good products are the best recommendation.”
Update: More information on the reinforcements
When I discovered the pans, I kept puzzling over how the process of deep drawing could produce these reinforcements at the top and bottom. After this post was published I was able to find more information. It is apparent that once the pan bodies were deep drawn, these reinforcements were hard soldered to the top of the rim and the bottom.
I found a number of patents of the company registered primarily in Switzerland but also in Paris. The most important patent: “Cookware with outer protective ring”. This patent, registered as early as 1906, describes and illustrates with a detailed drawing what Schwabenland meant by a double bottom. Apparently, a normal pot was first manufactured to which, in a further manufacturing process, a second layer was attached that encloses the pot in the lower area.
From the 1906 patent, translated from German:
The cookware a is provided with a protective ring c on part b. It is evident that the protective ring c protects part b from being damaged by impact and that, in addition, the part c1 of the protective ring c reaching under the edge of the cookware base a1 prevents the cookware base from chafing when the cookware slides back and forth on the stove. The protective ring c can be replaced by a new one after it has been worn out.
Below on the left is the patent diagram, and on the right an illustration from the 1922 catalog.
Since this method of production was possible from 1906, I assume that the corresponding pans were still hammered by hand. This type of “extra heavy duty” pans were still offered in the 1922 catalog (page 4).
Below is a photo from the 1922 catalog showing a Gebr Schwabenland metal press. The caption reads, “With this drawing press we make our special copper dishes. The pressure from the press is about 400,000-500,000 kilograms [440-550 US tons], which means that only the very finest quality raw material is used.”
Update: “Patent tin plating”
The protective permanent tin coating serving to protect the inside of the vessel is preferably formed by tinning it in the usual manner after cleaning the surface with acid. By a subsequent heating of the vessel to a moderate heat with simultaneous rubbing of the tin coating with a wet rag or the like, the tin coating is so hardened that it is possible to deposit a second tin coating upon it. The heating and tinning are then repeated several times until there is fixed upon the inside of the vessel a lining if tin of a very great resisting power and so thick that the breaking off of particles is practically impossible.
Early success and growth
Once again, the business premises had to be expanded and increased. A neighboring property Q7, 37 was acquired and behind Q7, 46. New storage and dispatch rooms were built. The workforce had to be increased again. Above all, they ensured a professionally well-trained staff of representatives who were supported by targeted advertising. Some managerial staff had to be recruited.
In order to relieve the head office, branch offices were established. The first agency was set up in Berlin as early as 1901, from which the Berlin branch emerged in 1902 under the direction of Karl Schwabenland and Ernst Euler. While sales were limited to Germany up to now, a brisk export has now started from Berlin.
In 1903, the Zurich branch was founded in neighboring Switzerland (dissolved in 1922). A few years later they turned their gaze to Italy, where another branch was opened in Genoa in 1907. In the midst of a hopeful upswing, WW I led to the abandonment of the Genoa branch, which was confiscated in 1914 after seven years of existence. Only a fraction of the lost values were subsequently reimbursed through the war compensation scheme.
“But the tree had taken deep roots and new branches were always sprouting.” In 1908, a model warehouse was set up in Cologne, previously only one representative office, and it was expanded as an independent branch in the same year. As you can see on the letterhead of an invoice, “Gebr. Schwabenland” was decorated with numerous awards as early as 1911 and was purveyor to the court of His Royal Highness Grand Duke of Baden, His Royal Highness Grand Duke of Hesse and the King of Romania.
In 1912 the decision matured to win new groups of customers in Vienna, the capital of the then Danube Monarchy. After initial difficulties, Heinrich Scherer took over the management in Vienna together with Wilhelm Schwabenland Jr., the oldest son of the company founder Wilhelm Schwabenland. But the war and post-war conditions also had a destructive effect in Vienna and led to the closure of the branch in 1921.
In 1913, a model warehouse was set up in Frankfurt / Main in building Oderweg 12. During the war years, the Frankfurt representation was fortunate enough to be able to compensate for the loss of hotels with deliveries to the army. Organizationally, the Frankfurt warehouse was assigned to the Mannheim headquarters. Even if the war demanded the closure of two branches (Genoa and Vienna) with a corresponding loss, the management did not lose heart and looked for a balance through the establishment of new branches in Hamburg 1921 and 1922 Amsterdam. The war years not only brought great losses, but also opened up new customer groups through the various army catering facilities, military hospitals, etc. A new sales area that enabled the company to gain further experience. During this time, the sale of extra-heavy aluminum dishes began, which were particularly popular in hospitals and similar institutions.
The eventful years after the war could no longer satisfy the wishes of Wilhelm Schwabenland. senior, who had to run the company on his own after the death of his brother Karl in 1912. Wilhelm S. longed for a well-deserved retirement. As a result, the originally open trading company was converted into a limited partnership in 1920. Wilhelm Schwabenland jun. (junior) was transferred to the management together with the engineer Otto Volker-Schwabenland (son-in-law of the senior).
In 1922 the company was converted into a stock corporation, which had been founded purely as a private company. From then on, the “Gebr. Schwabenland A.-G.” with great zeal to adapt the internal organization to the new time and economic conditions. The branches were granted greater powers so that they were largely able to work independently. In order to better serve the Bavarian sales area, a model warehouse was also set up in Munich, Promenadenplatz 21. In the same way, a representation in Rome was created for Italy.
New products were constantly being released. It was recognized that the “engine as worker” for the kitchen was in for a major development. So it was decided to set up special production workshops for machine tables etc. in the headquarters, as well as in Cologne and Zurich. Original types and models were created, which were introduced very quickly. Hundreds of such tables were already working in various large kitchens in 1927. Well-trained people are now working in the company. For many years, customers, provided they were not afraid to travel, were able to inspect the goods in the warehouses, but only in recent years have they been set up as sales rooms.
In the closing words of the 1927 anniversary publication, “Gebr. Schwabenland A.-G.” not only regarded as a leader in Germany, but also across Europe in its industry. Mr. Karl Schwabenland chose a small town near Heidelberg in the Neckar Valley as his retirement home. The company is likely to have dominated the market for its products in Germany until around 1930, but was also established in Switzerland, the Netherlands (including colonies), Scandinavia, Austria, Italy and even Russia.
October 24th, 1929 was “Black Thursday” on the New York Stock Exchange, the beginning of the World Economic Crisis and Banking Crash. The Great Depression began and hit the flourishing German economy to the floor. In the country, first unemployment spreads and the despair. Within a few years, the living situation of people and the political mood in the country change fundamentally. Industrial production is collapsing. Small and medium-sized enterprises have to file for bankruptcy. Unemployment is rising rapidly. German industrial production falls up to 40%, real income falls by 30%, poverty is skyrocketing (Source: www.100.bmwi.de).
In 1934 came the closure of “Gebrüder Schwabenland A.-G.”, large kitchen & pastry shops, Mannheim. Termination and dismissal of staff. (Source: General State Archives Karlsruhe)
“In special design, drawn from one piece, finely polished, extra heavy, double bottom, corner and edge reinforcement; inside finely tinned with Schwabenland’s permanent tinning.”
Here is the unrestored saucepan. It has been used for cooking, but as you can see the sturdy construction has held up. There are no serious dents or dings around the rim or the base.
Arndt performed a beautiful restoration. Note in particular the smooth tinning.
The most notable element of Schwabenland pieces is the thick band around the rim and base. This is Arndt’s saucepan that he restored and retinned.
This graphic from the 1922 catalog (provided by Arndt) of the cross-section of the pans should be self-explanatory.
The bottom of a Schwabenland pot (on the left in the diagram) is referred to as “double strength”. I find the term “Gelenk” (literally: hinge, nowadays it would be called a bend or corner) interesting for the transition from the side wall to the floor. It is referred to as a weak point and a possible break point in conventional pots (on the right in the diagram) that were joined with seams around the base in the French and Belgian style.
Since only round pans up to a certain size could be deep-drawn from a single piece of copper, a different manufacturing technique was used for the angular and oval roasting trays (rotissoirs, braisières, turbotières, poissonières) and the large marmites. The reinforced base extended a few centimeters above the corner and was cold-welded to the sidewall. This method did not reduce the material thickness of the bend.
Furthermore, “Gebr. Schwabenland” was of the opinion that horizontal cast iron handles are ergonomically more advantageous than curved ones. However, customers could choose which handles the pans should be delivered with. The heart shaped handle plate (“Herzform”) was chosen to provide better support and thus more stability over the straight shape (“Gerada Form”).
Below are two of Arndt’s pans, showing the heart-shaped handle plate and the horizontal cast iron handle.
In summary, the benefits of Schwabenland copper pots were advertised as follows:
- No breaking of the corner!
- No bulging of the bottom of the pot, no dirty corners!
- No bending or tearing of the edge!
- No change in shape, therefore the lid always fits!
- No more premature repairs!
- Hygienically absolutely perfect and offering the greatest guarantee!
Particularly emphasized was the permanent tinning from pure English tin: “Schwabenland’s permanent tinning”.
In addition, the use of French terms stands out in both Schwabenland catalogs. Presumably an indication that the goods were also sold in French-speaking countries. For me as a German, some German terms are also interesting because they are no longer common today. The extensive range not only included tinned copper but also pans lined with silver. Like the French manufacturers, a distinction was made between different material qualities: extra heavy and normal, as well as pans for cooking and those for serving at the table.
There are seven known Schwabenland stamps. It is not yet known what order they appeared.
The 1922 catalog was so extensive that I wondered who might have made the multitude of different items. “Gebr. Schwabenland” was registered as a trading company, which at least outlined the focus of business activity, without excluding the possibility of in-house production of individual products. But who were the suppliers? There were no references to this either in the 1922 catalog or in the commemorative publication for the company’s 30th anniversary in 1927. One almost got the impression that suppliers were a trade secret.
However, Arndt and I found copper pans that resembled the distinctive heavy pans from “Gebr. Schwabenland” down to the last detail. They bear the stamp “Vogelsang & Kuhn, Karlsruhe”. So it was at least conceivable, if not obvious, to accept this company as the actual manufacturer of the copper pans and as a supplier for “Gebr. Schwabenland”.
Only after I was able to acquire the antiquarian catalog 1927 was there evidence of this assumption. There these distinctive pots are listed on the first pages of the extensive catalog under “J.V.K. Kupfergeschirre” (“J.V.K. copper pans and dishes”). Although the “J.” confused me briefly to bring the following two letters in connection with Vogelsang & Kuhn, we are convinced that Vogelsang & Kuhn were making these extraordinary pans for “Gebr. Schwabenland”, even if the riddle of the first letter has not yet been solved.
Vogelsang & Kuhn
Now comes a section whose facts make me both unspeakably sad and angry. But this truth is also part of the history of Germany for which we, who were born after the war, also have to take responsibility. For this reason, too, it was important to me that the story of Gebr. Schwabenland, and thus the story of its supplier Vogelsang & Kuhn, should be told by a German.
We were able to locate Albert Kuhn, born 1880. He was both a merchant and a Jew, like his father. Kuhn lived in Belgium for six months, spoke French, and spent three years in Russia on business trips. He wasn’t in the military. Albert Kuhn was a co-owner of the Vogelsang & Kuhn company, Rüppurrer Strasse 36, later Kaiserallee 25. The company supplied large kitchen equipment for hotels. At last he was a traveling salesman until he was deprived of any opportunity to earn a living due to the “Aryanization” (persecution of Jews). On October 22, 1940, Albert Kuhn was deported to Gurs with his wife Hilda and his two sons. He was later transferred to the Le Vernet camp in the Pyrenees, where he died on June 5, 1941 — separated from his wife and sons — at the age of almost 61. (Quoted after Helga Weinert-Kuhn, November 2006.)
As is so often the case, the solution of a mystery is followed by other myteries. Is there more information about Vogelsang & Kuhn? Who invented the striking design with the reinforcements, who were the imitators?
VFC says: My heartfelt thanks to Martin and Arndt for bringing the history of this German coppersmith to the site! I have seen this distinctive banded appearance before and now I understand the eminently practical purpose for it. I am guilty of romanticizing 19th century techniques as the most direct expression of human talent to engineer useful and beautiful copper, but this post opens my eyes to the ongoing industrial creativity in the era of mechanization. This tells me that even as the 20th century copper cookware industry moved away from time-consuming (and imperfect) hand-craftsmanship to concentrate on deep-drawing and spinning, individual innovators did not settle for producing identical smooth-walled pieces but looked for ways to differentiate their products and offer greater value to the consumer.
And I am struck by the poignance of the marginalization and cruel loss of Albert Kuhn. Studying copper, for me, provides a sort of refracted view of the people who designed and made them. The relics we have today from the European coppersmiths have survived war and time as their makers have not. As Gebr. Schwabenland’s motto puts it, Eripitur persona manet res: “The person passes, the thing remains.”
For Reference: Branches of Gebr. Schwabenland
Although the brothers were not Prussians (they even bore the name of the southern German province of Swabia, “Schwabenland”) and the Mannheim office bordered close to France, the history of their company was documented quite precisely.
Karl Schwabenland, branch manager. After his death in 1911, Mr. Euler was appointed authorized signatory. Great competition in the imperial capital. Focus on all of Northern Germany and export, especially to Russia, but also Scandinavia. Training of a technically trained staff of representatives. Multiple moves due to the growth of the branch. Deep business cuts during WWI, which could only be partially compensated by army deliveries.
Switzerland, with a large number of hotels and sanatoriums, was of particular business interest. Therefore, the first foreign branch was opened in Zurich in 1903. Management by Mr. Henninger. Multiple expansion of the business premises with relocations. After the war, the branch was converted into an independent Swiss public limited company. “Schwabenland & Co. A.-G.” only employed Swiss nationals. To relieve Mr. Henninger, the founder’s youngest son, Hans Schwabenland, who previously lived in South America, was appointed to the management in 1927.
Opening of a warehouse to supply the north-west and west of Germany, which was also available to customers as a showroom. In the further course of the business, goods could also be bought directly there for the first time. The growth of the company led to the acquisition of several buildings. All machines could be demonstrated to interested parties in the permanent exhibition rooms. The expansion of the customer base to include institutions and monasteries is seen as a particular merit of this branch. After the war and after his return from English captivity, Wilhelm Schwabenland jr., executive manager. The branch was expanded to include its own production facilities and assembly rooms.
Hamburg served as compensation for the loss of the Vienna branch. The important maritime trading center was primarily used for exporting and developing new customer groups along the coast of the North Sea.
The Netherlands, with its numerous seaside resorts and large colonial possessions, has long been a good sales area for the “Gebr. Schwabenland”. The branch founded in 1922 should also compensate for the loss of the branch in Italy. For business reasons the branch was established as a Dutch company under the name “N.N. Trade Association of the Gebrüder Schwabenland”.