Dear VFC

Dear VFC: Episode 3

VFC

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A lesser-known early Paris maker; the German maker Wagner.

Dear VFC,

I recently acquired a little saucepan and wondered if you were aware of the original retailer. It’s a relatively mediocre pot (13 cm diameter, 7.5 cm high, 1.0 mm thick at the rim, wrought iron handle with three flat copper rivets marked “3”) but caught my eye on eBay with the retailer’s mark on the base: “J.GODARD” over “14. R.MONTMARTRE. 14” with a tiny “14” in front of the “J.GODARD”. “IS.” (or “15.”) also appears upside down to the right.

Despite the very thin sidewall (1.0 mm), I would highly rate the overall workmanship. You can see from the previously attached image that the wrought iron handle is well-shaped with a central spur or peak on the flange and the machine made rivets have tidy dome “shop” heads.

Have you encountered this retailer in French trade gazettes?

Signed,

M.

 

Dear M.,

It took me a while but I finally I found “Godard (J.), quincaillier” at 14 rue Montmartre in Paris from 1870 to 1873. There are some gaps in the records, though — there is no 1865-1869, so the shop could have been established during that period and I just can’t find record of it. But in any event Godard looks to have been extant for only a short period — 1865 at the very earliest until about 1873.

I think 1mm would be fairly standard for that time period. The stovetops just didn’t put out that much heat, so a relatively light pan could handle it just fine. Plus, during the late 1860s to early 1870s, there may not have been strong machinery to bend thicker sheet metal, so 1-2mm was the standard.

As a quincaillier, Godard may not have shaped the copper himself. It’s hard to say who could have made it, as there were many small coppersmiths at that time in Paris. But we can at least narrow down the time range when the piece could have been stamped.

Congratulations for this lovely old piece!

VFC


Dear VFC,

What the heck is this, and what do I do with it? It’s 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches high and 28 inches across the handles.

Signed,

B.

 

Dear B.,

Oh my gosh, it’s awesome. Wagner is a German metalsmith but I don’t know much about the company. I reached out to my resident German copper expert Martin and he’s taken a look at the pot and filled in some history.

Says Martin:

This pot, in my estimation, dates from the first quarter of the last century. The similarity with pots from Gebr. Schwabenland is striking. I suspect it has a good weight. Unfortunately, I can’t say more about this pot specifically, as I only know of items Wagner made after WWII. The metalware factory had a fairly extensive line of items primarily for household kitchens at that time. These items are offered quite frequently on eBay. They were of good, but not above average quality.

The roots of the traditional company go back to the year 1524, when Peter Wagner, master coppersmith, acquired the citizenship of the city of Nördlingen. Since then, the copper craft has been passed down from father to son through 15 generations without interruption. Nördlingen, Heidenheim, Stuttgart, and Esslingen are the cities where the wainwrights of this line worked.

The founder of the Esslingen line was Christian Wagner (1740-1811), who moved from Stuttgart to Esslingen in 1769. His workshop was the common origin of the Christian Wagner and Wilhelm Wagner metalware factories. “Gebrüder Wagner, Metallwarenfabrik, Esslingen am Neckar” (HRA 219) was registered in the Commercial Register of the Esslingen District Court from 1914 to 1966. In 1992, Christian Wagner moved from its old location in Esslingen to a new building in Deizisau. The Christian Wagner metalware factory, famous for its copperware, filed for bankruptcy in August 1995.

Martin also provided a few more photos of Wagner copper.

I’ve seen poissonières with those beautiful elaborate handles but I didn’t realize they were Wagner. There’s beautiful.

Readers, do any of you own Wagner? Can you add to this history?

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16 Comments

  1. Some time after my initial information, I researched again. I’m afraid the story of the company is not getting any easier. On the one hand, I learned that Wagner also supplied commercial kitchens, which means that they also produced goods of professional quality. But I did not have the opportunity to get to know them myself. Then I noticed that the distinctive fish tail, as well as the fish on the lid, both of which can be seen as handles of the fish kettle, can also be found on fish kettles distributed by Gebr. Schwabenland and stamped accordingly. The distinctive handle of the large pan of “B” undoubtedly bears some resemblance to the handles of Gebr. Schwabenland, although the connecting plate appears a bit sturdier and is fastened with no less than 5 rivets. Together with the auxiliary handle on the opposite side, the large saucepan should be safe to transport. Too bad reader “B” didn’t share the weight of the pan. This would allow further conclusions to be drawn regarding manufacturing quality. In any case, I now wonder if there were connections between the two German manufacturers, especially since their headquarters were in the same region.

    1. It’s a quandary because I cannot imagine a use for it. Should I get it retinned and then sell on eBay? We are trying to only keep stuff we actually use!!

      1. I have a 20 x 20 pan that I use to make vegetable soup, I only about a third fill & find the tall sides mean I can use a hand blender with no splatters escaping. It would be good for steaming Christmas puddings, you could get several in there & only use one burner. This one is big for a domestic kitchen, I would use it for storage, dry goods like rice and flour perhaps. I have yet to cook in my 28cm ordinary saucepan but it’s not going anywhere because I know I would regret selling it.
        If you do sell I would leave as is because tinning is expensive and I doubt that you will recoup the investment. Looking at the pictures it looks okay to use anyway so maybe baking soda and foil treatment to freshen it a bit.

      2. You got a stock pot bro. That’s what that is used for, and a big one at that.

        You will need at least three chicken carcasses to use. It will be heavy. No lid, no worries, you can top the water off as you go. You don’t boil stock.

        In numbers, I suppose it puts out around 180 ounces of stock. You will need a lot of mason jars to hold that amount in useable portions.

        If you have a family of six you can get a lot of use out of it. Typical stock portion in sauce for a serving is 50 – 70 ml.

        For us, 22cm stockpot is ideal as it produces about 60 days of stock. Stock is the most essential item for cooking as it is the basis of most sauces.

  2. Hey Brent, if my conversions are correct, 11.8 kg is a very high weight for a saucepan (without lid) measuring 30×30 cm. With a wall thickness of 1.8 mm, this means that at least the bottom must be significantly thicker, probably also the lower part of the side wall. Unusual for a saucepan are the proportions, they would rather fit a stockpot. But the handles are atypical for this category. Look at the reference dimensions on VFC (“buyer’s guide”). I did not find a heavier pan of corresponding size in my records either. If it weren’t for the darn Wagner stamp, I would have guessed Gebr. Schwabenland just because of the handle. This company would certainly have been able to make such a pan. They made even considerably larger pots (65-80 cm diameter in copper and aluminum). But since I do not know the professional pots/pans from Wagner, I have to pass.

    Congratulations on this find!

  3. According to this principle – only buy what is actually used in my kitchen – I also act. However, very special finds occasionally get me into trouble.
    If you want to go through the trouble and expense of re-tinning and then selling the pot, that will certainly please potential buyers. It would be easier to offer the pot in its current condition on eBay. There would be interested parties for that as well.
    In any case, this pot is something very special and should go into good collector hands.

  4. As a guide, one wants with lids; a pot set from 12 cm to 20 cm; two sautés, a 20 and 22 cm; two fry pans, an 8” and a 10.5”; one stock pot either 20 or 22; a 12 or 14 cm sugar pot; a 32 cm galette pan and a few gratinés, 20, 22 and 24 cm.

    This would make a complete set. It is mostly what I have. To achieve this will take either a lot of money or a lot of time, or both. Best to look for five pot sets that come up for sale.

    Why? Well, when making a braise of beef one may start in a 20 cm and finish in a 16 cm pot. The goal of the braise is to concentrate flavor, so the meat must just fit the pot to avoid diluting the moistening liquid which should cover the meat in the last half of cooking.

    All the close sizes do not make much sense to most today. That simple halfway step of switching to a smaller diameter pot makes a huge difference in flavor at the end.

    For this reason I think “braising pans” are just a gimmick, or for serving only, but close pot sizes in 2 cm increments are extremely useful in cooking.

    And then there’s that feeling of “hey, this pan has been used for a hundred years. I am just one of the many cooks to use it and another will use it after me.” One cooks everyday, so cook with something that works and makes you feel good to touch.

    1. Bob, that’s good solid advice. I’d encourage readers to consider a rondeau as an alternative to a sauté pan — for me, the short handles are easier to manage than the long stick handle of a sauté. But on the other hand it’s actually easier (in my experience) to find 3mm sauté pans in 20cm and 22cm than it is to find 3mm rondeaux.

  5. Bob, I’m not sure I understood your preparation recommendations correctly. Perhaps the terms used have different meanings depending on the country. “Braising” (French “braiser”, German “Schmoren”) I know as a cooking technique with little liquid. When a piece of meat is nearly or completely covered with liquid, I would use the term “stewing” or „simmering“ (French “cuisine”, German “Kochen” or „Simmern“) for this. Appropriate pots or pans with different heights or proportions are useful for the different cooking methods.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braising

    Example: Last Sunday I prepared a vension nut (a piece from the leg). Since my oven is currently having a problem, I did everything in a cocotte on the stove. First, the meat was briefly browned all around and then braised with a little liquid from drippings (fat) supplemented with some stock at low temperature and with the lid closed. Already after 15 minutes the desired core temperature of 60°C was reached. The stock, which I also needed for my side dishes, I had already prepared 2 days before. In short: Bone pieces and root vegetables were braised one after the other, then cooked together and completely covered with wine, broth and water in a pot for 2.5 hours. Then strain and reduce the stock a little more (boil down).

  6. It would seem that the choice of pans is a very personal/individual thing. I gain the impression that Bob has professional training & loves to make complex dishes. Probably classical French cuisine. Martin I guess is a self taught amateur, maybe learned the basics from a parent and loves to make the food traditional to his homeland as perfectly as he can. VFC is on that learning curve from assembler of meals to great cook & having good tools provides encouragement in that journey. I may have got you all wrong and mean no offense if I have.
    It puts me in mind of the long running radio show “Desert Island Discs” where the guest must choose 10 pieces of music to take with them when shipwrecked and justify their choices.
    My desert island pans would be rather different selection to Bob’s because I’m not much of a cook and lean towards the plain & simple. A composite guest post where we each provided a short list & explain the choices would be interesting & might be useful to anyone building a batterie.

    1. Roger, that’s a great idea. I’m putting together a “community post” to ask this question and solicit reader responses. Stay tuned!

      1. I was thinking along the lines of – we are boarding starship VFC to colonize a distant planet. You get a stove, a cast iron skillet & kettle to boil water. Choose the ten specific pieces of copper cookware to take with you & explain why.

  7. Roger, I’ve figured out some of the tricks of cooking on my own in the meantime, and I’m daring myself more and more to deviate from recipes and prepare my own variations. But does that make me an autodidact? After all, I had many excellent teachers who passed on their knowledge and experience to me through their cookbooks and videos. While these masters could not supervise my cooking themselves, my children and my friends did their job well too. A brilliant Englishwoman, Anne Willan, of all people, provided me with the basic tools for my “apprenticeship” over 25 years ago with her book “Complete Guide to Cookery”.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Willan

    From here it was not far to French cuisine, since Anne Willan also favored it and had founded the “École de Cuisine La Varenne” in France. My travels through France contributed their part to appreciate this cuisine and culture. But since I am at home in a tri-border region, with Switzerland and Austria as neighbors and Italy is also only 3 hours away by car, other influences enriched my culinary interests. In my kitchen, therefore, dominate cookbooks of French and Italian cuisine. When I travel, I love to get to know the dishes of other countries. This has also helped to break down many prejudices. So, after a short hesitation, I enjoyed a Scottish (probably also English) breakfast on Isle of Skye several times.

    At this point I would like to mention that the trips were only for experience and inspiration. I also like to be spoiled by other and better cooks. For example, for many years of my professional life, I was fortunate to be able to dine in a tiny restaurant run by a Turkish couple. I would describe their cuisine as “Mediterranean.” Since I liked everything there, at some point I left it up to the chef to choose a dish of the day for me. So for a long time, my own cooking was limited to weekends. I have only had real time and the joy of experimenting since I retired. So my apprenticeship is not yet over.

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