This must be one of the most photogenic arrays of copper on the Internet. It belongs to the kitchen of the château de Montgeoffroy near the town of Mazé in the Loire Valley of France.
The place has an interesting history. The castle’s website states that the property was owned in the 13th century by Geoffroy of Chateaubriand, presumably Geoffroy V (c. 1216-1262). I don’t know what happened in the succeeding centuries but by the 15th century the Grandière family owned the land and there was a residence described as a château. In 1676, Erasmus de Contades purchased the property and it has remained with the family to the present day.
The 18th century building that we see today is the work of his grandson Louis Georges Erasmus de Contades (1704-1795), a highly decorated maréchal in the army of France under Louis XV and Louis XIV. Louis Georges, born at Montgeoffroy, decided towards the end of his military career to renovate the property into his retirement home. In 1772 he commissioned a three-year project to construct a new château commensurate with his glorious military career. The structure retained the U-shape, moat, and twin round towers of the 15th century structure but was otherwise a “modern” 18th-century creation of the architect Jean-Benoît Vincent Barré. It is a lovely place with a long allée approach to a pleasingly symmetrical façade. The extensive wooded parklands remain intact.
The château de Montgeoffroy is a time capsule of 18th century French architecture and interior decoration. Most relevant to our interests is the kitchen with its wall of beautifully presented copper. Here is another view.
The château’s website features the detail photo below of a section of the hanging pieces. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not just referring to the taxidermied badgers. Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s what I see. (I added the numbers to the photo for reference.)
- This pan has what looks like a forged iron handle and what could be four rivets. I’d put this at early 1800s, perhaps late 1700s.
- The flat baseplate suggests this handle is forged also. I’d guess this is early 1800s.
- This baseplate is a little thicker, so I don’t think it’s forged. I suspect it’s wrought, but I’d have to take a closer look to be sure. I’d date this at early to mid 1800s.
- Another flat baseplate. I think it’s forged, and early 1800s.
- There’s that puffy cast iron baseplate we know so well! I’d put this piece at late 1800s, maybe early 1900s.
- To be honest I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with this one because the dark marks along the outer rim of the pan are hard to interpret. Is that a messy tin job? Could it be the remnants of an English-style tinning? I think the baseplate is small with rivets arranged in a triangle, but it’s also possible this is a very early antique pan with a forged baseplate that has cracked a bit. I can’t really be sure. If the lid hanging behind it truly is its mate, then they could be primitive (18th century) pieces.
- The baseplate is relatively flat and the rivets are narrow-set — I think this handle is forged or wrought. The hanging loop is closer to round than to a teardrop shape. I’d say this is an early 1800s piece and I’m not entirely confident it’s French.
- At first glance this pan looks a lot like 7, but compare the spread of the rivets. The pans are about the same size to my eye, but the rivets on this one (8) are spread farther apart than those on 7. 8’s rivets have the French aesthetic that I recognize. I think the handle is forged — that’s a rat-tail loop — and the piece is likely early to mid 1800s.
- This looks like an English piece to me. The arrow-shaped baseplate on both the pot and its lid look to me like the sharp-point English design, along with the short length of the lid’s handle. The dovetailing on the base also has much wider crenellations. The handle looks cast to me, so I’d put this at mid-1800s to early 1900s.
- There’s something going on with the lower edge of the baseplate. It looks like the notch I see on forged handles with a baseplate formed from cutting a slit into the shaft, spreading the pieces apart, and flattening them. But if that were the case I’d expect to see a rat-tail hanging loop, and yet the loop on this one looks like a clean cut (or cast) hole. So I’m just not sure. This pan has been through some things, though, as we can see in the patch repair to the pan’s chin. That spot on the base opposite the handle is usually where damage shows up on old heavily-used pans. Anyway, if this handle is forged, I’d put this piece at early to mid-1800s; if it’s cast, then mid to late 1800s.
- This one makes 10 look like a spring chicken. That’s a forged handle for sure — the baseplate is flat, and also it has the rat-tail hanging loop that I don’t see on 10. And if I am not mistaken here, this pan has at least one patch repair to an earlier patch repair. It’s actually sort of nice to see it — someone took the time to repair this at least three separate times. I’d estimate this piece at early 1800s.
- I had to tweak the settings on my photo editor to brighten up the handle area on this one, but it’s still a bit of a mystery. It looks like this had a semicircular handle riveted on at the very edge of the rim, subsequently removed and replaced with a simple ring handle mounted to a bracket using one of the rivet holes. I can’t figure out how this was used. Is it a serving platter? If so, it would have to be quite thick to have enough structural rigidity to support weight. Is it a sort of universal lid that could be placed on a stockpot or some other large pan? Perhaps, but without a functional handle it would be awkward to maneuver when it heated up. I just don’t know.
- The shape of the handle on this lid looks like the classic French aesthetic. I wish I could see the hanging loop a little more clearly, but at the moment I think this is a cast iron handle and therefore late 1800s into the 1900s. It’s had a significant repair, and it’s certainly possible that a recent-era cast iron handle was attached after an earlier handle failed.
- This looks like a forged handle to me. Look at the odd rivet pattern — there are two rivets closely spaced at the center of the lid. I haven’t seen this before and it’s either idiosyncratic to a maker I don’t know, or it’s quite early — late 1700s to early 1800s.
- Another lid with the same unusual handle as 14. The disk of this handle is differently crafted, however; both 14 and 15 are couvercles à degré with an indent around the rim, but 15’s indent is far more pronounced than that of 14. I think these lids are too early to have been stamped by machine, which means the rims were added by hand with a hammer. I’d guess 14 and 15 were made by different smiths and possibly different times as well. Of the two I’d guess 15 is a little younger, maybe early to mid 1800s.
- I don’t even have to see all of 16 to know what it is: it’s the lid for an oval cocotte. Scroll up to the very first photo in this post and look at the left end of the second shelf for the two oval-shaped pans standing up on their side — I think this lid might match the smaller of the two, the one on the far left. Without seeing the handle material I can’t really speculate on its age.
What strikes me is the variety, and bear in mind that what we see above is just a slice of what’s hanging on that wall. My assessment is that this assortment of copper was not assembled for the sake of appearances by an interior design consultant; I think these are actual pieces that this kitchen was using in the 18th and 19th centuries. I would not be surprised if several of the pieces hanging on the wall today date from the completion of the chateau’s construction in 1776.
The mystery for me is how this collection — if it is is original and authentic to the château — has stayed intact for two hundred and fifty years (and counting). How did Montgeoffroy survive the French Revolution? Did the castle’s western location spare it from the ravages of WWI and WWII? And on a more pedestrian note, what moved the family to preserve these fragile pieces, instead of chucking it all to upgrade to a sturdier 20th century batterie de cuisine? The family lives there to this day and I expect there are living quarters elsewhere in the complex, likely with a working kitchen outfitted with more modern conveniences. But perhaps the same instinct for reverence that compelled the family to preserve the 18th and 19th century furnishings also protected the historic kitchen as well.
All I know is that I’m glad that this place exists and that the family is sharing it with us. I hope they recognize the treasures they have hanging on the walls. If you’ve visited Montgeoffroy or are familiar with its history, I’d love to hear more about it.