Cooking with copper

Kitchens with copper: Frýdlant Castle, Czech Republic

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This historic kitchen is a valuable find for copper detectives.


I have reader Al G. to thank for drawing my attention to Frýdlant Castle in the Czech Republic.

The castle is quite interesting. It has three segments, each built centuries apart and each inhabited in turn by only three sets of owners. All of the interiors were left quite intact, as the inhabitants migrated serially among them over time. The first segment was built about the 13th century, the second about 16th century, and the last about 18th century. I visited several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the docents were amazing and represented many of the original staff, down to a resident falconer and falcons.

This was not a large castle, yet I fell in love with the intact — not recreated — working kitchen’s interior and particularly the original copper it contained. It remains the largest documented intact vintage collection that I have seen in person.

When I began examining the photos of the kitchen’s copper collection, curiosity and appreciation quickly turned to deep interest: this collection is an exhibition of what I believe to be German or Austrian copper, and the agglomeration of so many pieces provides enough examples to characterize the overall aesthetic as expressed across multiple makers. It’s like looking at a large flock of birds: we can recognize different species within a common genus. The emergent patterns within the collection inspired me to take time to examine every piece I could see clearly and the result is this rather long post.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • I think this copper collection represents pieces from Central European (German/Austrian) coppersmiths in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
    • The kitchen was “set up in the 19th century” but the castle does not represent the copper as 19th century; to my eye the majority of pieces look early to mid 20th century but a few items could be older.
  • The pieces with projecting stick handles exhibit a consistent design aesthetic with two common elements:
    • A compact bar-shaped baseplate that is narrower in span around the pot, thinner in height, and flatter in profile than the French oval baseplate.
    • Straight-contour handle shafts with little to no taper from baseplate to hanging loop and a perfectly flat or only slightly curved profile.
  • Lids and swing-handled pieces have a flat handle baseplate in a spade-like shape (♠) attached with three rivets in a triangular arrangement.
  • Minor differences enabled me to distinguish five styles that I believe represent different makers, but I don’t have any information to identify them.

The bottom line? I think this is the German/Austrian design aesthetic for 19th and 20th century copper cookware. If I’m correct, this information is a tremendous gift to me and other “copper detectives” trying to identify the origin of antique copper.

This gift comes to us from a few people that I’d like to thank. Reader Al G. inspired this piece; photographer Tessa Enright graciously shared her high-resolution photographs that enabled a detailed examination of the copper; and readers Martin and Arndt provided the 1922 catalog for the German coppersmith Gebrüder Schwabenland from which I drew information. Thank you for your inspiration and assistance.

Now let’s take a closer look at this lovely castle and its kitchen.

The story of Frýdlant is of the power of location. The town is in Bohemia, the northern region of the present-day Czech Republic, just a few miles from Germany and Poland. (Frýdlant is also rendered in German as Friedland.) The region is a pivot point around which regional powers have revolved for centuries. Mountains to the east, a river flowing to the north, and the Via Regia (“King’s Road”) coming through from Russia to Spain made the town a key trade stopover and a strategic territory for military forces seeking to control a crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe.

Sometime around 1014 the town built a sturdy round tower — a bergfrit — atop a basalt promontory overlooking the river to serve as a lighthouse for travelers and a lookout for invaders. Over the subsequent centuries the property changed hands many times: In the 13th century the region was controlled by the Ronovci family, and around 1241 they augmented the bergfrit with a fortress to help protect the town from invading Tatars. In 1278, King Ottokar II seized and sold the property to the the Biberštejn family, a key military ally who would help hold off the neighboring Habsburgs. The Biberštejns held the castle for three hundred years and continued to expand and improve it.

By the 16th century, family disputes divided the Biberštejns and diminished their power and in 1558 the property was again sold by the crown, this time to the Redern family. In 1582, the Rederns launched a vast expansion and reconstruction project, hiring an Italian builder to create a second palace on the property in the Renaissance style. The result is “Frýdlant Castle and Château”: a medieval-era fortress (the “castle”) built around the 12th century bergfrit, overlooking a Renaissance-era palace (the “château”).

Wars, assassinations, and more wars in the 17th and 18th centuries saw the castle change hands several times. In 1757 the castle passed to the Clam-Gallas family and in 1801 they opened the castle to the public as the first such museum in Europe. The map below — dated circa 1850 — shows the compound from above. The left side, the high ground, is the 13th century medieval castle and 12th century bergfrit; on the right side, at a lower elevation, is the newer L-shaped Renaissance-era château. The photo on the right is a present-day photo showing the site in approximately the same orientation.

The town was considered part of the Austrian region of Bohemia until 1918 when the Austrian monarchy fell and the territory became the country of Czechoslovakia. In 1938, Czechoslovakia was invaded by Germany to become the Sudetenland; at the end of WWII, the region was restored to Czechoslovakia and the German-Bohemian residents were expelled. In 1945 the castle was nationalized as property of the Czech state.

In the present day, the castle and château remain one of the premier historic destinations in the country, and to our great good fortune, the interior — to include the kitchen — is preserved.

The only photographs I could find of the kitchen were taken by photographer Tessa Enright. I reached out to her and she very generously sent me her original high-resolution files. With these, I can zoom in and examine details that are not preserved in the Internet versions. She also shared a photo of the tour guide sheet with additional information about the kitchen. Tessa, thank you again for your generosity — this collection is extraordinary and your photos give us an opportunity to experience and appreciate it.

Let’s start on the right side of this kitchen, where the large stove is located. According to the tour guide,

The kitchen was set up in the 19th century. This is an original large stove. A part of this large stove is a warm water system which supplied the bathroom [with] warm water.

Next to there is a small stove, then a smoking chamber and a grill.

In this kitchen there is also the biggest collection of copper dishes in the Czech Republic.

In the corner you can see the sink.

There are copper pieces tucked all over in this photo. Thanks to Tessa, we can zoom in and see the details.

In the foreground, on the table, are two lined mixing bowls and an unlined sugar pan. I suspect the sugar pan is French — or at least, made in the French style — but the bowls are not. Look closely at their handles. The French style would be to attach a brass handle — a D-shaped anse such as you’d see on a stockpot, or perhaps a loose ring anneau set within a riveted bracket. But the handles on these bowls are quite different: a piece of dark metal (possibly iron) has been shaped into an open loop with its ends flattened and riveted snug up under the rim of the bowl.

The bowls also look different than the French style. I see a rolled rim, but it is much smaller than those I see on French pieces. The reinforcing ring within the rim must be a smaller diameter than those used in French pieces.

Moving to the right in the photo, in the corner behind the stove, is a side table laden with pans, and more pieces are hanging above.

We can get a decent view of the handles of the pans. The baseplate is a slender horizontal band with a smooth semicircular profile with three or four rivets polished flush to the surface. The handle shaft sprouts at an angle from the baseplate and describes a very slight curve. I recognize them: They look quite a lot like the work of A. Fauser & Sohn in Vienna.

Compare this to the French style: the rounded lozenge baseplate, three protruding rivets, a tapered handle shaft with a teardrop loop. The differences are instantly recognizable once you know what to look for, and I am coming to suspect that this style could represent an Austrian aesthetic.

For this post, let’s call this Style 1.

I’m not sure what the large rectangular objects are hanging against the wall, but those silver ovals are lifting platforms for deep pots. We will see a few candidates later as we move across the room.

Next, moving to the left, there is a set of wall-mounted shelves on the right side of the window bay.

That row of slender silvery pots with protruding handles are copper bains maries à sauce. These would be set inside a caisse à bain marie, a broad shallow pan much the same size and shape as a roasting pan but with compact swing handles instead of protruding anses. The caisse was filled with a few inches of water and set on the stove, and individual bains maries were set within to keep warm. These pots are silver-colored because they’ve been tinned on the outside as well as the inside. This served a pragmatic purpose: copper pots sitting in the water bath would tarnish and the coating of tin prevented this.

These pots look similar to the Style 1 pans in the photo above but they are not the same. In fact, to my eye there appear to be two types — let’s zoom in on the two pots at the left end of the shelf.

Most of the pots in the row look like the pot on the left, with a bar-shaped baseplate similar to Style 1 but with a narrower spread. The rivets are not flush-set but catch the light and appear to protrude slightly. The handle shaft is also set at a different angle and after the initial curve extends straight out from the pan. We will see more of these — let’s called this Style 2. 

But the pot next to it has fatter — and flatter — baseplate. The handle appears to widen at the end to accommodate a hanging loop. Let’s call this Style 3.

As we scan to the left, we come to a shelf below the window bay with a row of three poissonières, and a small table with interesting round domed pan.

We have a good view of the poissonière handles and they are not in the French style that I recognize. All three are swing-style: a handgrip is mounted to a bracket so that it can fall flat against the pan when not in use. Each handle baseplate looks different to my eye, but they all appear to have a baseplate with three rivets mounted in an inverted triangle orientation. (Also of interest, the example on the left has side-mounted lid handles, suggesting that the lid could be flipped over and used for presentation.)

To the left of the poissonières is an unusual round pan that I haven’t seen before. There seems to be some kind of clamp or bracket on the side, perhaps to keep the lid attached. I’m not sure what this is. Readers, have you seen this before?

Continuing to the left, we see the left-side window bay with these three items.

The item on the left is an odd piece: it is shaped somewhat like a wide poissonière but the lid has a hinge so that it can swing halfway open at the midline. It has the same iron swing handle and triangular copper baseplate that I see on the poissionières earlier. I have never seen an item like this in the French catalogs, but here it is in the Gebr. Schwabenland 1922 catalog: it is a Bratenwärmer, or roast warmer, “made of sheet steel, welded and tinned, extra strong, with a two-part removable hinge lid and a large perforated insert base.”

What a fantastic concept: it’s related to a poaching pan, but the inner platform would presumably not rest flat on the floor to submerge the food in the liquid but rather sit suspended some height above. I’m surprised the French batterie de cuisine does not contain something similar to this; I’ve scoured the French catalogs at my disposal but while the French devote serious attention to the art of steaming, this simple stovetop concept does not seem to have caught on.

In the middle is a side-handled braising pan with distinctive characteristics that I will designate Style 4. The baseplate is a small triangle shape with three protruding rivets; the handle shaft has an initial narrow-radius curve and then extends perfectly straight away from the pan. About an inch or so above the floor of the pan is a bump in the copper running in a ring around the circumference. I’m not sure what purpose the bump serves, but my best guess is that it is there to enable one pot to be set atop another, like a double-boiler. Readers, what do you think?

The third item on the right appears to me to be a chafing platform: an upper platform to support a platter of food, with candles or some other small heat source placed underneath to keep the food warm.

Beneath the window bay is another shelf of copper. I brightened up the photo a bit to bring out the details of the pans.

Left to right, I see two nested rectangular pans — one possibly a caisse à bain marie, though I think I see projecting side handles instead of the swing handle I would expect on a French piece. (That said, there’s no functional difference that I can see between a roasting pan and a caisse.) In the middle of the group is an oval roasting pan, and I spot an iron handle with a wrap-around split baseplate — we will see more of this style in the photos to come. Finally, on the right in this group is a large saucepan. The baseplate is hard to make out, but take a good look at the set and shape of the handle shaft extending off to the left. It’s too straight to be Style 1 (the Austrian style); the angle of the shaft looks more like Style 2 than Style 3 to my eye, but I suspect there could be some optical distortion going on that makes it hard to judge. Readers, perhaps you can revisit this as we see more examples as we go on.

With that, let’s move to Tessa’s photo showing the left side of the kitchen, which offers an additional wealth of copper. I see more examples of the three styles we saw in the photos above. Let’s dive in.

The high shelf of pots presents a wealth of copper. What at first glance looks like a uniform row of saucepans and sautés presents, at closer examination, multiple different handle styles. I recognize a few of them from the examples we’ve already seen but there is what appears to be an additional fifth style as well.

With this angle and lighting we can see additional characteristics. Below, I’ve zoomed in and brightened areas of the photo so we can examine the details.

Style 2: Narrow bar-shaped handle baseplate, protruding rivets, narrow-radius transition from baseplate to handle, straight handle shaft set at slight incline. (I think this is the same style as the majority of the tinned bains maries we see on the other side of the room.)
Style 3: Bar-shaped baseplate that looks flattened. The handle is straight and set at a higher angle compared to Style 2. (I think there is one bain marie of this style, as shown earlier in this post.)
Style 4: There’s that distinctive “bumper” in the copper about an inch or two above the base. Look at the profile of the handle: the Style 4 example we saw earlier had a triangular baseplate and this profile view comports with that. Note the abrupt angle from baseplate to handle and the straightness of the handle shaft.
Style 5: This is a new style. It looks quite similar to Style 3 above — the flattened baseplate looks virtually identical — but the curve of the handle from baseplate to shaft is much more gradual. The curved handle shaft tempts me to call this Style 1, but the baseplate doesn’t have the right shape or span. For these reasons I’m designating this Style 5.

Now let’s look at the row of hanging saucepans underneath the high shelf.

To my eye, these are a mix of Style 3 and Style 5, differentiated by the degree of curve of the handle shaft. The odd one out is the one at the extreme left end. The baseplate looks like the triangular baseplate of Style 4, but the other examples of that style also have a protruding copper “bumper” and this sauteuse évasée does not have it. At the moment I am inclined to think it is indeed Style 4 but was not given a “bumper” because the flared shape of the pot served the same purpose.

Now we look to the right, at the row of sauté pans hanging on the opposite side of the shelves. This photo gives us a top-down view of (at least) two handle styles: one is slender at the baseplate and widens very sightly to a small hanging loop, while the other is wide at the baseplate and narrows very slightly to a large hanging loop at the end of the shaft. (By comparison, the classic French handle narrows and widens along a curve, and English handles do not change width at all.)

My guess at this time is that the slender handle is Style 5. It’s hard to judge from this angle but the way the light falls on the handle shaft looks to me as through the shaft has a gentle curve to it, as we see in Style 5. That said, there are some very subtle differences in the width of the handle shaft, and some of them could be a different style. I just can’t tell from this angle.

The wide handle looks quite flat on its upper surface, similar to Style 2 and Style 3. But look back at the tinned bains maries we saw earlier: that photo gives us an end-on perspective of its handle, and  you will see that the Style 3 bain marie also has a large hanging loop. Considered together, the end-on photo of the bain marie, the side photo of the saucepans, and this top-down photo of the sauté pans give us a complete view of Style 3.

Now let’s look at the row of lids hanging below the sautés.

Right away it’s clear that these are not in the French style. First and foremost, there are three rivets instead of two — the baseplate is flattened to create surface area for two rivets near the edge, whereas the slender French style has room only for one. And while the French style is to extend the baseplate to a rivet at the geometric center of the lid, these baseplates do not increase in size with the diameter of the lid. While the diameter of the largest lids is easily two or three times that of the smallest, the baseplates are not two or three sizes larger.

When I scan along the row I see something similar to what I observed with the top shelf of saucepans: at first glance they look all the same, but on closer examination, the differences emerge. Some handle baseplates are absolutely identical while others have a slightly wider or narrower “neck” towards the single rivet. I interpret this as reinforcement of my theory that the shape of these handles was the prevailing German/Austrian design aesthetic at the time, and we are seeing lids from a few different makers in this array. For its part, Gebr. Schwabenland in 1922 offered lids with a very similar baseplate shape, as shown at right.

Were these handles cast or forged? At first glance, that flattened baseplate looks like it was forged — that is, hammered over an anvil — but the hanging loops are too consistent across pieces to be hand-shaped, and the overall surface texture is too smooth. I think these are cast iron handles intentionally made to resemble an earlier design from the forged iron era. If they are in fact cast, and if cast iron became widely available in Central Europe around the same time as in France, this suggests that these pieces are mid- to late-19th century or younger.

Below the array of hanging pots and lids is a shelf with some larger pieces, and we get some good head-on photos of the handles.

On the left is a roasting pan with open-loop handles similar to those that we saw on the mixing bowls earlier. I also spy three Style 4 pieces with their distinctive ring around the base — the two saucepans and the large unlined stewpot on the far right. The smaller roasting pan — possibly a caisse à bain marie — has a swing handle with a triangular baseplate that is about the same size as the triangular baseplate on the two Style 4 saucepans next to it. Could they be from the same maker?

The one mystery piece in this array is the jam pan second from right. We can only see its handles in profile, and while they have the same open handle loop and split baseplate as on the roasting pan and mixing bowls, the baseplate looks more refined to my eye. I suspect these are of the same make as Style 2.

Summary

I began this post with my findings and I’ll repeat them here: I think this collection gathers together the work of multiple makers in Germany and Austria who were manufacturing pieces according to a prevailing design aesthetic.

  • On pieces with projecting stick handles, a compact bar-shaped baseplate and a straight-contour handle shaft with little to no taper and a perfectly flat or slightly curved profile.
  • Lid handles and swing handles with a spade-shape (♠) baseplate attached with three rivets in a triangular arrangement.

I plan to apply this information as I assess unstamped pieces. In particular, the distinctive Style 4 pans with the copper “bumper” will be easy to spot. Of course I wish I knew the actual makers of the pieces at Frýdlant, but to do that would require examining the pieces in person. Readers, if you have the opportunity to do so, I’d be very grateful if you’d report back!

I’d like to close with thanks, again, to the people who made this possible: Al G. for proposing this site, Tessa Enright for giving me the photos that made such close examination possible, and Martin and Arndt for teaching us all about German copper. Thank you!

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6 Comments

  1. I think the domed oval container with the catch on the side may be a spice box. I have not seen one in copper but toleware examples turn up quite regularly.

  2. Wow!! So much research and so thoughtfully and clearly presented! I need to re-read a time or two to absorb all of this new information. Thank you so much!

  3. I’m in a hurry: the “bumpers” that are machined into the side wall of some pans like a ring can serve two purposes. One, you can stack pans, with the bottom pan serving as a water bath to keep the contents of the top pan warm. Now look at the huge stove top. You will notice several rings in the center of increasing size. These rings can be taken out one by one. The more rings that are removed, the larger the hole. Then very large pans can be hung over the fire. The bumper limits the depth of the hanging. Conversely, the more rings inserted, the smaller pans can be hung. I still saw such stoves at my grandparents.

  4. I have often seen oval containers in various sizes and with a curved lid hinged to the side. Whether they were made of copper or sheet metal, however, I can not remember. I would describe them as multipurpose containers. Although you could also store large loaves of bread in them, you should then pay attention to a certain ventilation, otherwise there is a risk of mold.

  5. I am glad that VFC, a site originally dedicated exclusively to kitchen copper from France, opened the borders and always presents copper from other countries in Europe (eg, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain). Even though probably the most important producers of kitchen copper are in France, high quality pans made of copper were also produced in other countries in Europe. I suspect there is more to discover here.

    As we can see in this wonderful new post, copper treasures were also preserved for posterity in the Czech Republic.
    “Frýdlant”: The German name “Friedland” could be translated into English as follows: enclosed land, pacified land, peaceful land. A beautiful name, in my opinion.

    VFC, as always, inspected every detail of the pans on display. Not a rivet, not a bend, not the slightest variation in design could escape the eagle’s eye. So I could hardly add anything and can only confirm the assumption that the copper presented in this castle shows great similarity especially with the products of Fauser & Sohn, Vienna, and likewise similarities with products of Gebr. Schwabenland, Germany. Since the Kingdom of Bohemia was once part of the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria, Bohemia, Hungary), it is not surprising to find products in Frydland castle that came from a supplier to the Viennese court. However, I suspect that a collection of copper items was assembled here, only some of which were owned by the original owners of the castle. Rather, I assume that the Czech state, i.e. the current owner, uses the magnificent ambience of the small chateau to present historical copper from other sites as well.

    1. Martin, thank you for your kind words, but more importantly, thank you for your contributions to this site and to this community to broaden our horizons beyond French copper to English, German, and Austrian. As to my eagle eye, I did spend quite some time peering at the photos, but I invite readers to look as well to help spot details that I missed. (And thanks again to Tessa Enright who makes it possible for us all to see these details!)

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