Readers, I’d love your help to consider this mystery piece.
VFC says: Reader Alex came across this large stockpot at a brocante in France and reached out to me when he noticed that it has a “J de R” stamp similar to my Rothschild pieces. And yet, the stamping is odd…
I’ll reprint Alex’s email to me, as well as my response at the bottom.
“Condition is best described as ‘neglected’. I think it’s had water standing in it for some time at some point. The base feels thin to tap on it and it is dented and misshapen. (I do wonder how much drum skin acoustics make the base sound thin when tapped).”
“The handles are beautiful but very rusted. They are swing handles with tabs that engage against the copper to hold the handles outward. I’m not sure it would ever be intended to lift it when full. It’s volume is a touch under 100litres and it weighs 25kg by itself. Only 3/4 full it would weigh 100kg.”
“As to construction, the base is dovetailed. You might be able to see on the Portrait orientation photo [below], the sidewall dovetail running up behind the right hand fixing plate of the handle. Oddly, there is a second dovetail behind the left hand fixing plate. I can’t see any other vertical dovetails. It’s as if they had a large sheet, that wasn’t quite large enough, so they added in a thin strip.”
“All in, I’m not sure to what extent it is worth attempting to clean and restore it vs leaving it in its current state. I think the base would need cutting out and a new one cutting and brazing in. I’m not even sure if that’s possible.
“Hopefully you can make out the stamp. As I mentioned, it looks like the original stamp was…
• J DE R •
• I •
“Some time after, ‘P A R S 0’ was added. I’m stumped as to the 0. Is it number or letter?”
“It also appears as though someone started to use a punch or pointed hammer to try and obfuscate the stamping at some point, but then gave up when they realised it wasn’t working.
“Anyway. Would love to hear your thoughts on it. No idea when it was made, though I suspect it is old. Do you think it is a Rothschild family piece?
“I would also love to hear your thoughts as to what to do with it. There are decades, if not more, of tarnish and corrosion. Cleaning and polishing that off would be somewhat irreversible and I’m not sure how easily the handles would clean up.”
VFC says: The stamping is consistent with pieces I’ve identified as belonging to the household of Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868). I think the “PARIS 0” designates the piece for a Rothschild residence and the number zero is likely a kitchen identifier — a location on a shelf, perhaps.
After some consideration and close examination, I have come to agree with you that the J de R with dots was most likely stamped at the same time as the letter I with dots below. But I can’t come up with a solid theory as to why.
I’m starting to think a little more creatively about the origin of this piece. Most significantly, those handles don’t look French to me, but they do seem original to the piece (meaning, I don’t see evidence that the piece was drilled with a hole pattern for conventional French handles). It’s not out of the question that this pot was the work of a lesser-known French maker, and certainly there were 19th century makers working with iron handles on stockpots. But I would expect to see band-style handles — the spade-shaped baseplates and the handgrip design with the brace are like nothing I’ve seen before.
So, what if this piece is not French at all, but instead German? James moved from Frankfurt to Paris in 1812 when he was 19 years old. He lived first at a residence on rue Pelletier (about which I have been unable to find any information) and then in 1818 moved into much grander quarters at 19 rue Laffitte. What if James brought this piece with him from Germany as part of his household, and then it was re-stamped when he moved into his new residence? Another possibility could be his wife: he married his niece Betty in 1924, and she also moved from Frankfurt to Paris to join him. Could she have brought this as part of her marital household?
Mitigating against this, of course, is that James de Rothschild, even at 19 years old in 1812, could well afford to buy all new cookware in Paris. Would he have hauled something so mundane from Germany? And of course the ultimate question — could this piece be that old? Readers, what do you think?
Reader Martin has already engaged in a dialog in the comments on a post about another Rothschild piece — I’d like to invite him and other readers to pick up that thread here with the benefit of these photos and commentary.