Where did these distinctive handles come from?
I always look carefully at handles because I think their design and placement is one of the few distinctive and deliberate design choices available to the maker (and buyer, for that matter). This gives me hope that a piece’s handle characteristics could be a means to identify the maker. One distinctive design I’ve had my eye on is the one shown above, with its heart-shaped brackets. (To my eye the handle looks like a cartoon dog’s bone, which explains the nickname I’ve given this shape.) Surely such a distinctive design would have been the proud hallmark of a coppersmith seeking to differentiate his wares from competitors!
Alas, I think the situation is more complex. I’ve found three examples of dog-bone handles on pieces with different stamps. I’d like to show them to you and offer some thoughts.
This stockpot from my collection has a dog-bone lid stamped for Personne, a 19th century Parisian chaudronnier that forms part of the lineage for Dehillerin. The text mark is a simple arch reading “Personne a Paris.”
I first find mention of this company in commercial listings in 1843 at 22 Rue Pagevin in Paris. Rue Pagevin is one of many now-vanished streets in Paris that succumbed to city planning; it was demolished in 1880 to make way for the expansion and extension of the thoroughfare Rue Étienne Marcel. The website Vergue provides some history that helps paint a picture of this street and its neighborhood.
This area of the city is in the 1er arrondissement, just to the west of Les Halles, the (also vanished) food market. The original narrow street stretching from Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Place des Victoires had three sections: Rue Verdelet, Rue Pagevin, and finally Rue du Petit Reposoir. In 1849, the three sections were consolidated into Rue Pagevin; Personne, at number 22 in 1843, would have been located on that original Pagevin stretch in the middle block.
In 1854, just a few years after the consolidation, Personne was listed not at 22 but instead at 34 Rue Pagevin. This may have been an administrative street renumbering rather than a physical relocation, as my read of records for the street suggests that number 34 was located almost at the corner of Rue des Vieux Augustins on the same original middle stretch. By 1857 the company had expanded to 5 and 34 rue Pagevin, but it seems possible that these two properties were close to each other, perhaps even across the street: numbers on the even side spanned 2 to 48, but numbering on the odd side spanned only 1 to 15 and seems to have begun only on the second block of Pagevin.
The photo at right, taken in 1868, gives us a feel for this street. The vantage point (as shown in the street map above) looks northwest from the origin of Pagevin at the corner of rue Jean-Jaques Rousseau. The even side is on the right; number 34 would have been on the far end of the second visible block. The odd numbers on the left side don’t seem to begin until the second block, and so number 5 may have been somewhere along the same section as number 34.
In 1870, after 27 years in operation, Personne was acquired by the chaudronnerie Lagaldie Frères, possibly as a workshop to support Lagaldie’s storefront at the prime real estate at 1 Rue Montmartre a few blocks away. But Rue Pagevin was not long for this world: the ambitious restructuring of streets in the area required the complete demolition of the neighborhood. The first two blocks of Pagevin were razed in 1880 and the final block was demolished in 1884. I do not know what provision was made for the residents and businesses along the street, but Lagaldie Frères closed its doors in 1882. Lagaldie’s fonds de commerce (its name, property, and attendant lineage and business relationships) was acquired by Bastid & Fonrouge who then in 1885 sold Lagaldie (with its lineage from Personne) and its storefront at 1 Rue Montmartre to an ambitious young chaudronnier named Eugène de Hillerin. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Steve Nash at FrenchAntiquity on Etsy listed a beautiful stockpot with dog-bone lid and side handles. The stamp on pot and handle reads “Soliliage 50 R. de Rennes Paris.”
With Steve’s permission, I reprint his research as follows:
In 1845, the Soliliage chaudronnerie was first listed at 73 Rue Mouffetard. In the mid 1800s, Paris was quickly expanding, and Rue de Rennes in Paris, one of the great Haussmannian building-works, was scheduled to be built all the way from the Seine to the Gard Montparnasse, which was inaugurated in 1852. The 1st of the added sections, from the Gard to Rue Notre Dame des Champs, was built from 1854. The second section was then added in 1868, up to Boulevard Saint Germain where no 41 was located. As for the 3rd section, scheduled from no. 1 to 40, it was never done.
The Soliliage location of 50 Rue de Rennes still existed after 1868 and was shown on a postcard sent in 1905. The Soliliage nameplate is shown above the arch in the Cour du Dragon whose entrance is at 50 Rue de Rennes. This 7m wide passage was created in 1735, bordered by shops, and by around the 1790s, housed many chaudronneries, sheet-metal workers, plumbers, and scrap metal merchants.
Although classified in 1920, the Cour du Dragon was demolished in 1934. So the “Soliliage 50 R. de Rennes Paris” stamp is therefore possible from around 1868 to early 1930s. The French seller told me that Soliliage had closed its doors in 1925 but I can see no evidence of it.
Reader Bryan P. has a stockpot with a dog bone handle — or rather, a close variant with slightly softer contours.
The stamp on Bryan’s piece reads “Richard 70 Rue de Provence,” which according to my research points to a single specific year: 1880. There was a chaudronnier Richard in Paris from 1873 to 1886 at 26 Rue Schomer (renamed Rue Jules-Guesde in 1928) in the 14th arrondissement in the southern suburbs of Paris. In 1880, and for that single year alone, there appears a second listing for “Richard, chaudronnier, 70 Rue de Provence,” located more centrally in the 9th arrondissement. Then, after a one-year gap, there appears from 1882 to 1885 a different second listing for Richard at 5 Rue Lécuyer a few miles north in the 18th arrondissement. Finally, in 1886, there was only Richard at the original 26 Rue Schomer address, and thereafter no chaudronniers Richard at all.
I believe the Paris business listings to be correct, if sometimes imprecise — that is, Richard most likely did have storefront at 70 Rue de Provence but it could have been open for a few years prior to or after 1880.
This is what I believe my research suggests.
- Personne existed from 1843-1870.
- Soliliage existed from 1863-1930.
- Richard existed from 1873 to 1886 (and the stamp on Bryan’s piece suggests a brief period around 1880).
All three of these entities placed their stamps on pieces with dog-bone handles. What are some possible explanations?
They all purchased handles from the same supplier. Casting brass handles appears to me to be a different manufacturing process than planishing and bending copper sheet metal; it seems possible, and even likely, that handle-making was a distinct industry from chaudronnerie. Perhaps the chaudronniers were similar to present-day automakers: just as buyers today accept (and likely don’t care) that Fords and Chevrolets contain entire sub-assemblies from the same suppliers, so too a buyer of cookware in the 1880s or so didn’t notice or care that the handles from one maker were identical to those of another.
One of them made copper that the other two resold. I am coming to appreciate that in 19th century European cookware industry there were many small étameurs in addition to the production chaudronniers. To use another automotive industry analogy, consider that there are automobile manufacturers, dealerships with repair departments, independent repair shops, and even maintenance companies who have contracts with car rental and trucking companies to service the fleet. I am coming to suspect that the copper cookware industry in Paris towards the end of the 19th century had similar tiers: the big chaudronneries had factories and storefronts; smaller makers continued hand-making pieces until they were acquired and absorbed by the bigger mechanized makers; independent étameurs maintained small workshops to retin and repair pieces; and then there were restaurant supply stores that provided whatever a busy professional kitchen needed, from linens to refrigerators to monthly retinning and repair. The challenge for me in the present day is that I can’t easily tell them apart. It’s straightforward for the big names, of course, but it’s hard to figure out the capabilities of a company from a listings over a few years in the telephone directory.
None of them made copper and the true maker remains unknown. There were scores of small chaudronniers in mid-19th century Paris that could have produced this piece. While I’m increasingly confident that this handle style was in production in the latter half of the 19th century, the truth is that copper stamps are straightforward to apply (and remove, for that matter).
Readers, what do you think? Have you seen pieces like these that could provide more clues?