“What a magnificent piece!”
VFC says: Please enjoy this marvelous post by Martin!
When I found this pan, my heart immediately jumped for several reasons. First of all there was the stamp of a Swiss coppersmith Anton Vesti from Davos Platz resort, who was completely unknown to me, supplemented with the year 1940, which is another rarity.
The stamp on the opposite side of the pan, which suggested a villa or a hotel as the owner and which was supplemented with the beautiful, symbolic name “Valsana” (healthy valley), immediately triggered a number of associations in my head and heart.
I used to be out and about in the Alps a lot, sometimes hiking on easy tours, sometimes mountaineering to more demanding destinations. Everyone knows the saying “the journey is the goal”, but if you are honest, you ideally want to reach the summit on a mountain tour. But the most important goal is a healthy return to the valley, i.e. to Valsana. After age and health increasingly limited me, I had to reorient myself and today I am content with cycling and swimming.
This pan, with its amazing weight, reminded me of my numerous tours in the Alps, my neighbors so to speak. I now like living in the valley and am grateful for what I experienced and for the luck I had on my tours with my friends and sometimes alone.
Dimensions and weight of the pan
The pan is 25.5 cm diameter by 15 cm tall, 2 mm at the rim, with hammered sides.
The base piece has been welded on and is 7 mm thick. The pan weighs 6.25 kg.
The handle is cast iron attached with 3 rivets.
The shape of the handle is reminiscent of early versions of “Schwabenland” pans. The straight course and the wider smooth shape offers a good possibility of support with the forearm when lifting. Without this option, I would have trouble lifting the pan.
There is one other small stamp worth mentioning: “Duro” (hard) in an oval. It probably indicates the durability of the pan. In fact, this pan is likely to last for generations.
The tinning is still surprisingly good. Maybe I’ll make a pot-au-feu or something else with long braising or cooking times in it, where the thick bottom should be an advantage.
Who was Anton “Toni” Vesti?
Of course, I wanted to find out more about this Anton Vesti, but my usual research methods were unsuccessful. So I sent an email to the Davos municipal office. Maybe someone there could help me. After all, he was a coppersmith and citizen of Davos. To my surprise, I received a reply from the head of the documentation library the very next day. The lady sent me a short but substantial article about Anton Vesti in the “Davoser Revue”, Volume 54, No. 4, 1979, pages 207ff. (Yes, the Swiss are that thorough!) There, Anton is lovingly called “Toni” and his interesting life story in difficult times is described. Even two photos are included in the article. The lady also mentioned that one of Vesti’s sons was a famous ski racer.
Anton Vesti was born in 1912 in Sargans, Canton St. Gallen. His apprenticeship was with Master Rubischung in Altdorf. After 3.5 years, he graduated with a very good grade. Then years of travel to gain more experience — a very difficult time due to the economic crisis in the 1930s.
First job with master Bärtsch in Chur. After six months Vesti had to move on due to lack of work. Vesti rode his “Velo” (Swiss word for bicycle) all over Switzerland, back and forth. Nowhere did he find long-term work. He had to settle for a tip and then move on. He could spend the night mostly in journeymen’s houses.
The last tour took the journeyman Vesti to the canton of Graubünden. His goal was the hotels there. In “Dorf” (district of Davos) he met a man who was loading copper goods onto a handcart. This encounter with the coppersmith Luzi Manzoni brought about the turning point. The history of the Manzoni clan has so far only been researched in fragments. But some of these coppersmiths are among the most important in Switzerland.
Manzoni hired Vesti in September 1935. Manzoni’s seven sons also worked in the workshop as coppersmiths. Just one year later, Manzoni moved to Arosa and offered the young coppersmith Vesti his house, stables, and workshop for sale. With the help of parents, siblings and friends, Vesti was able to take the risk in 1936.
In the hotel kitchens there was a lot of copper dishes to be repaired and re-tinned. Mountains of casseroles were picked up and processed. As a trained coppersmith, Vesti also made his own pots. But the competition was fierce, forcing Vesti to look for ajob with a plumber three days a week.
Vesti met his future wife Anna Beck on a sleigh ride. They married in autumn 1941. Six of their own children and one godchild were raised in they home, Villa Lydia. “My husband was always first and foremost a craftsman; he was always thirty years behind with the awards for his work,” said Ms. Vesti. So she also had to take care of her husband’s business to make ends meet for the family. The interviewer and author of the article in the Davoser Revue finally advised Vesti: “Toni, stop tinning and create something new!”
Vesti continued to be active for a few more years, as evidenced by a 1984 roasting dish. I do not know when Anton Vesti died.
The journey to Villa Valsana
During my first research, the search engine virtually forced me to Arosa and the Hotel Valsana there. On the web I could find a lot of information and some old photos about this 4 star sport hotel with its 100-year history, but no reference to a “Villa Valsana.” My imagination created a villa in my mind’s eye, which could have been either the origin of this hotel or at least an outbuilding for the management of the hotel. To verify this assumption, I contacted the hotel management and received a very friendly answer only a few days. Consultation had been held with the CEO of the hotel group in Zurich, as he has the deepest insight into the history of the Arosa hotels. In fact, there was a outbuilding called “Villa Valsana”, but it served as a staff building. At times it also housed the laundry. Although the Hotel Valsana has a lot of stamped copper and silver, a stamp with Villa Valsana is unknown. After all, my guess was not completely off the mark.
Since the Swiss search engine with the funny name www.swisscows.com didn’t give any better results either, I had to develop another strategy.
At some point I came across two postcards, one dated 1914, showing a chalet called Villa Valsana, Valzeina. By the way, also the name Valzeina means “healthy valley”.
The place Valzeina could be found quickly. Valzeina is a scattered settlement in the area of Prättigau/Davos, Canton Graubünden (Grisons). The region was first settled by Rhaeto-Romans and later by Walsers. Even today, Rhaeto-Romanic is spoken there in addition to Schwitzer German. Many place names point to this origin.
With the help of digitized maps and on satellite and aerial photographs, I found not only the parcel Valsana, but also a building erected on it.
Aerial photographs allowed me to travel back in time from 1945 to 2020. The building later identified as Villa Valsana can first be seen in 1955 and most recently with some changes in 2019.
On the historical maps of Valzeina, which were drawn up between 1880 and 1957, the building we were looking for was not yet to be found. However, the inscription obscured some of the details. By comparing the images on various postcards with current photos and aerial photos, the building could be clearly identified.
The most helpful photo I could take from a 2017 tour report on www.flickr.com. On it you can see the high degree of consistency of architectural details, although the villa had been renovated and expanded at some point. The roof was renewed and now harmoniously covers the balcony reminiscent of a winter garden on the east side of the house, and a newly added winter garden on the west side of the house. On this side the building was additionally enlarged by an extension. The windows were newly glazed and three of the windows on the south side were decorated with small gables. However, all the main historical style elements and woodwork were preserved. Villa Valsana is a house built in the “Swiss style”.
Swiss chalet style (German: Schweizerstil, Norwegian: Sveitserstil) is an architectural style of Late Historicism, originally inspired by rural chalets in Switzerland and the Alpine (mountainous) regions of Central Europe. The style refers to traditional building designs characterised by widely projecting roofs and facades richly decorated with wooden balconies and carved ornaments. It spread over Germany, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, Italy, France and Scandinavia during the Belle Époque era.
The style is characterized by:
- gabled roofs with wide eaves;
- the “Swiss gable”, a floating gable set in front of the gable;
- balcony resembling a winter garden; roofed, partly open to the garden side, partly closed with windows placed side by side;
- exposed construction beams, including large brackets;
- decorative carving and moldings;
- weatherboarding, usually painted, often in bright colors.
Villa Valsana is large and representative enough to have a well equipped kitchen. Davos is only about an hour’s drive away. Valzeina, by the way, was already accessible by postal bus in 1928 and thus also connected to the excellent Swiss railroad network. The residents of Villa Valsana could therefore have commissioned pans from Anton Vesti, Davos.
Since the house has been maintained for over 100 years and the characteristic architectural style with the wood carvings has been preserved, I assume that the chalet remained in the possession of one family for all these decades and was used as a vacation home. In order to find out even more about Villa Valsana and to be able to conclusively determine the former affiliation of my pan to the kitchen of this house, I would probably have to travel to Valzeina myself. But currently I am content to have the pan integrated into my collection as a greeting from the Alps.
VFC says: Martin, thank you so much for this lovingly researched and beautifully photographed post! The Vesti pan is gorgeous, and with its ultra-thick base, also a fantastic cooking tool. As you note, that “Duro” stamp seems likely to have referred to that extra thickness. This piece is in lovely shape and looks to be built for many more years of service. Congratulations on the acquisition, and thank you for bringing the story of Anton Vesti to light!