My buying mistakes

My buying mistakes

Regrets, I’ve had a few.

I’ve bought a lot of copper online but I don’t love all of it. In the interest of sparing you some expensive mistakes, here are some examples and the lessons I’ve learned. (I’m going to keep adding to this, so check back for more.)


16cm silver-lined Windsor

This shall be my inaugural example because I’m still mad at myself about it.

My buying mistakes

What it is: A pretty little 16cm diameter Windsor lined with silver.

The problem: It is .7mm thick. Yes, you read that right — this pan is not even 1mm thick. That is not a lot of copper, which makes this pan at best a niche cooking tool and at worst a display curio. For me, it’s ended up being an expensive reminder to do the math before I buy or bid.

Why I bought it: Inexperience, in that I failed to recognize warning signs in the description that the pan was thin. The seller provided accurate measurements but left out something important. Here’s the information from the actual listing. Can you tell what’s missing?

Approximate Measurements:

6.25″ upper diameter
4.75″ base diameter
3″ pan depth
7mm rolled upper rim thickness
weight is approximately 1.3 pounds

So, how thick is the copper? For a rolled-rim pot like this, the thickness of the rolled rim and weight don’t tell you that, because they both include the iron ring running inside the rim. In the case of this specific pan, the rolled rim is 7mm thick, which sounded great to me. I knew the pan would not be as thick as that, of course, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be only .7mm thick. That means that the rolled rim is just 1.4mm copper — the rest is iron. How much of that 1.3 pounds of weight is iron, too?

Why I regret it: I paid at least twice what this pan is worth. (In addition to my inexperience in interpreting the measurements, I also got amped up by the seller’s breathless description, and it was also an auction and I got into a bidding war.) It’s a pretty pan and the silver lining is in decent shape and doesn’t need to be re-plated, but it’s not worth anything near what I paid for it.

What I should have done: Ask for a thickness measurement below the rim. I have to believe that the seller would have been honest about it, but I do note that this seller is a little fudgy with numbers: there are multiple uses of “approximate” using inches and pounds instead of centimeters and grams. I understand that some sellers are not familiar with the significance of millimeters and grams in the quality of copper, but these are certainly important to buyers. (I’m not going to name and shame this particular seller but it is one who should know better.)

Lessons learned: Always get a good sense of the thickness of a copper pan before you buy, either from your own experience and research or by asking the seller directly.


24cm stainless-lined Mauviel sauté

Sigh.

How to tell nickel from stainless
Cuprinox saute pan

What it is: A 24cm diameter bimetal (copper lined with steel) sauté pan, stamped for Dehillerin but most likely early Mauviel Cuprinox.

The problem: It’s too small for the purpose for which I intended it and I find the stainless steel lining really difficult to use and clean.

Why I bought it: Early on in my copper collecting I thought I need to have steel-lined pans as a backup for tin. “Tin melts!” the experts said. “Any time you cook anything hot, you’ll leave swipe marks in the tin!” Now that may be true, but I don’t really care any more. I know how to manage temperature better so I don’t melt tin, but even if I do it’s not a big deal, and tin is safe anyway even if I get a little bit in my food. But at the time I thought I should have a steel-lined copper pan on hand in the event some emergency steak-searing or other unexpected high-heat situation should arise. So I bought this guy.

Why I regret it: First and foremost, it’s too small. I intended it for high-heat searing and that’s is pretty much always going to be big pieces of protein like steak, chicken, or pork. This pan is 24cm diameter — just over 9 inches — and even two chicken breasts get crowded. That’s counterproductive for searing.

The second problem is the lining. It’s got a pronounced circular grinding pattern from the factory and the ridges seem to grab onto food. Chicken breasts would fuse to the surface and tear apart when I tried to turn them, and then I had to use Bar Keeper’s Friend every time I washed it to get the residue off.

What I should have done: I should have invested in a bigger pan with a smoother lining. The first is easy to solve — I could get a 30cm (11.8 inch) sauté or skillet or even a twin-handled “egg pan” similar to a paella pan.

Lining smoothness is a little more difficult to predict in a steel pan. Mauviel has always used a brush finish for its round pans, but Bourgeat has used a mirror finish that is smoother. (I have two Bourgeat sauteuses bombées like that and I adore them.) If the lining were a little rough, I could take some steel wool to it and smooth it out a bit. (If lining roughness were my only problem with the 24cm sauté I’d have tried that, but it would still be too small.)

However, I did none of these things. Instead I got some Demeyere Atlantis skillets and they’re magnificent. I find the Silvinox finish on the Demeyere pans to be silky-smooth relative to the brushed steel of the 24cm sauté, and I really enjoy using and cleaning them. But I also realized that I not only wanted a stainless-lined pan for my own occasional use, but also that it was a good idea to have some all-stainless cookware for house-sitters or guest cooks who feel more comfortable using bulletproof stuff. I love having people come cook with me and for me, but if they don’t want to learn a few tips for how to use tinned copper — and they’re not required to do so! — I’d rather hand them top-quality stuff to use their own way.

Lessons learned: I needed a larger stainless cooking surface than I initially thought. I’ve heard others say this too — better to buy a larger pan that can do more than to try to squeeze things into a smaller space.


22cm saucepan

This is the only online purchase for which I have ever opened a dispute with the seller.

My buying mistakes

What it is: A 22cm saucepan, unstamped, that is 2.1mm thick. (Sorry for the bad photo, but this was before I started taking decent ones.)

The problem: It was sold to me as 3mm, and it is not. It is 2.1mm thick.

Why I bought it: I bought this early on during my collecting when I was really focused on 3mm thick pans. This seller has many copper items online; I bought two 3mm pans at once, and during correspondence with the seller, they mentioned they had another 3mm pan as well — this one — so I added it to the purchase.

Why I regret it: I think the buyer made a mistake with the listing and I made a mistake in how I reacted to it.

Long story short, I think the seller attached the wrong photo to a listing. I bought the pot according to its dimensions in the listing but the seller shipped me the pot in the photo — the wrong pot. A few weeks later, I measured the pot’s thickness and found that it did not match the listing (and the seller’s assertions). I assumed this was a case of fraud, accused the seller of misrepresenting the pot, and the seller took offense. I filed a dispute that was ultimately resolved in my favor.

Happy ending, right? Not really, because looking back, I wish the situation hadn’t escalated the way it did. Both the seller and I bear responsibility for that escalation and here’s the whole story.

We’ll start with the original listing:

Lovely French Hammered Copper pan with Lid – Original French Vintage – 3mm

The handles are solid metal riveted to the pan with 3 rivets, so very secure.
Very good condition and the lining looks to thinning, maybe to retin.
Complete with lid with brass handle and copper rivets
Beautiful pan for kitchen use or that french farmhouse decoration,
There are no holes or splits, small dent but Nothing major- refer to photo’s for condition.
Very study, VERY HEAVY, Very French…

Dimensions
42 cms Wide to Handle to Handle
24.5cms Wide
11.2cms Height

Weight: 2904g

I bought the pan because the seller told me in writing that it was a 3mm thick pan. When I received it I didn’t know there was a problem because I wasn’t in the practice at that time of re-measuring every pot when I received it. (I do now.) I left a five-star review because the pot matched the photo, was well-packed, and arrived undamaged.

But the pan needed retinning and a few weeks later when I was measuring the pan for the tinner I put calipers on it and saw to my surprise and dismay that it was nowhere near 3mm.

I sent a message to the seller through the online store’s messaging system as follows:

In the course of preparing these pots for retinning, the tinner asked me to re-measure them, and I was very disappointed to discover that this one is not 3mm thick as you stated, but is instead 2mm. As you recall, we corresponded about these pans and I asked specifically if they were all 3mm thickness and you responded affirmatively that they were. It now appears to me that this pot has been misrepresented. I believe I am justified in asking for a refund for this pot. Thank you.

This was the seller’s reply:

These pans have NOT been misrepresented. These were listed correctly. I am disappointed you are now saying that these are not correct after you messaged to tell me that you were happy with them.

I replied:

It is unfortunate that you are taking this position. The listing is incorrect. I can document it with digital calipers and by the weight of the pot itself. You reported the pot’s weight at 2900g including the lid. Without lid the pot is 2210g. I have a 22cm pot that is truly 3mm thick and it weighs 3100g without lid. The weight you provided is too low for a pot of 3mm thickness.

I provided positive feedback for you because I took your word on the thickness of the items. It never occurred to me to re-measure the pans until I needed to do so to get estimates for re-tinning. I bought three pans from you; I am disputing only this one.

Please re-think your position on this. I again offer you the chance to make amends with me before I escalate this with [the online store] and PayPal.

The seller then offered to refund me the purchase price if I shipped the pan back, but I had to pay for the return shipping. I responded that I refused to pay any costs out of my own pocket for a pan that had been misrepresented. The seller would not agree to cover return shipping and so I opened a dispute. My position was straightforward: the pot was described as 3mm and I had multiple messages within the store’s email system where the seller reiterated this to me; it is not 3mm and I could document the true dimensions with photos; and I should not be liable for return shipping for an item that was not as described. The seller accused me of buyer’s remorse and said that because I had previously left a five-star review that I should not be allowed to ask for a refund for the pan.

Ultimately the dispute was resolved in my favor: the seller refunded me and did not require the pan to be returned. I suspect that by then we both knew that this pan was not worth it. I ended up retinning the pan and giving it away.

What I should have done: I should have measured the pot when I received it and checked it against the listing. If I’d done that, I would probably have noticed further discrepancies: the pot was 2mm thick, 22cm diameter, and 10cm tall, while the listing claimed it was 3mm thick, 24.5cm diameter, and 11cm tall. Even though the pot in my hands matched the photo, it didn’t match multiple specifications in the listing, and as I could clearly document, I had bought the pot based on those specifications. The seller had sent me the wrong pot.

But in the moment I assumed that the seller was trying to pass off a lower-quality pan as a better one and I got angry. I didn’t notice the other measurement discrepancies but perhaps if I had I would have concluded it was a screwup and not a misrepresentation. That said, the seller’s immediate response was indignant denial. Rather than ask for more information, the seller accused me of buyer’s remorse and the interaction immediately became antagonistic.

That’s my biggest regret overall — I think the seller thinks of me as a dishonest buyer. It’s not so much my personal reputation I care about but rather my contribution to the overall bad feeling. I’m trying to encourage a healthy vintage copper marketplace but in this situation I made an immediate assumption of bad faith that was probably misplaced. The seller absolutely did make a mistake and should not have expected me to pay for it, but perhaps there was a path through this that was not so adversarial, and I wish we’d found it.

(My second biggest regret is that this seller sometimes has nice pieces of copper that I wouldn’t mind buying, but of course that’s impossible — even if I decided to give them another chance, I don’t think they’d ever sell to me again.)

Lessons learned: I did one thing right: I worked within the online store’s messaging and dispute system so everything was fully documented. I think my case was particularly clear-cut because there was so much correspondence between me and the seller in which representations were made that were just not correct. I also kept a firm but courteous tone and stuck to my guns.

Should I have left a review before verifying the pan? Probably not, but I don’t think it made a difference in my claim. I don’t think a review carries any legal weight or anything like that — it’s not like leaving a positive review surrenders your consumer rights.

But I do wish I’d taken a little more time and noticed the multiple measurement discrepancies and not just the thickness. Perhaps we could have come to an amicable resolution if I’d approached this as a mixup and not a misrepresentation, but of course there’s no way to know.


26cm stewpot with forged Gaillard stamp

Where do I even start with this one.

26cm Gaillard stewpot “La chimère”

What it is: An antique 26cm saucepan with lollipop lid that was at some point converted to a stewpot by removing the iron handles, patching the holes, and adding brass handles.

The problem: It is stamped with a Gaillard stamp that I suspect is a forgery.

Why I bought it: It was unlike anything I’d ever seen by Gaillard and I thought it would be a unique addition to my collection.

Why I regret it: Let me count the ways.

Well, first and foremost, it’s unlike anything I’d ever seen by Gaillard because it’s probably not Gaillard. Long story short, as of early March 2020 there were at least 32 copper items with a “Gaillard Paris” stamp that appears to be a close but imperfect replica of a genuine 1930s-1940s era Gaillard stamp. To date all of these items originated from one eBay/Etsy seller who has been listing them online since mid-2019. I bought this pot with this replica stamp from this seller in July 2019.

I suspect the seller added a Gaillard stamp in an effort to make it more appealing for sale and to increase the price. I certainly fell for it: I paid US$300 not including shipping and restoration. I’m not an appraiser and so it’s hard for me to say what the real price should have been, but viewed simply on its merits this is not a special piece — it’s not very heavy and not particularly attractive. After all, the seller applied the forged Gaillard stamp for a reason.

My other regret is my own ego. I wrote an extra-pretentious Gallery post about it — I nicknamed it La chimère — and tried to come up with an explanation for how an antique-looking pot like this could have ended up with a mid-20th century Gaillard stamp. (I’ve pulled that post out of my Gallery but I have preserved it for posterity here.)

So how did a late 19th century (plus or minus) saucepan end up with two new handles and a post-war stamp? I don’t know the specifics of this pot’s history but, as usual, I am free to speculate. My working theory for this pot is that it was manufactured sometime between 1890 and 1910 as a saucepan. It’s possible that Gaillard made it but I can’t be certain as the original handles are not present and there’s no contemporaneous Gaillard stamp. Sometime after that, perhaps during the 1920s to the 1940s or so, the pan was reconfigured as a stewpot and given the 20th century Gaillard stamp. (There is no Made in France stamp, so this was pre-1957.)

I get one point for recognizing that the pot’s likely not originally Gaillard make. But then my “analysis” goes off the rails.

But why go through the trouble of repurposing an existing pot? My guess is that copper pots were precious enough during this period of time that it was easier to rework it rather than acquiring a new one. A study of historical copper prices describes shortages during the first World War (1914-1918), followed by a market slump. Copper prices rose again at the outbreak of the second World War (1939) and scarcity continued through the Korean War (1950-1953). I see a connection between these macroeconomic forces and the production of copper cookware in Europe: when copper prices were high, it would be challenging to source it and sell the pots at a reasonable price. (For example, it was in the 1940s and 1950s that Mauviel began producing aluminum pots and pans because copper was simply too expensive.) The addition of a later Gaillard stamp implies that the pot was marked for retail — perhaps it was old unsold stock, or salvaged.

I read this now with embarrassment. Yes, someone did repurpose this pot, and yes, there were copper shortages during wartime that spiked copper prices, but those two events have nothing to do with each other. Looking at this pot now, I think the brass handles are antique and that the pot was converted from saucepan to stewpot sometime prior to 1900. The idea that Gaillard hauled this pot off the shelf in the 1940s, dusted it off, turned it into a stewpot, and resold it is just a fantasy. It got that stamp probably sometime in 2019 when an unscrupulous seller decided that adding a Gaillard stamp was the best way to sell an odd-looking but otherwise undistinguished pan to a gullible American collector.

I mean, I know I shouldn’t beat myself up too much about this. If this is indeed a case of antiques fraud, I’m not directly to blame. But I do think I’m part of the overall problem: this site encourages a fixation on copper stamps and the big-name French makers. I tell myself that educating people about stamps is a way to encourage a more transparent vintage copper market, but what if I’m also encouraging price inflation for stamped items?


The saga continues.

2 Comments

  1. Very good article for reference. I too have had some serious challenges with items purchased from France. I bought numerous items from this person and noted that the quality kept progressively becoming less as to the description provided by the seller. My last straw was the final item I purchased which was described as being no longer useable for cooking but could hold linens, candles, etc. The item was completely broken through on the bottom. My plan eventually is to send it to be completely fixed as much as it can be. The condition now is currently unusable and I cringe when I see this seller continue to have monthly pop ups. The tinning done by the sellers husband can best be described as “sloppy” and “careless”. I am learning about weight and millimeter in relation to quality copper cookware. Your postings are incredibly helpful.

    1. Patricia, I’m so sorry. It erodes trust between buyers and sellers when things are misrepresented, and that hurts us all. The ungoverned nature of the vintage copper market is its strength and weakness: great bargains and relationships are to be had, but also disappointments and frustration. Short of returning items — which entails time and labor, even if you’re completely refunded — there’s not much you can do, particularly if the seller is running a pop-up shop of his or her own without an online store structure to enforce consequences for unethical behavior. I withdraw my business from sellers I don’t like but I just don’t have it in me to pursue more than that. What I feel much better about is focusing on myself — becoming a more informed consumer, learning when to ask questions and what to ask, and accepting my own mistakes and learning from them. I just hope this bad experience hasn’t turned you off from collecting more copper.

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