Field guide to Matfer

Field guide to Matfer

This is going to be an unusual field guide to Matfer copper because I don’t think Matfer ever made any.

I know, I know — stay with me. Matfer sold copper, but I don’t think they manufactured copper. You can find beautiful vintage copper pots and pans with a Matfer stamp but I think it’s a store stamp, not a maker stamp. The actual manufacturer is harder to establish with absolute certainty, but I’m starting to think that a large portion of Matfer-stamped pots and pans were made by Mauviel. This is great news, of course, as it means one can buy a Matfer-stamped pot with confidence, but if one seeks to speak accurately of vintage French copper manufacturers one cannot correctly include Matfer in that list.

That said, Matfer-stamped copper pots and pans are usually thick gorgeous Mauviel and deserve a spot in your batterie de cuisine. If you are considering a vintage Matfer piece, I hope this field guide can help you estimate its era and understand more about the company that first sold it.

Matfer: The History

1814-1899: The Trottier era

The kitchenware manufacturer now known as Matfer-Bourgeat traces its history back to 1814, but that entity was very different from the modern conglomerate we know today.

In 1814, a talented metalsmith named Charles Trottier opened a fabriquant des moules — maker of copper and tin molds for patisserie — at 4 Rue Saint-Honoré in Les Halles, the culinary center of old Paris. Trottier is described as both a skilled artisan as well as a canny businessman and the company prospered. Trottier published the first of several product catalogs in 1835, and by 1850 the shop was exporting its molds across Europe. In 1867, the Trottier catalog proudly bore the banner “by appointment to the imperial court of Russia.”

In 1862, Charles Trottier passed the business to his son, also named Charles. Sometime between 1865 and 1870, the firm left 4 rue Saint-Honoré in Les Halles for 118 rue Vaugirard across the river in the 6ième arrondissement. In 1887, Trottier returned to the 1er arrondissement with a move to 20 rue de l’Arbre Sec, just south of Les Halles across the Rue de Rivoli.

1899-1924: The Delaverne era

In 1899, Charles Trottier the younger sold the company to his chief assistant, 45-year-old Alphonse Delaverne, who had been with the company since the age of 20. Delaverne did two very good things for the company: right away he moved it to 13 rue Montmartre, back in the heart of Les Halles, and in 1908 he hired a young man named Gaspard Mora.

1924-1949: The Mora era

In 1922, Gaspard Mora became general manager and two years later in 1924 Alphonse Delaverne sold the company to him. (This date is disputed; some sources say that he took over the firm in 1921.) His ascension marked the beginning of Mora family ownership that has proven to be unusually prescient and successful in navigating the kitchenware market to this day.

Up until the 1920s, under Trottier and then Delaverne, the company made copper and tin molds in the back of the shop and sold them from a showroom in the front. This was the tried-and-true age-old model for tradesmen, but I believe Gaspard Mora recognized the value — and expense — of that prime downtown Paris property and the increasingly modern urban nature of the city and decided that the business needed to evolve. In 1928, the firm acquired and began operating a 1200 square foot workshop at 13 Rue du Tapis Vert in Les Lilas, a suburb of Paris. The workshop’s business was découpage, emboutissage et estampage de métaux à froid par choc mécanique (cutting, embossing, and cold-stamping metals by mechanical force).

It proved to be an excellent decision. By shifting manufacturing to the property in Les Lilas, Mora could transform the 13 Rue Montmartre property in the heart of urban Paris into a retail establishment — a kitchenware store he named Mora, after his family — and broaden its offerings to a wide range of kitchenware products. This experiment was successful, and a mere six years later in 1934, Mora almost tripled the size of the workshop in Les Lilas to 3500 square feet to accommodate more work.

1949-present: The Matfer era

Field guide to MatferIn 1949, Gaspard Mora passed away and his son Robert took over management of the firm. Robert made an additional functional change to the firm to create a new entity and re-organize the company.

  • Mora et Cie continued the operation of the retail kitchenware store at 13 rue Montmartre;
  • FOMA (Fabrique d’Outillage et de matériel pour les Métiers de l’Alimentaire, Factory Tools and Equipment for Food Professions), was created for the manufacture of kitchenware at 13 Rue du Tapis Vert in Les Lilas; and
  • Matfer, colocated with FOMA in Les Lilas, shifted focus to distribution and sales of kitchenware. Vintage copper authority TJFRANCE tells me that the name “Matfer” was coined in 1947 as a repurposing of MATeriel FERroviaire, the name of a railway ironworks venture that Mora had acquired. (I defer to TJFRANCE’s upcoming book to clarify this in more detail.)

This tells us a lot about Robert’s vision. FOMA cranked out kitchenware; Mora retailed a wide range of goods, including but not limited to FOMA-made items; and Matfer grew sales by putting out extensive catalogs, running a mail-order business, and getting FOMA items (and other Matfer-relabeled goods) to customers around the world.

This appears to have been a prescient decision that foresaw the burgeoning international market for French kitchenware for the home cook. Matfer was already a supplier to professional kitchens and so was well-positioned for the arrival of Americans in Paris after World War II, when Julia Child and, later, Chuck Williams publicized and popularized French cuisine and cookware. While the Paris kitchen store Dehillerin appears to have gotten the lion’s share of publicity, Matfer already had the infrastructure to market and ship products internationally.

Mora’s business decisions paid off and the company continued to grow. In 1960 they left the antiquated workshop at 13 Rue du Tapis Vert for a brand new workshop and office space next door at number 9-11. (This continues to house Matfer’s headquarters — note the modern Matfer-Bourgeat chef toque logo on the wall in the photo below.)

By 1967, Matfer — or, more correctly, the manufacturing arm FOMA — had outgrown the workshop in Les Lilas and moved to a large factory-sized facility outside Paris in Longny-au-Perche (now Longny-les-Villages). FOMA and its manufacturing equipment moved to Longny-au-Perche while the building at 9-11 Rue du Tapis Vert was converted to office space to house Matfer’s sales and distribution operations, which continue to this day.

In 1999, Robert Mora (who had succeeded his father Philippe) formed a new legal entity: Groupe Matfer Bourgeat. This is the first indication I can see of the impending merger with Bourgeat, a professional kitchenware manufacturer founded in 1918 in the Isère region of southeastern France. The merger, finalized in 2001 or 2002 (sources differ), created the modern company Matfer-Bourgeat.


Matfer: The copper

Now let us turn our attention to copper, and specifically to a timeline of the stamps on Matfer-branded products over its history.

1814-1899: Trottier

I can find two versions of a Trottier stamp, both on copper molds. I don’t know which stamp predates the other, but I suspect the linear version on the left is earlier than the round version on the right. Breveté means “patented,” and FT and FNT are abbreviations for fabricant (manufacturer) or fabrication (manufacturing).


1899-1924: Trottier/Delaverne

I found one stamp from this era and it reads “Ch. Trottier Fabt” (fabricant) and “A. Delaverne Succ.” (successeur) along with the 13 rue Montmartre address. Note the oval shape of the logo, echoing perhaps the round Trottier stamp of the prior era; it is for this reason that I believe the round Trottier stamp is the more contemporary, as it is more similar to this early 20th century iteration. Here are two examples of this stamp.

 

I could find no stamps with Delaverne only, which makes me think that Delaverne maintained the Trottier name or association for some time.


1920s-1967: Mora and Matfer

Field guide to Matfer

I believe the company would have started selling copper cookware sometime after 1928, after the Trottier workshop at 13 rue Montmartre became the full-scale retail store Mora.

I found multiple copper pots with stamps for Mora & Cie indicating that there must have been at least a few years of pots stamped for and sold by the store. The design of the stamp follows a common shape for oval copper stamps: the firm name curves across the top with the address along the bottom within an enclosing circle. (Compare this to Dehillerin, Gaillard, and Jacquotot stamps of the same era.) The most interesting element I see is the inclusion of “Paris 1er” in the middle — perhaps intended to bring more people to the Mora store in the 1er arrondissement.

I also found examples of stamps from the workshop (one hesitates to call it a factory, as it was never very large) in Les Lilas, but they are all on tinned molds and other lightweight metalware in keeping with the capabilities of that facility. Below are two examples: on the left, a shield with the words “MATFER / les Lilas / Seine”, and on the right, a shield with “MATFER / FRANCE”. These items would have been produced sometime between 1928 and 1967 when the workshop in Les Lilas was active.

A similar shield logo appears on copper pots that I believe are from the same era. This style is very common and I believe it denotes pans from the 1940s up to the 1970s.


1967-2002: Matfer

Matfer moved FOMA — its manufacturing arm — to Longny-au-Perche in 1967 and within a few years changed their logo from the shield to the chef’s toque (the tall white hat that French chefs traditionally wear).

The circular stamp with the toque is rare — I’ve only seen two examples online. I suspect it’s an early iteration of the logo. The other two stamps are similar, but on closer examination, the toques are drawn slightly differently. One is slightly larger than the other and most closely resembles the toque inside the circular cartouche, while the other toque is smaller and more compactly drawn. Unfortunately I do not know the exact delimiting factors (time, product line, manufacturer…?) between them. All three pans are tin-lined copper.

But there are other Matfer pots of this era with a curious pair of stamps: the Matfer toque and “Villedieu France.” This is an origin-of-manufacture stamp for Villedieu-les-Poêles, the town in Normandy that has for centuries been a center for metalworking and, specifically, copper pots and pans. While the town is still dotted with small copper artisans such as Atelier du Cuivre it is perhaps best known as the site of the factory and headquarters of Mauviel.

Field guide to Matfer
Chef toque with Villedieu France on an unlined sugar pot

But do you know who has never been in Villedieu? Matfer. The pans above are the first examples I can find of Matfer-stamped pots that could not have been made by Matfer. My best guess, based on physical characteristics and the telltale stamps above, is that all these Matfer pots and pans were supplied by Mauviel.

But in fairness, Matfer never claimed to make copper pots. Recall that Charles Trottier founded the company in 1814 to make moules (molds) in tin and copper. The company is consistently listed as such all the way through the Delaverne era to 1924. Under Mora and into the 1960s, Matfer describes its business as moules et ustensils pour professionels d’alimentation, “molds and utensils for cooking professionals.” I cannot find any mention of a chaudronnerie (copperworks), fonderie (foundry), étamage (tinning), or any other pot-making paraphernalia in any corporate listing or description of activity at the factory in Les Lilas. There is certainly manufacturing, but it is stamping and metalworking consistent with making metal kitchen utensils.

Given how difficult it is to find good information about copper pot makers and Matfer’s own coyness about its history, I furnish these photos somewhat triumphantly. This is about as good as I can hope for in my amateur copper detective work.


2002 to present: Bourgeat

The merger of Matfer and Bourgeat in 2002 marks the beginning of an era of confusion. Unlike Matfer, Bourgeat did and still does make stainless-steel copper pots and pans from the 1970s to the present day. Matfer-Bourgeat describes these pots as “Bourgeat” but everyone else calls them “Matfer-Bourgeat,” to include Amazon and most Etsy and eBay sellers. Once again, as above, Matfer on its own never made copper pots, so these pots are definitely Bourgeat make… unless of course they are post-2002 in one of the product lines shifted to Mauviel, which I will delve into once I recover from the excitement of all this Matfer research.

I have found three Bourgeat stamps, all on stainless-steel lined pots, that I believe indicate not only periods of manufacture but also different Bourgeat product lines, as the steel linings have different finishes.

The simple Bourgeat name without Made in France may predate 1957; Bourgeat with the Made in France arch is on a pot with a matte-finish stainless steel lining and may be a 1970s-1980s era; and the round cartouche with a number in the center — the pot’s diameter in centimeters — is the most modern of the three and still in use up to the present day.


Conclusion

I don’t believe Matfer manufactured copper pots. I believe a copper pot stamped with the word “Matfer” and/or the chef toque is very likely a Mauviel pot. This is of course great news, as Mauviel pots are excellent quality. But do not be drawn into debate over whether Matfer pots are better or worse than Mauviel — they are Mauviel.

But a pot stamped “Bourgeat” is a different case. It could be Bourgeat make if it’s pre-2002, but post-2002, Bourgeat only manufactured certain of its own product lines. More on this soon.


Sources

Historical information is hard to find, and so I found the following articles and documents to be quite helpful.

Matfer and Longny in the big leagues,” https://actu.fr/normandie/mortagne-au-perche_61293/matfer-a-longny-dans-la-cour-des-grands_5681321.html

Matfer’s buildings in Les Lilas: https://patrimoine.seinesaintdenis.fr/IMG/pdf/diagnostic_patrimonial_lilas.pdf

Detailed corporate history timeline: http://www.scanbis.com/company/667475/Matfer-Inc-

5 Comments

  1. I think you are absolutely right. I have a vintage 5 1/2″ Matfer pot that exactly, and I mean exactly matches a Mauviel on eBay. The rivet numbers (16), the number shapes, the handle shape, the thickness. It is the same pot, but one has a Williams Sonoma Mauviel logo, and one has the Matfer name over the shield. Great article!

    1. Hey Cameron! Thanks for your comment. Copper pots and pans look similar at a glance, but look more closely at the shapes of handles and rivets — the different makers’ work is distinctive once you know where to look. Matfer-stamped pieces and Mauviel pieces of the same era are identical in the details — good for you for developing an eye to spot them!

  2. Thank you for clearing this up! I have a Bourgeat 20 with the mirror-finish stainless steel lining (stamped on bottom of pan) that I have always referred to out of ignorance as Matfers-Bourgeat! I look forwad to your future article on the post-2002 Bourgeat product lines.

  3. Hello to all, I came here looking for info and found it, but have a question about a recently acquired nesting set of five Matfer saucepans that have the toque stamp with the additional VILLEDIEU FRANCE stamp near the handle baseplate, as in the photo of the sugar pot from the article. The pans appear to be machine formed but have a hammered finish around the outside while the bottom and corners are perfectly smooth. I believe they are from the mid sixties but would welcome other points of view concerning the age. Any thoughts?
    Thanks in advance,
    Greg M

  4. Great information here! I just acquired 2 hammered aluminum sauce pans, and 1 lid with the France/torque stamp. I just wanted to narrow down the provenance. Has any one else come across the aluminum versions? By the workmanship, and handle, I believe they are Mauviel. I can provide pictures if interested.
    Thanks,
    Dwayne

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.