A pan’s craftsmanship is a clue to the era in which it was made.
The challenge is that this is not a precise method of dating a piece of copper. New manufacturing technologies take time to catch on, and spread across an industry according to a complex algorithm of economics, consumer demand, geography, and human behavior that I don’t think anyone fully understands. On top of that, there was powerful innate resistance by 19th century metalworkers to the advent of machine-powered manufacturing whose express purpose was to replace their labor. The result is that while I can trace the invention and application of a new technology with a fair amount of precision, I cannot state — absent some kind of direct testimonial — that a given maker was using that technology at a certain point in time. For example, the invention of the acetylene torch in 1901 marked the beginning of the end for dovetailing, and yet Gaillard apparently continued to dovetail certain pieces into the 1920s.
As TJFRANCE has pointed out, it’s more accurate to note the era of a piece’s craftsmanship rather than the date of manufacture of the piece itself. In other words, “this piece was made primarily with 19th century techniques” may be a more correct assertion than “this piece’s mostly 19th century construction means that it is most likely a 19th century piece.” This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but if we are serious about dating copper, it’s worth also being serious about the limitations in our methods.
With that in mind, this is how I see the distribution of several key construction techniques across four major periods of time. Some techniques are squarely in the 19th century, while others span multiple eras. There are long periods of overlap and seldom hard starts or stops.
Prior to 1850
1850 to 1900
1900 to 1950
1950 to present day
|Sheet metal production||Hand-flattened sheet metal|
|Machine-rolled sheet metal|
|Metal cutting||Hand-cut sheets|
|Metal shaping and finishing||Hand-raised pans|
|Powered presses and lathes|
|Rivets||Hand-made, hand-inserted rivets|
|Machine-made, hand-inserted rivets|
|Machine-made, machine-inserted rivets|
|Iron handles||Forged iron handles|
|Wrought iron handles|
|Cast iron handles|
As you can see above, I have observed the period from about 1850 to 1900 to be the era of greatest variance in the techniques available. Some chaudronneries still clung to the craftsmanship of the 19th century, while others were already adopting the machine-powered techniques of the 20th. This is the most exciting period of copper construction for me, and many of my most precious pieces come from this era.
To learn more about these techniques, please see the posts below.