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Antique copper kitchenalia: an antique dealer’s guide

Antique copper kitchenalia: an antique dealer’s guide


A guide to highly collectable copper kitchenalia and cookware, and how to use it in today’s modern homes.

A peek into the kitchen of any grand old house or stately home will show you a host of copper cookware, gleaming brightly, and copper kitchenalia is as enduring and as popular today as it has always been. Here, we examine why.

About copper

One of the oldest metals known to man, alongside gold, copper was favoured by all ancient civilisations for its incredible colour and versatility. Easy to shape thanks to its low melting point, and extremely hard-wearing copper is used in construction, art, and of course kitchenware.

The benefits of copper for cookware

Unlike cast iron which heats up slowly but unevenly and retains heat well, copper heats up quickly and evenly (no hot spots with copper cookware), and loses its heat fairly rapidly. This makes it ideal for delicate sauces that risk splitting or overcooking from retained heat. As a metal, copper is reactive so when used for cookware, it is lined to avoid reactions with acidic foods such as tomatoes and vinegar which can allow copper to leak into the food over time.

Note that if using any copper pans in a modern kitchen, be aware that they can be used on any type of hob except for induction hobs. This is because the majority of induction hobs rely on magnets to conduct heat and copper in non-magnetic!  

What to look for in antique copper cookware

  • Today’s modern copper cookware is lined with stainless steel, but antique copper pots will nearly always be lined with tin (occasionally nickel or silver). From a cook’s perspective, tin is fantastic as it does not react to anything and is almost completely non-stick, compared to stainless steel.
  • Tin lining will have darkened with age but the pan can still be used safely.
  • Where the lining has worn through to the copper, the item should be relined before being used for food preparation.
  • Unlined copper can be used for mixing bowls and jam-making pans (the acid from the fruit will not affect the copper because the amount of sugar that is used will neutralise it).
  • The thickness of the copper is an indication of quality. Look for copper that is 2.0mm-3.0mm thick – any thinner and the pan will under-perform, any thicker and it will be too heavy to use practically.
  • The shape of the handle can help to identify where the piece has originated. English handles will be attached in a triangular shape with French handles having a rounded triangular attachment.
  • English hanging loops in the handle will be shaped like an arch or keyhole and French loops will be more tear-shaped.
  • Always look for a maker’s mark – this will help with identification and authentication.
  • Antique copper pots will often have hammer marks that show it was hand crafted and handles will have handmade rivets.
  • Handmade pans will not sit perfectly flat so don’t worry if they have a slight tilt!

What collectors of antique copper should look for

Because antique copper cookware has a practical application, it can still be used today, and so enjoys an enduring popularity with chefs as well as the antique collector. Antique copper jelly moulds and copper kitchenalia are always sought after, as are pieces from the Arts and Crafts period and the Newlyn School. Look out too for copper items by William Benson or the Keswick School of Industrial Arts.

How to clean and care for antique copper

  • Never clean copper in the dishwasher – as a soft metal, it tarnishes easily.
  • Tin lining can be cleaned with hot water and washing up liquid but never use any abrasive scourers such as steel wool. Where the tin has darkened over time, the discolouration does not need to be removed as it will not affect food. Stainless steel lining can be scrubbed like any stainless steel pan.
  • Copper develops a patina as it ages which many collectors prefer to leave untouched. However, with copper cookware, it’s important to distinguish between patina and burned on food. Always wipe spills and dribbles straightaway. If you do prefer a high-shine, gleaming finish to your copper, mix a tablespoon of salt with 250ml of white vinegar and rub it into the copper. Rinse the paste away and buff to a shine with a soft cloth.
  • Never immerse a hot pan into cold water as the copper will buckle.
  • Wherever possible, use a hob the same size as the pan base, as big pans can warp on smaller rings.

Copper kitchenalia from Hemswell Antique Centres

As well as vintage and antique copper pans, our dealers at Hemswell Antique Centres offer a wide choice of antique copper kitchenalia, including mixing bowls, antique copper jugs and much more. Browse our antique and vintage kitchenalia online or why not visit us and see the extensive collections housed in our four buildings?

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