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Nov 9, 2012 07:29 AM

Advice on refurbing an old, valuable copper pan

Hello Chowhounders,

I've been just reading until now, but I'd love to get your input on something. I have bought an old Gaillard pan that weighs more than 15lb. However, it has a heavy patina from age. I would like to polish it up, but I don' t want to hurt its value. Can you advise? Is there a way to polish it while keeping some if its dark red patina?

Finally, if polishing it won't hurt it, how can I polish it in a gentle way.


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  1. Hi, fallkniven:

    Wow, that must be a nice pan.

    There may be collectors somewhere who associate patina or polish with value, but I don't know any. I certainly don't make that association. So I say polish away if you like the look.

    I have tried (and continue to try) every polishing technique I hear of. The pros use what's called a "coloring" rouge on muslin wheels mounted to powerful buffers, and it is the fastest way to a true mirror polish. Lately, I've been using a 2-step process: (1) Tarn-X or similar acid solution to cut through the heavy patina, somewhat aggressively applied with 000 or 0000 steel wool; and then (2) Flitz or Simichrome metal polish worked by hand. You could do ONLY one step or the other, but acid alone isn't going to polish, and polish alone will take a *really* long and expensive time.

    All polishing removes some material--that's inevitable. You just want to use whatever accomplishes the polish without being too aggressive.

    As for "keeping some of its dark red patina", you can polish it as and wherever you wish. If you choose not to polish away the patina around the handle flange, great, but it ends up looking like trapped food guck.

    What shape is the lining in? Discretion being the better part of valor, you might be better off sending the pan off to a reliable pro like Peter at Rocky Mountain Retinning for a complete makeover. For most collectors, that would *enhance* its value.

    Have Fun,

    3 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Thanks very much, Kaleo. I have been reading posts with great interest. You are actually one of the big reasons I've been bitten by the copper bug. And yes, I feel very lucky to have been able to grab this pan. I love it.

      Your input is very helpful. I think I'll polish it up using the technique you propose. Thanks again!

      One quick clarification -- when I said I wanted to keep some if its dark red patina, I didn't mean I wanted to keep it on part of the pan. Rather, I was hoping to achieve a polished finish that still shows the patina and age of the pot. I'm not sure how this is possible, but I have an old Dehillerin that is exactly like this. Polished and yet the color is a lovely mottled red rather than the mellow yellow of new polished copper.


      1. re: fallkniven

        Hi, again, fallniven:

        You're very welcome.

        "I was hoping to achieve a polished finish that still shows the patina and age of the pot. I'm not sure how this is possible..."

        Well, just the heat of *cooking* in a brightly polished pan does that pretty fast. Tarnish is also a function of salt and pollutants in the air. The Flitz and Simichrome polishes make such a micro-smooth surface (water will bead like on a freshly waxed car) that it slows this process. If you like it to patinate faster, it's hard to go wrong with plain 'ole 0000 steel wool. Or if you just want to brighten it up without a degree of polish, wipe it with tomato juice and rinse.

        Yes, please post a photo or two.


      2. re: kaleokahu

        I forgot to add -- the tin lining is in fantastic shape. I was fortunate in this regard.

      3. Wow! Might I ask what the pan is? Saute, casserole, etc?

        I will only add to what Kaleo said with this. Watching patina progress is part of the enjoyment of using a copper pan, for me at least. I love the fresh shine of a newly polished pan, and I enjoy the many and varied stages that appear between bright and brown. If you plan to use it, know that you really can't stop the progress of tarnish/patina. It will darken as it is used. If you don't plan to use it, you can just leave it as is if you like the current patina. A middle ground might be to polish it, use it until you see the desired patina, and shelve/display it. If it is heavily tarnished, you might send it to Peter at RMR or Jim at East Coast Tinning for a polish. It should be a couple of dollars an inch for a polish only. If it needs retinning, both will polish it as part of the retin.

        I'm not a collector--I use my copper pans on a daily basis, but my observation is that a newly polished and retinned pan seems to have more value, at least on ebay. I wouldn't worry too much about hurting it's value, unless it is truly something very early or unique. In which case, you might want to ask around the antiques community, not the 'put it on the stove and cook with it' cooking community! :)

        5 Replies
        1. re: jljohn

          Thanks for the advice! I'm not sure what I'll do with it. I don't even know if I can afford to keep the thing -- I've got too many hobbies. The pan is a large saucepan, around 10" in diameter and, I don't know, around 4-6" high. It's got a fantastic matching lid (which also has a handle) that is also stamped JE Gaillard.

          1. re: fallkniven

            If you ever sell, please don't split up the lid and pan, and make the buyer promise to keep them together.

            If you have access to a spanning caliper or micrometer, it would be interesting to measure the wall thickness at the rim and compare with the wall thickness at the base. The old Gaillard catalogs show a cross-section that indicates that these taper to the rim. I think that's what causes people to wonder how two pans of the same size and rim thickness can have markedly different weights.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              Hey, while I look for such a caliper, do you have any scans of those old catalogs showing the differential wall thickness?


              1. re: fallkniven

                Sorry, don't have a scanner right now. Cuts of the catalogs are in the Renard book.

        2. Are you going to use it, or is it to be a decoration? I'm NOT a fan of patina on anything unless it positively affects the value. I like ketchup and baking soda as a copper cleaner, but don't know of a way to keep "some of its dark red patina." Show us a picture of the thing

          1 Reply
          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            Thanks guys -- I do need to get a micrometer to check. And yes, I'd love to keep the lid and the pan together. I'll try to grab a pic some time this week.


          2. If you're going to use the pan, don't worry about patina - it tends to replace itself just fine! I had to get all but two of my pieces - all yard or estate-sale - retinned, and the man who did it always polishes stuff to a blinding gloss. Three years or so later the only shiny one left is the oddball, a cheap lightweight I bought at an antique mall in a weak moment and tried to use just once. The rest are all mottled and stained; one of these days I'll do some good scrubbing and polishing, when I can't think of anything else that needs doing …