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A practical implement

In his history of iron utensils of the hearth and kitchen from the origins to the 19th century, Lecoq maintains that the kitchen utensil racks and bars were in common use.

 

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Usefull and lovely
Hotermans Collection nº 1971-1-577-4
McCord-Stewart Museum
Photography : Yves Couture
 
 

Pour accrocher ou suspendre les ustensiles de cuisine munis d'un manche, on utilisait des râteliers de cuisine, des barres d'accrochages et des barres à casseroles.
— Lecoq, Les objets de la vie domestique, page 221.

 

For ages, the hearth was the heart of the home, the center of family life. The hearth and what was around it or hung on it was an important part of the decoration of the house. That is what visitors saw when they came in. We can easily understand the lenght families went to to embellish the hearth.

In France, the utensil rack was definitely one of the center pieces of the living space. It was an instrument of which one wanted to be proud if, of course, one had the means to be proud.

We find that blacksmiths forged highly refined work with these racks, in France. As Plummer claims (1), for New-England at least, they were offered as gifts to newly-weds with the necessary utensils. So highly praised an object was kept by families for generations and if one believes Lecoq, d'Allemagne and the Hotermans collection of the McCord Stewart Museum (there are 52 in this collection), they were numerous and varied in France.

 

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An elaborate example of a kitchen rack.
These racks decorated the home and were a status symbol
This one is from the Hotermans Collection, McCord-Stewart Museum,
Photo, Yves Couture

 

Lecoq held these racks in high esteem

Lecoq uses four pages and more to acquaint us with the support systems of the french kitchen utensils. He analyses simple hanging bars but the majority of this real estate is covered by the kitchen utensil rack.

 

 

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Two of these are to be found in the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles
See scan below.
 
 
 

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Lecoq, page 222

 

 

  • He analyses eleven racks in detail ;

  • he describes the evolution of the décor of the bars of these racks from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century, Louis XVI era.

  • He goes into the details of the ways these were hung on the hearth or the wall next to it as we can see in the following pic.

 

The racks we find in Lecoq's work have a great esthetical value. They come from every corner of France, from Brittany and Normandie to Provence. The oldest specimen known to him is from the 16th century.

Its importance in France is corroborated by D'Allemagne and Hotermans who built the impressive collection I have so often refered to and will often refer to in this blog.

 

Le Musée de ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles

 

Racks are showcased in the Lesecq des Tournelles museum in Rouen, France.

 

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From Decorative Antique Ironwork, a pictorial treasury
by Henry René d'Allemagne
All the plates from the 1924 French catalogue
of the Le Secq des Tournelles museum of Rouen
Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1968,
Plate 340

 

Dans la vitrine 35 qui occupe le centre de la pièce a été rangée une importante collection de fourchettes de cuisine en fer forgé ornées de découpures et de moulures. À côté sont des râteliers de cuisine en fer découpé servant à suspendre les cuillères et fourchettes.
— Henry René d'Allemagne, Le Musée de ferronnerie Le Secq des Tournelles, Tour Saint-Laurent, à Rouen, page 19

 

 

 

 

Four of them appear in the pic above. Three are made in cut out  flat iron. They are beautifull objects. However, the one on the left of the second row is of particular interest.

 

The decoration in the center of this rack is made with what is called 'brindilles', twigs. This particular one also appears in Lecoq, page 222, where he produced a drawing of it (compare drawing and photograph). These twigs have been forge welded. They are very thin. As I made a reproduction of a comparable rack, the one that appears at the begining of the present post, I became aware that great care and attention are a must when forging these, They would easily burn.

 

This one is particularly demanding with regards to the work that has to be done. The bouquet is twice as large as the one I have reproduced with twice the number of twigs. Someone paid a hefty price for this implement.

 

Works of this quality are not born in a void. The kitchen utensil rack had a wide spread presence in the homes of France. Obviously all the homes could not afford such quality work. Most probably would have had to be content with a simple hanging bar.

 

 

The kitchen racks of the Hotermans Collection

 

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The brass rosettes would indicate a rack from Brittany
Hotermans Collection nº 71.1.577.26
Mc-Cord-Stewart Museum
Photograph by Yves Couture

 

I have counted no less than 22 utensils from this collection photographed in Lecoq's book. This collection was a reference for him.

The Hotermans Collection was acquired by the Stewart Museum of Montréal in 1971. The arrival of this collection in Montreal raised a certain enthousiasm.

 

One day, Lecoq suggested we meet so that I might accompany him to visit Mr. Hotermans, a collector who maintained an appartment near the Parc Monceau solely to house his enormous —approximately two thousand pieces— collection of ironwork. The accumulation spread out among five or six rooms, contained multiple examples that Lecoq used as the basis for many of his drawings and photographs ...

— Wattenmaker, Richard J. ; Foreword to Raymond Lecoq's "Classic French Wrought Iron", American translation of "fer Forgé & Serrurerie", page 5

 

 

 

In the article the link refers to, there are some photographs of objects from the collection and one of the authors made two sketches. These sketches are of two kitchen racks.One rack has hooks and a  bar permitting the hanging of utensils with hooks or eyelets forged at the end of the handle. The other one (below) is a bar cut out and raised in the main bar. And these are only two of the 52 in the collection.

 

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The second rack drawn by madame Marquis
Hotermans Collection nº 71.1.577.21
McCord-Stewart Museum
Photograph by Yves Couture

 

Last year, I was priviledged in gaining access to this collection. I can measure, photograph, describe these implements first hand which enables me to make these measurements available to blacksmiths and their clients. And this collection permits us to develop an accurate understanding  of the kitchens of the past and of la Nouvelle-France in particular :

 

La collection MacDonald Stewart nous permet donc des rapprochements intéressants avec nos origines et notre tradition artisanale puisque la plupart des articles qui la composent ont une connotation directe avec notre propre production artisanale des siècles passés.
— Lessard, Marquis, Vies des Arts,  Numéro 65, hiver 1971-1972, p. 20-23

 

 

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Hotermans collection nº 1971.1.577.37

McCord-Stewart Museum
photograph by Yves Couture

 

I have often noted that to look into a kitchen of the Renaissance was at the same time to look into a kitchen of the centuries preceding it and those that followed. Let us add that a glimpse in the kitchens of France is a glimpse in the kitchens of la Nouvelle-France. To cook on the hearth had its techniques and ways of doing things. In the period that interests us, the ways of doing things on the hearth were well set.

 

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Detail kitchen utensil rack
Hotermans Collection nº 71.1.577.33
McCord-Stewart Museum
Photograph by Yves Couture

 

 

Conclusions & questions

With d'Allemagne's, Lecoq's research and the Hotermans collection we can conclude that :

    • kitchen racks were plentifull in France: they were to be found everywhere;
    • they have attracted the interest of french collectors ;
    • the racks that remain are often the fruit of exceptional work on the part of the french blacksmiths.
    • And of course, a question arises : does the abundance of kitchen racks in France permit to conclude to a comparable abundance in Italy? Germany, England? We shall see. And if you read french you might want to find the answers immediately on my french blog.

***********************************
Notes (1) Plummer, page 26

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Hello, interesting. I've not come across many racks over here in the UK, the best I know of is in the private ownership of my chum Michael Finlay (see it here http://www.michaelfinlay.com/MF_WEBSITE_TRIAL/___UTENSILS,_HAND.html). I think it can be dated to the third quarter of the 18th Century, it is over eight feet in length and very well made; as always money talked back then as it does now and somebody paid for and got a fine piece of metal.

 

A key thing to note is that English racks were rarely as ornate as continental ones, Michael's rack is about as twirly as they get; some Scottish racks followed the English tradition of simplicity, some were closer to the French style. I am unaware of any certifiably Welsh or Irish racks.

 

I think that racks were never as common over here as in Europe, certainly not if the number of surviving examples is anything to go by. But, that written, they aren't really to be seen in contemporary illustrations either, wall hooks where appropriate seem to have been the first choice. Seymour Lindsay - who knew his subject and had access to a lot of stuff in the last days fire cooking - never even mentions them...

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Monsieur Turley,

 

As you very well know, this research is a journey and a pleasurable one at that. I am glad that it pleased you and promted you on your own journey.

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Hello, interesting. I've not come across many racks over here in the UK, the best I know of is in the private ownership of my chum Michael Finlay (see it here http://www.michaelfinlay.com/MF_WEBSITE_TRIAL/___UTENSILS,_HAND.html). I think it can be dated to the third quarter of the 18th Century, it is over eight feet in length and very well made; as always money talked back then as it does now and somebody paid for and got a fine piece of metal.

 

A key thing to note is that English racks were rarely as ornate as continental ones, Michael's rack is about as twirly as they get; some Scottish racks followed the English tradition of simplicity, some were closer to the French style. I am unaware of any certifiably Welsh or Irish racks.

 

I think that racks were never as common over here as in Europe, certainly not if the number of surviving examples is anything to go by. But, that written, they aren't really to be seen in contemporary illustrations either, wall hooks where appropriate seem to have been the first choice. Seymour Lindsay - who knew his subject and had access to a lot of stuff in the last days fire cooking - never even mentions them...

 

GNJC,

 

Michael Finlay's rack will be mentioned in an article on the kitchen racks in England I will translate from my french blog and post here. In the meantime, let us say that you are right, the utensil kitchen rack was never common in England.

 

And Seymour Lyndsay never mentions them ... well, not positively : on page 35, he says when writing about illustration nº 178, a highly decorated meat fork,

 

 

... in additon to its elaborate centre motif it has a hook at the back of the handle to hang it from an implement rack or rail, which was a most uncommon feature in this country.

 

Thus and as you said above, there were some racks in England eventhough uncommon. And some would have been needed : Seynour Lyndsay's illustrations nº 156 and 158 would have required a sort of support, a nail or hook not being appropriate to hang these with their handles' ends forged in the shapes of balls or "balustres" as Lecoq calls them (page 222 of "Les Objets de la Vie Domestique). It seems to me a double hook such as the one described by Lecoq would have beeen needed to hang these two utensils and this double hook would, I believe, more easily be integrated in a suspension system than somehow be driven in the wall. Further more, the people who paid for the two utensils would probably have the means to affoard an elegant rack. And there were some of these.

 

There is the one you mentioned that belongs to Michael Finlay and there is also one in Deeley's book, well, two :

  1. On page 58, in the photograph, on the left, attached to the wall there is a bar with 5 hooks on which utensils are hung. This one is simple and corresponds to what Lecoq calls a "barre d'accrochage". No ornementation here just a simple functional system. 
  2. On pages 39 and 47, upper part of the photographs, on the left, there is a utensil kitchen rack hanging above the hearth, on the wall. It is quite elaborate. Utensils are suspended to it. I enquired to the author about this rack, the period it is from, was it original with the hearth or added later, why the author chose not to mention it and why he chose instead to mention and present in a picture a wooden rack (page 99). The questions are still out there in the e-mail ether.

Like I mentioned, I will make available a series of articles I wrote on this subject. But here, presently, we have opened the subject of the english utensil kitchen racks and set out the problem clearly : there were some even if few and far between, there does not seem to be much interest in them on the part of collectors or museums, they have not attracted attention, as shown above, Deeley possesses a very elegant one but he does not mention it.

 

Maybe by the time I am back with my article on the english rack, I will have more answers.

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Wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to provide such detailed information. Truly should make us think the next time we reach in that clumsy, cluttered drawer we all overstuff with seldom used kitchen items.

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Yves, you know me well enough by now to call me Giles! The mention by Seymour Lindsay of a rail is, I think, the answer to the reason for so few 'racks' - in the proper sense of the word - to be found here. There were often wooden rails along the front of dressers, shelves and the like. Of course these, being 'attachments' so to speak, would be the most vulnerable things to knock and general wear and tear and so don't often survive. Rob' Deeley spent a lifetime collecting domestic equipment and then recreating and reproducing the appropriate setting for it in a barn on his property. I think he did a fairish job, but there are a number of things that I think inaccurate at best. Note my use of italics and bear in mind my former profession... It is a statement of fact that some of Deeley's collection came from Europe, but I can't say whether these items included the racks shown in his book.

 

The salamanders illustrated in S L's book could have been supported by jamb hooks or something of the sort, or just leant against the nearest wall - I have an illustration of such a thing somewhere but, typically, can't locate it now... There was no absolute need to hang implements up anyway, but don't dismiss wood! A hole set back in a shelf with a small access channel could easily accept the narrow stem of such tools but prevent the ball-end from passing.

 

Right, off to bed before the baby realises...

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Ah, Giles,

we will get there some day on the subject of this implement in England. Your post does bring some arguments/clarifications. I will do my best to find matter to disagreee upon or be picky upon.

 

Grab some sleep if you want to be able to grab the hammer ...

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DKForge,

 

I enjoy this research as i said above. Its a pleasure. And I thank you for the compliment.

 

If and when you decide to reproduce one of these racks, PM me or reinstall this here subject and I will be glad to supply you with pictures of racks for which I possess dimensions and then give you the dimensions of the one you wish to reproduce.

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