The following article was not written for this site. Yikes! The original was here: http://www.youpickedawinner.com/desco_hist.html but that site seems to have gone away. I (Kevin) don’t mean to trample on anyone’s copyrights… but it would be a shame if this info (from a very well written piece) disappeared entirely. So, it’s informative and falls under fair use.
. . .
Descoware was the signature cookware of Julia Child and was featured regularly on her cooking show during the 1960’s. She praised it highly for its quality and durability.
Descoware originally was known as Bruxelles Ware at its inception. Manufactured in Oudenaarde, Belgium, it was imported into the United States through the Ufinindo International Corporation of New York beginning in the mid-1940’s (see label below). By the early 1950’s, the D.E. Sanford Company (D.E.S.Co.) had been established here in the U.S. with branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Thus the name Descoware was born.
The gradient red to orange “Flame” pattern was their trademark and soon Descoware became well known as the creme de la creme of cookware. It seemed you could find a piece in almost every home, whether it was a skillet or Dutch Oven or covered casserole.
By the mid-1950’s, the D.E. Sanford Company had changed its name to the Descoware Corporation, headquartering itself in Los Angeles, and by the mid-1960’s Descoware had become a subsidiary of General Housewares Corporation, also of Los Angeles (yes, the same GHC of Magnalite fame … as well as Wagner Cast Iron, which by this time included the Griswold trademarks as well).
Eventually, increasing business costs and competition from other manufacturers forced GHC to discontinue the importing of wares manufactured in Belgium. By the late 1960’s, GHC had already begun to expand the Descoware line to include heavy gauge steel enamelware accessory items manufactured in Japan. By the mid-1970’s, further loss of market share to Le Creuset (who had begun a very aggressive marketing campaign) and other French cookware manufacturers such as Cousances and Staub (another French culinary mainstay), combined with cheaper labor costs and raw materials readily available in Asia, led GHC to shift manufacture of its enameled cast iron line to Japan as well; however, this was short-lived, as the American market was not overly receptive to the new product (known as Finesse), even though it started offering the designer colors so craved by the buying public. The first Finesse products were made in Belgium, then later production moved to Japan.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Le Creuset’s aggressive marketing campaign eventually won out. Despite the long-time endorsement of top chefs such as Julia Child who rated Descoware ahead of Le Creuset for its functionality, the fashion-conscious of America were hungry for more color variety and “trendy” designer looks.
By the late 1970’s, GHC, now struggling with profitability due to increased competition with it’s Magnalite Aluminum and Wagner Cast Iron lines, restructured itself and re-focused its energies back on the former two trademarks, which continued to be manufactured in Sidney, OH. GHC divested itself of the Descoware trademark and sold off the rights and formulas for the patented Descoware enamels to Le Creuset. It also discontinued the Finesse line.
In addition to gifting the world with the beautiful “flame” design, Descoware also developed and patented the super hard, grey “Glissemaille” coating which makes so many of its pieces stand out not only for durability, but for their simple beauty.
After acquiring the patents, Le Creuset continued to use the Glissemaille for several years, only recently discontinuing it. Le Creuset also used the Descoware version of the flame coloration with grey interior for a while; however, this was also relatively short lived. If you look at Le Creuset’s current version of “flame” you will notice that the color is much more fluorescent looking, almost like posterboard.
More about Descoware colors
Originally, the colors available were the Red/Orange “Flame” (gradient), as well as a beautiful Sunny Yellow (solid). As time progressed, other colors that were released were Antique Gold (solid), Avocado Green (solid), Marigold Yellow (gradient), Sky Blue (gradient), Chocolate Brown (solid), and a very short run of Turquoise (solid) which was released under the Descoware Special line. (Some of the above colors were also released under the Descoware Special line…the Descoware Special line was so-named because it related to pan sizes and set combinations.) In the mid-1950’s the “Maple Leaf” pattern was released, which depicted a plucked stem of Red Maple Tree leaves beginning to change into fall color, imposed onto a cream colored background. Als in the mid-1950’s, other patterned series’ known as Descorama were released. The most popular and widely recognized Descorama pattern is the Markley series, which features a yellow background with a whimsical pattern of food items and cookware pieces painted on it and signed by the artist (Markley). Other designs in the Descorama series were Cream colored with Vegetables, Yellow with Vegetables, Cream with Mock Tulips, Blue with Mock Tulips and Yellow with Mock Tulips. (The latter two patterns are sometimes confused with DRU pieces from Holland, as they look strikingly similar.)
NOTE: In addition to the above colors/patterns being released under license of the Descoware name, the following colors of enameled cast iron wares were also manufactured at the Oudenaarde foundry, marketed independently or under contract to other brands: Moss Green (solid color, unmarked), Jadeite green (solid color, unmarked) and Cornflower Blue (solid color, unmarked).