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).


72 Responses to History

  1. Fran says:

    I am still using a large flame descoware fry pan with wooden handle that I bought in the late 60’s. It is somewhat dull on the outside and has lost its shine on the inside, but it cooks as well today as it did when I bought it. Just isn’t as pretty. Cast iron lasts forever.

  2. Pinky McTuscadero says:

    Quick question about design changes – I’m looking into buying my first Descoware pieces because I love vintage, quality things (ok AND making soups). I’ve found myself partial to the flame orange and the maple leaf designs in particular…. For the orange, it seems like some pieces have a white interior and others, gray (Glissemaille I suppose?). Was the gray coating an option on certain pieces (like nonstick coatings today), or does a white interior identify something as an older piece? Also thanks in advance, this site has been a great help – as an aside it would be so nice to see a true timeline of when different products/colors/designs were available by era (if anyone has that info!)

  3. Spot on with this write-up, I really feel this web site needs a lot more attention.

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  4. kathy says:

    I also have enamel ware stamped with Made in Belgium and no other markings except E or EF on the lids. They are yellow and orange and white inside with short handles (possibly made for a wooden handle to attach?) Anyway, I have a 1.5 quart saucepan-orange with lid, a 9″ fry pan with lid, orange, an 11″ fry pan with lid, FE 28 Made in Belgium inside the lid the bottom says Descoware. There were some extra small saucepan lids I don’t have pans to fit to. These came from my husband’s grandparents home. I don’t think his grandmother used them, she was an antique collector. I would like to sell them. Is there any market for them?

  5. Barbara says:

    I am now using my mom’s Descoware skillets, and I’m loving them. I read on another site that some of the older enamelware, particularly the orange, yellow, and red ones, may have lead and/or cadmium in the enamel. The article didn’t refer to any particular brands. My Descoware has the grey interior so I think they should be safe, but can you tell me whether they are free from these undesirable contaminants?

  6. Jon Fightlin says:

    Need to know the company that refinishes Descoware. Thanks

  7. Lisa says:

    I picked up a large yellow Descoware dutch oven at and estate sale today, it is white on the inside, and still has the original sticker on it, never used. How do I tell how old it is. I have pictures of it, if that will help.

  8. Shahonna says:

    Can some one tell me maybe how old this piece is and what this markings mean? It is a yellow dutch oven that is Descoware. It has gray on the inside and the lid has 3 rings and the markings are FE 3 F 18. Thank you.

  9. Martha Callanan says:

    Well, I just hit the Descoware jackpot today! I was recycling some newspapers at my condo complex here in Santa Fe and noticed that someone had placed a lot of items next to the dumpster on a bookcase. I realized that there were several pieces of yellow Descoware there for the taking. They are in pristine condition- three sizes of saute pans with lids, a 2.5 liter saucepan with a lid and a 3 liter Dutch oven with a lid. Free! I just can’t believe my luck! I found my first piece of Descoware, a three liter saucepan with a small saute pan that doubles as a lid for the saute pan in the flame orange color at a garage sale last summer and fell in love. I have a lot of Le Creuset cookware that I bought in France 30 years ago when I spent a year studying cooking at La Varenne in Paris. I’ve used it faithfully all these years, but I have to say I agree with Julia that the Descoware is superior.
    I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Julia Child. She was a neighbor of mine in Cambridge, MA, and she recommended La Varenne when I asked her advice about which school to attend in France. She happened to be on the Board of Advisors. When we were in our last week of the nine month Grand Diplome Course, Julia actually came and spent every morning cooking with us in the kitchen. I’ll never forget how happy we were in her presence. She was a WONDERFUL, kind, funny, thoughtful, and brilliant lady.

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  13. Becky from Iowa says:

    I have a mystery! 4 years ago I saw a “buy it now” sky blue gradient Descoware casserole–fairly large–on Ebay, and in my rush to buy this elusive color, I failed to notice that the Seller hadn’t posted any pictures of the interior. Well, when I received my purchase, I found out why: instead of the usual smooth, shiny grey or cream interior, my casserole has a weird, dull matte black interior–slightly scratched–instead. My heart sank, for it looks all the world like early Teflon… 🙁

    Since then, I have periodically Googled, trying in vain to find ANY other Descoware with a similar interior, in hopes that someone knows that this finish wasn’t teflon style, but maybe instead some safer, healthier altenative. No luck! The pan is clearly marked “Descoware”. Do I have nothing more than a very expensive door stopper? I cannot in good conscience use aging non-stick teflon style pans. Thank you!

  14. Noel says:

    I am not an expert, but my Descoware also is black interior. My assumption is that since the pieces are enameled cast iron, the the interior is just cast iron without the enamel painted on it. I don’t think it’s a nonstick coating, just the material that’s underneath the enamel on the rest of the pot.

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  18. Doug says:

    I recently found a cast iron dutch oven at an estate sale stamped on the lid “made in Belgium” also stamped 30 on the opposite side of the lid. It’s 12.5″ in diameter and very heavy. It’s orange in color. Anyone know how old this might be?

  19. Mark pitts says:

    I have a covered descoware Dutch oven that needs re-enameled interior. Can I know about the Canadian firm that you were recommending please? Thanks! Mark

  20. Marian says:

    Hi, Shahonna —

    I have an oval yellow (solid) Dutch oven that my Mom and Grandma pooled their many, many books of Green Stamps to “purchase” when I was 8 years old (1955). I remember my age because we had must come back from my father’s Naval assignment in Japan and it was near my Mom’s birthday. My lid has a slightly different number on it, however. It has 3 rings, and the markings FE in between the center and middle ring, and the markings 12 (and underneath the 12) 3-C in the center ring. Also, in the lower area between the center and middle ring is the word Belgium. Hope this helps. I am still using this cookware in 2015 — just used it today! ‘Til death do us part, as far as I’m concerned!

  21. Teresa says:

    On my way home from doing errands, I saw a sign for an Estate Sale. I found a 2-D F FE Belgium dutch oven at 50% off of the $20.00 price tag and got an few bits of other things for the $10.00. I love the orange red color and and look forward to cooking many a meals in this pot. LOVE it. A couple of years ago I did find a lid and have used it for all my other pots and pans that it fits and love it. I will certainly look for other pieces to my new collection of Descoware.

  22. Hi Mark. The costs of re-enameling is high and the demand very low. It’s a disposable world now, huh? Some have recycled their old pots as nice planters. The good news is that replacements are fairly cheap. 🙂

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