We love old fashioned cast iron skillets! Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they are also one of the few antique pieces that last longer with prolonged use. However, the purchase can be a bit overwhelming. From knowing where to look to distinguishing between a suitable pan and a not-so-good pan, it can all be tricky.
Thankfully, Ashley L. Jones has already done the heavy lifting (sometimes quite literally) and is putting in a lot of effortknowledge in her new book,competent, now available from Red Lightning Books. Here is a guide to buying vintage pansExcerpt from Ashley's book.
Now 11% discount
Buy vintage cast iron
Antiques are becoming increasingly difficult to find as people become more interested in cast iron cookware. Here's where Skilletheads often appear and some tips to help you get the best deals:
- Antique/consignment shopsThese stores generally have cast iron, but the price is high.
- The auctionView inventory and determine how much you're willing to spend before the auction begins.
- real estate salesFind the entire cast iron collection here.
- Facebook MarketThis is an essential resource for many skilletheads.
- flea marketThere's still cast iron here, but as [professional collector] Orphaned Iron says, "Don't be afraid to haggle!"
- Flea markets/yard salesWhile you can find inexpensive pieces that are in good condition, they are rare. [Professional Collectors] Cast-Iron Kev recommends only buying from larger bulk sales as they are more likely to have cast iron and you will waste less time and money driving.
- Online sales sites like Craigslist and eBay, and apps like OfferUpFind wholesale sales for retired collectors.
- exchange satisfactionConnect with local cast iron collectors in your area and connect with online groups to find out when your next barter meeting is scheduled.
- The thrift storeThese stores don't always stock cast iron, but if they do, they usually sell it at a low price. Introduce yourself to the local shopkeepers and ask them to notify you when they receive a cast iron donation. If you're willing to pay a little more, they might be willing to bother.
- You said itA skillethead told me he found a piece of cast iron in a snowdrift! You might be pleasantly surprised if you keep your eyes open and share what you're looking for. As [professional collector] What's Up Homer Skillet told me, "It's exciting to find a piece where people least expect it."
where to look
If you're looking for vintage cast iron, don't be afraid of rust. In fact, pan experts often look for the dirtiest, rustiest, roughest piece of iron they can find because it's cheaper than the original pan. You're going to peel it off and reseason it anyway.
related:How to season cast iron to keep your pan in tip-top condition
But what is hiding under all the rust? Learn as much as you can about the piece before you buy it. If you're shopping online, the seller should be able to answer basic questions about the pan. However, if you shop yourself, you can be a detective.
- a small flashlight
- a pocket knife
- tape measure
- ruler or ruler
- small magnet
- Collector's Guide (e.g.BlauAndRotBooks)
- Smartphone with internet and camera
To determine the quality of your pan, pay attention to the following:
- CrackFeel the entire pour with your fingertips, then use a flashlight for a careful visual inspection. Cracked pans are not repairable or safe to use, so regardless of brand, they should be avoided. (That is, unless you plan to chop them up like Cast Iron Kev and use them to make Cast Iron Spatulas!)
- CutIf the pan has very little crumb, it's still usable but worth less.
- pittingThis could be due to previous rusting and repairs that prevented the pan from accepting the spices.
- heat damageFire is often used to clean cast iron skillets, but the high heat can cause thermal shock in the skillet, causing it to deform, become brittle and change the composition of the iron, making it impossible to maintain good seasoning.
To determine if a pan has heat damage, first look at the color. If it has a red or pink tinge, it is most likely on fire. Then use a ruler at the bottom of the pan or place the pan on a level table to see if it wobbles or spins.
Place a straight edge against the inside of the pot to see if it warps upwards. Warped pans, wobblers, and rotators cannot be used on smooth-surfaced stovetops, but can be used on gas stoves, grills, or open flames.
If it's an otherwise good branded casting, you can restore it and sell it, but you'll have to disclose the damage and ask for a much lower price. Better yet, keep it for your camping needs.
To identify pans, get out your guide and note the following:
- MaterialSometimes it can be difficult to tell at first glance whether a pan is made of cast iron or aluminum. Test the pot with your magnet. Magnets stick to iron, but not to aluminum.
- MeasurementPots are measured by the diameter of the top rim (not the bottom), while Dutch ovens are usually measured in quarts. Even the weight of the pot is a clue.
- FormPay close attention to the shape of the handle and spout, if any. Every company and every brand will have their own design.
- to markUse the flashlight to look for numbers, letters, or symbols on the top of the handle, under the handle, and on the bottom of the pot. Also, check if there is a heating ring at the bottom of the pan. If present, is the heating ring integral or notched?
All of these clues will help you identify the pan using the instructions. If the rust is too thick, you can remove a little with a knife, but check with the seller first. If you don't see any markings, it may be because there were no markings at all, or because they were removed due to wear or a previous restoration.
Or the rust may just cover the marks until you repair the part.
If you're still unsure about your pan, [professional collector] Cast-Iron Savannah recommends taking a picture and posting it on an online forum such as: B. to publishCast Iron Community Facebook group.Maybe someone in the group will tell you more about the piece before you buy it.
Does that sound like a lot? Don't worry - it will become second nature. As Cast-Iron Kev says, "If you do this long enough, you can identify 80% of the objects passing by! The shape of the handle, the heating ring, the weight, the spout – once you're in the groove, you can get a good idea of what it is, even covered in a shell!”
Some popular manufacturers and their frying pans
Birmingham Stove Company
Made inBirmingham, Alabama
founderSam D. Jones
Production period for hollow goods1902–1993
brand nameRed Hill, Century, Pioneer, Lady Beth
In 1898, the Jones family purchased a controlling interest in Atlanta Stove Works (ASW), a company that manufactured wood and coal stoves in Atlanta, Georgia. They then set up a foundry in North Birmingham with the aim of making hollow vessels for the Atlanta Stove Company. As for the foundry workers, the company hired 80 inmates from the state of Alabama. Originally known as the Alabama Manufacturing Company, the company changed its name to Birmingham Stove & Range Co (BSR) in 1909 after acquiring several foundry patterns.
In the 1950s, BSR, along with other cast iron producers of the time, began using automated molding processes, followed in 1966 by the high-volume DISAMATIC automated molding machines.
Although the Atlanta foundry closed in 1957, BSR continued to produce products under the ASW and BSR names at the Birmingham foundry.
The BSR foundry closed in 1991 and the company sold its molding machinery to Robinson Iron, which continued to manufacture cookware under the BSR name; Lodge Cast-Iron took care of distribution. The lodge also produces the popular Sportsman Grill on behalf of BSR. However, these agreements were short-lived. BSR filed for bankruptcy in 1993 and turned over its model to the Lodge to pay off their debts.
BSR introduced the split cornbread pan in 1967. While Lodge still holds the BSR patent, their modern version of this pan features two loop handles instead of one long handle. So if you want a traditional split cornbread skillet, you need to go retro.
Chicago Metal Foundry Company
Made inNorth-Chicago, IL
founderJohn Sherwin, E. P. Sedgwick
Production period for hollow goods1900–1963
brand nameFavorit, Sani-Ware, Ni-Resist
In 1900, two Chicago Hardware Manufacturing Co. employees, John Sherwin and E. P. Sedgwick, had creative disagreements with their employer. Still, they were allowed to rent some workshops to make their own cast iron products. Their business was so successful that they eventually set up their own factory across from the Chicago Hardware Manufacturing Co. To create confusion, they called the company Chicago Hardware Foundry Co. (CHF). The new company made products such as cast iron skillets and in 1934 acquired models and tools from the defunct Favorite Stove & Range Co.
A CHF strike in 1938 led to unrest. Although no one was seriously injured, it marked the beginning of years of strikes and allegations of employee abuse. At one point CHF50 was bringing in Puerto Ricans and making them work for $5 a week. The Manufacturing Museum of Chicago notes that these workers were "placed in company-owned railroad cars and forced to purchase groceries and work clothes from the company's stores." In addition to violating the physical rights of these employees, the company's stores also weighed on the local community Business. When foundry workers were paid only with store credit, they had no money to spend elsewhere, causing businesses in the area to fail.
It's not clear when CHF stopped manufacturing hollowware, but we do know that the company focused on industrial furniture in 1963 and came under the control of a New York holding company in 1969. The equipment obtained was shipped to another foundry in Racine, Wisconsin. The Manufacturing Museum of Chicago states that "as far as we know, some versions of the jerk existed at the Chicago Hardware Foundry through 1988 and were manufactured at the same Racine foundry."
In 1988, the company relocated to Grays Lake, Illinois, where it lost a toxic metal release lawsuit brought by Wisconsin. That same year, a chemical fire destroyed the foundry's former North Chicago facility, forcing the company to close.
Columbus Hollowware Co.
Made inColumbus, Ohio
founderJesse F. Hatcher, E. B. Hatcher
Production period for hollow goods1882–1902
Columbus Hollow Ware Co. was founded in 1802 in the old foundry of the Harker Manufacturing Company. The company appeared to have run into financial difficulties by the mid-1880s, probably from having to compete with cheap labor from the local Ohio State Penitentiary. The prison has its own foundry and can sell its products at a lower price than private companies. In the case of If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them, Columbus Hollow Ware commissions the prison to manufacture its line of cookware, The Favorite. The brand is easy to identify as "THE FAVORITE" is engraved on all lids at the twelve o'clock position on the back of each pan.
Today we may be concerned about the notion of forced labor or we may wonder about the working conditions in which prisoners live. However, the worries of the day were closer to home. This cheap labor has crippled more than one private enterprise and exacerbated already high unemployment. It seems a great injustice to society that good, hard-working people have no income while prisoners have jobs. One response was to propose that these products be labeled "Made in Prison" in the same way we label products "Made in China" today, but that plan never came to fruition.
While these pans have a rather dark heritage, that doesn't seem to diminish their value. Rather, they are extremely popular with collectors due to their unusual history, coupled with short production cycles. These pans, made with the cheapest labor and sold at low prices, are big sellers today.
Do not confuse The Favorite brand with Chicago Hardware Foundry Co.'s "Favourite" brand or Favorite Stove & Range Co.'s "Favourite Piqua Ware" brand.
favorite oven company
Made inPiqua, Ohio
founderWilliam King Ball
Production period for hollow goods1889–1935
brand nameLieblings-Piqua Ware, Miami (Economy Brand), Puritan (Sears Roebuck)
In 1848, W.C. Davis & Company was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Over time the company changed its name to Great Western Stove Works, then Favorite Stove Works Company. In 1888, William K. Boal moved the foundry to Piqua, Ohio, where it resumed operations as the Favorite Stove & Range Co. (FSR) the following year.
Boal died in 1916 and was succeeded by his son, William S. Boal. He quickly expanded FSR's hollowware production. At one point, FSR's operations covered an area of 10 hectares and became the largest manufacturing company in the county. It employs nearly 600 people and has had such an impact on the city of Piqua that it has been called "the most popular city."
In 1919, employees took part in a ten-day strike. Their demand: a wage increase of 25%.
As with other manufacturers, the Great Depression of the 1930s reduced FSR's sales. William S. Boal died in 1933 and the company liquidated its assets two years later. Patents, trademarks, and tooling were sold to the Foster Stove Company of Ironton, Ohio, while models and machinery were sold to the Chicago Hardware Foundry Co.
FSR is reorganized under the name Favorite Manufacturing Company. They make coal and wood-burning stoves, gas stoves and even hollowware, but on a much smaller scale, with the molds outsourced to a local foundry. In 1959, Favorite Manufacturing Company finally ceased operations.
Griswold Manufacturing Co.
Made inErie, Pennsylvania
Production period for hollow goods1885–1957
brand nameSelden & Griswold, Erie, Griswold's Erie, Victor (Economy Brand), Griswold, Iron Mountain (Economy Brand, Unbranded), Good Health (Private Label), Best Made S.R. & Co. (Sears Roebuck), Puritan (Sears Roebuck), Merit (Sears Roebuck)
While most hollowware is made by stovetop makers, Griswold is one of the few manufacturers that specializes in cookware. This proved to be a solid business plan as Griswold eventually became a household name and a leading global manufacturer of cast iron cookware.
In 1865, Matthew Griswold moved to Erie, Pennsylvania from his family's farm in Connecticut. There, with his cousins, the Selden brothers, he started a modest business manufacturing hinges and other hardware. In the 1870s the company expanded its production to include hollowware and Griswold acquired his cousin's shares in 1884.
In 1885, a devastating fire broke out at the factory (a sad but common occurrence in manufacturing companies). Undeterred, Griswold rebuilt the factory in 1887 and reorganized the company as the Griswold Manufacturing Co.
Over the years, several members of the Griswold family have retained the position of President and have seen tremendous growth both domestically and internationally. In 1946, Ely Griswold sold the family business to a New York investment group. The company was acquired by McGraw Edison in 1957 and sold solely to the Randall Company's Wagner Manufacturing Co. division. Griswold pans made after this date are not considered collectibles.
In 1959, Randall sold the rights to Griswold and Wagner to Textron, Inc., which continued to manufacture Griswold-branded products at the Wagner factory in Sydney, Ohio until 1969. At that time, General Housewares Corp. the rights to: Two companies. However, the Griswold brand was discontinued in 1973.
Because the factory was in Erie, Pennsylvania, the first logo used by the company (from 1880 to 1907) was "ERIE". Other logos and marks were later used, including the now famous circled cross containing the word "GRISWOLD".
Wolrath Manufacturing Co.
Made inSheboygan, Wisconsin
Production period for hollow goods1884-1960s
Vollrath Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1853 as the Cast Steel Co. Company founder Jacob Vollrath studied iron casting in Germany before emigrating to the USA. While enameled ware is common in Germany, it's hard to come by in the US. Vollrath saw an opportunity and decided to bring enamelware to the United States. There's just one problem: he doesn't have the skills to do it.
Undeterred, Vollrath sent his son Andrew to Germany to learn the secrets of tooth enamel. After a failed attempt and a second trip to Germany, Andrew finally became an expert. By 1876 the Vollraths were able to produce excellent quality enameled wares, which they produced and sold in small batches. The company continued to produce enameled wares in cast iron or stamped steel into the 1950s.
Company name changed to Jacob J. Vollrath Manufacturing Co. in 1884 and shortened to Vollrath Company in 1912. In 1900 the company devoted itself exclusively to the manufacture of cookware and in 1904 received awards for "excellence in the manufacture of enamelled works in colored and bright stamped steel and cast iron". During the war, production switched to manufacturing, but the company survived. To keep up with innovation, the 1950s abandoned the use of enamelled equipment and switched to stainless steel. Finally, cast iron production was discontinued in the 1960s.
In contrast to other cast iron manufacturers, Vollrath is constantly changing. Today it is a thriving family business with a history of acquisitions and growing interests in the hospitality and healthcare industries.
Vintage Vollrath cast iron pans may not have a logo or be stamped "VOLLRATH WARE". Interestingly, the logo and all the markings are on the side (with the grip towards the three o'clock position). The handles are recessed and have a pronounced reinforcing rib in the middle, making them easy to spot.
Wagner Manufacturing Co.
Manufactured in Sydney, Ohio
founderMilton Wagner and Bernard P. Wagner
Production period for hollow goods1891–1959
brand nameWagner, Sidney, Wagner Ware, National (Economy-Marke), Long Life (Handelsmarke), Montgomery Ward/Wardway, Ward’s Cast Iron, Magnalite (Aluminiumguss)
When the Wagner brothers founded the Wagner Manufacturing Company in 1891, they must have had high hopes for their company. However, little did they know that one hundred and thirty years later their brand would be just as popular and coveted.
With a view to the future, Wagner was one of the first manufacturers to include nickel-plated and cast aluminum goods in its range in 1892. In 1897 they bought Sidney Hollow Ware, which later manufactured the popular Sidney brand skillets and Dutch ovens. In 1913, Wagner expanded its distribution to Europe, a major feat in cast iron manufacture.
From 1946 to 1953, the original founder's heirs began to divest themselves of the company's shares, which set off a series of rather complicated relationships. The Randall Company of Ohio, an auto parts manufacturer, acquired Wagner in 1952. Randall's Wagner division then acquired competitor Griswold Manufacturing in 1957, and subsequently Textron, Inc. acquired Randall (including the rights to Wagner and Griswold) in 1959. Collectors mark this as the end of the official production period of Wagner collectible cookware.
Ten years later, Textron sold the Wagner and Griswold product lines to General Housewares Corp., which ceased production of Wagner Ware in 1994. They then sold the rights to the Slyman Group in 1996, after which the Wagner factory went bankrupt. The bank sold the Wagner factory and the rights to the Wagner and Griswold brands to American Culinary Corp. in 2014, which it retains to this day.
Wapak Hollow Ware Co.
Made inWapakoneta, Ohio
founderMilton Bennet, Marion Stephenson, Harry Bennett, Charles Stephenson, S.P. Schick
Production period for hollow goods1903–1926
brand nameWapak, Oneta (Economy-Marke)
Records show that Wapak was founded in 1903, but little is known about it since then.The book by Griswold and Wagner(i.e., The Big Book) records it as: "While Wapak Hollow Ware Co. boasted of being the world's largest manufacturer of exclusive cast hollowware and Wapakoneta's largest and most important employer of labour, little historical information exists." Records about its existence. In fact, little was published about the company's history, except that it went public in western Ohio and Auglades County. However, county records indicate that the Wapak Hollow Ware Company went bankrupt in 1926.”
Wapak is known for its Native American head in its trademark, likely a nod to the region's rich Native American history. The handles of the Indian Head pans are also uniquely shaped. While these Indian headwear are prized collectibles for their quality and uniqueness, the other products in the Wapak catalog are interesting for another reason: they appear to be copies of other companies' products.
For example, Wapak's waffle maker uses hinges modeled after those used by Sidney Hollow Ware and Wagner. Griswold's pattern markings and ERIE ghost markings can often be seen on their pans, suggesting that Wapak used actual pans from other companies to create their own patterns. While not uncommon at the time, it was certainly unpopular. If the pattern of the original pan is patented - which is usually the case - then it is also illegal.
For all these reasons, Wapak hollow vessels are of great interest to collectors today.
For more information on finding vintage cast iron and lots of restoration details, grab a copySkillheads: A Guide to Collecting and Restoring Cast Iron Cookware.
The value of antique cast iron skillets can start at similar to new prices, but a super rare Wagner or Griswold can fetch up to $1,500 apiece. A mint condition, super rare "spider skillet" made in the 1890s by Griswold is worth up to $8,000.What is vintage cast iron worth? ›
|Old Cast Iron Skillet Name||Manufacturer||Average Valuation|
|Large Logo Skillet||Griswold||$1600 – 1800|
|Hollow Ware Skillet||Wapak||$1300 – 1400|
|11 Cast Iron Skillet||Favorite Piqua Ware||$850 – 900|
|Black Lock Cast Iron||Lodge||$690 – 700|
Robert says a quick way to determine if the pan is early or pre-20th century is to look for a gate mark on the bottom side. “A gate mark looks like a slash and was a by-product of older iron casting methods,” he explains.Why are vintage cast iron skillets the best? ›
Everyone knows cast iron only gets better with age. So it makes sense that vintage cast iron is some of the most sought-after cookware. Heirloom pieces are generally thinner, lighter and smoother than today's products; that makes them easier to handle and season.What is the most sought after cast iron skillet? ›
Griswold #13 Cast Iron Skillet
The most valuable and rarest Griswold skillets are those under numbers 1, 2, 11, 13, and 20. Unfortunately, number 1 is extremely rare and those are very hard to find despite their small size. What is this? Griswold cookware is very valuable since it is manufactured between 1885 and 1957.
A common fixture in many historic homes, cast iron is a rustic metal that is best known for its ability to trap and hold heat for long periods of time. While it may be the least valuable household scrap metal, what it lacks in price it makes up for in weight. This is why many scrappers won't pass up on cast iron.