Kitchenware in the hearth and heart of the house
by Peggy Whiteneck
Old kitchenware, from pots and pans to small utensils such as mixing spoons, large draining spoons, jar openers, egg beaters, and so on, is not only an affordable option for collectors but is also usable and practical in modern kitchens. Many of these were better made than their modern equivalents, which is why the older versions have lasted in the preferences of today’s cooks.
Mom preferred the various small kitchen utensils she found on the secondary market. Many of these, such as large cooking spoons and egg beaters, had wooden handles, usually painted red or green. One of the most useful items she passed on to me was a jar opener that I often use today to remove stubbornly clinging jar lids. This item was also made with green handles as well as red. Items with the paint on handles in good condition are especially sought.
Mom had a special fondness for antique egg beaters, which appeared in antique shops in a surprising array of styles – and, yes, she still used many of them until she passed. She especially liked old graters and beaters that were screwed onto glass containers that could collect what was being chopped or ground.
My dad was also fond of working in the kitchen, years before cooking became popular among men. His favorite utensils were cast iron frying pans of various sizes from the very small to the very large. His favorite brand was Griswold, manufactured in Erie, PA, for almost a hundred years, from 1865 to 1957. Wagner is another brand of old iron skillets popular with collectors. Prices today on old cast iron pans can be in the low three figures.
Keeping cast iron pans in good shape is a surprising, if easy, challenge in a process we probably wouldn’t dare use with modern cookware. Dad always took preemptive charge of cleaning these pans after use because Mom was obsessed with using dishwater to clean them, which Dad said increased the chance for rust in the iron and also caused food to stick to the heated surface when the pan was next used. Dad simply dry-wiped the pans clean after use so that a film of oily patina remained on the surface. After my dad used these pans and retained their patina, food never stuck to them. If my mother had gotten to cleaning the pan first her way, he’d season it with oil before putting it away (we never got sick!).
Not everything made in the past for kitchen use was made in metal. Pottery was popular in everything from kitchen mixing bowls to cannister sets.
Some of the oldest of the mixing bowls were yellowware, sometimes accented with a wide, colored stripe near the rim. Other examples of pottery and ceramic kitchenware included cannister sets for ready access to basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, coffee, tea, or salt (Some cannister sets could also be found in metals such as tin, and these were often quite a bit more colorful than the ceramic versions).
TOP-OFF JAR & BOTTLE SCREW TOP OPENER
Because I was so taken with its imminently practical function, my mom gave me one of her old jar openers, whose handle can be used to vary the size of the lid- gripping portion beneath the handle. The top of the metal portion is engraved with the following: TOP-OFF JAR & BOTTLE SCREW TOP OPENER, EDLUND CO., BURLINGTON, VT. PAT. NO.1894556. These were popular in homes of the 1930s and ‘40s. The Edlund Co. is still in business today in Burlington, VT, making restaurant can openers and kitchen equipment. They can be found on the secondary market in variable condition, from beat-up to nearly mint, for $20 or less. Most old kitchenware is similarly affordable. Image courtesy of the author
Ceramic cookie jars are another favorite among collectors, some of whom have several jars in their collection despite the room they can take up. Cookie jars were usually figural, i.e., in the form of people (heads and full bodies), animals, or buildings. Among the most desirable were those made by companies such as McCoy and Shawnee.
Some later cookie jars that might be described as “vintage” were made as advertising pieces with names on them, such as Crackerjack and Pillsbury. Pillsbury made an entire set of Doughboy ceramic cannisters, spoon holders, and other items. The oldest of these date from the 1980s and are marked as such on the bottom; these are the most desirable from a collecting standpoint but were made as well in one or two later series. These later items tend to differ slightly in form from the 1980s set.
Peggy Whiteneck is a writer, collector, and dealer living in East Randolph, VT. If you would like to suggest a subject that she can address in her column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.