Discover Vintage America June 2011
Glory Days of Graniteware are here again!
by Robert Reed
Just one year after this country’s 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, a university professor saw the future and said that it would be graniteware.
“In my opinion there is no article in the market superior to it,” wrote chemistry professor F.A. Genth at the University of Pennsylvania, “and none which combines to the same degree, the advantages of glass with the strength of metal.”
Never mind that he penned a paid testimonial for the major graniteware producing St. Louis Stamping Company, it proved to also be a very good reading of the public mind.
A window display of vintage graniteware, courtesy of Gene's Collectibles, Vinta, OK. (photo by Donna Ross)
And, in its glory days, graniteware would have been hard not to like.
It came in all manner of patterns and colors, and all sizes and shapes. The parade of colorful products ranged from baking pans to water pails, and from basting spoons to wash basins.
In between, there was an equally appealing array of colanders, frying pans, funnels, salt boxes, sugar bowls, mugs, and trays.
The business of fusing enamel on to various metals for use in the family kitchen did not come to the United States until the second half of the 19th century.
Such porcelain-enamel cookware had been in use in German kitchens in the late 18th century, and somewhat later in England. Charles Stumer of New York filed for a U.S. patent in July of 1848. The process called for “providing enamel for iron and other metals ... in all shades of colors in full variety.”
By the end of the Civil war, several firms were manufacturing various graniteware-cooking utensils. Eventually there was significant production underway at sites in New York, Wisconsin, and in Missouri at the St. Louis Stamping Company.
Assortment of Cobalt swirl graniteware. (Harris Auction Center photo)
As the manufacturing process spread in the 1870s, so did the names used to identify graniteware. Each company more or less coined its own term and so it was offered as agateware, glazedware, granite ironware, enamelware, porcelainware, speckleware, and many more.
“Whatever its origin, the name graniteware caught on and so did the cookware,” explain the authors of Graniteware Collector’s Guide by Vernagene Vogelzang and Evelyn Welch. “It was light in weight and easy to clean. It was coated with a glassy glaze that prevented it from being affected by fruit or vegetable acids. And it was decorative.”
‘Justly celebrated kitchenware’
The great graniteware boom continued into the 1890s and beyond the turn of the century.
Success Enameling & Stamping Company prospered with the White Diamond brand, Hibbard Spencer Bartlett & Company offered NuBlue in light blue with dark trim, and Gender, Paeschke and Frey Company produced the Cream City brand. In Ohio, the Canton Stamping Enameling Company frequently operated around-the-clock shipping out 75,000 utensils daily, and all only in grayware.
By 1895, graniteware was being manufactured on a large scale in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and West Virginia. It was sold by hucksters traveling from town to town, at the general stores on Main Street, and in most leading mail-order catalogues.
The Montgomery Ward & Company catalogue of 1895 listed some gray enameled ware items including coffee pots and teapots for $2 to $3 each.
However, they saved their biggest pitch for Agate Iron Ware across the bottom of one page:
“Known as Granite and Agate Ware. We are now prepared to offer this justly celebrated kitchenware at unheard-of prices. It is now guaranteed to be absolutely pure and safe to use and is the most durable ware in the world. It is especially desirable, as it is so easily cleaned.”
Sears, Roebuck sold 38,000 sets of Peerless Gray Enameled Ware in 1907. The sets, produced by Lalance and Grosjean Company of New York, included the saucepan, washbasin, pudding pan, soup ladle, coffee and teapots.
The following year Sears used its fabled catalogue to promote both Peerless Gray and the blue swirled True Blue Enameled Ware, which faced stiff competition.
A trio of graniteware coffee pots courtesy of The Ridge Antiques & Collectibles, Shawnee, KS (photo by Rhiannon Ross)
“On account of the high quality of True Blue Ware many dealers offer for sale a blue mottled ware which bears some resemblance to the original True Blue,” the catalog warned in bold print, “and they will tell you it is True Blue, or just as good. Do not be deceived.”
Besides basic blue and gray, the ware also was available to buyers in brown, green, purple, white and even red. The four typical patterns of the ware included solid colors, shaded, swirled, and mottled or spotted versions.
Typically the older graniteware pieces included more coats of enamel and were heavier. Much of the ware was first issued with cast iron handles during the 19th century. Wooden handles were used at the turn of the century through 1910.
Robert Reed can be reached at email@example.com. Rhiannon Ross contributed to this story. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ridge Antiques & Collectables
A hot, new trend
Interest in antique and vintage graniteware is growing, especially among a younger generation of collectors, industry experts say.
Gene Cusick, owner of Gene’s Collectibles, on historic Route 66 in Vinita, OK, says graniteware is one of his hottest selling items.
“It’s really coming back,” he says. “Every week, customers ask us about it. People like to use it in new ways to decorate their homes.”
1800 Graniteware mug, $85, with vintage ice cream spoons, courtesy of The Ridge Antiques & Collectables, Shawnee, KS (photo by Rhiannon Ross)
Glenda Darner, a store manager at The Ridge Antique & Collectables mall in Shawnee, KS, says customers also ask them about graniteware on a weekly basis.
“Some people are collectors and some like to use it for camping,” she says. “But people use it for many things – for flower pots, to display in their kitchens, to hold stationery, soaps, tea towels and candles. You can even use it to hang jewelry by adding hooks around the rims.”
Old graniteware appeals to designers, especially the color swirl items, observe Fred and Rose Booher, authors of the book Graniteware. “They lend a dash of color and nostalgia wherever placed. Nothing could be better in decoration of the old country kitchen than those old enamelware items.”
Jan Ryan, a dealer at Brown’s Emporium, Independence, MO, says the many colors and patterns of graniteware remind her of fiestaware.
“Graniteware’s mix of colors complements one another,” she says. “It’s especially popular today because people like to pair it with granite countertops in their homes.”
Prices for antique and vintage graniteware have steadily risen over the past years, according to the opinion of one leading price guide editor.
Depending upon the age and quality of a piece, prices could range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. Color also is a key factor in determining the worth of an individual graniteware item.
“Purple, brown, or green swirl pieces are generally higher than gray, white, or blue,” according to Bob and Sharon Huxford in the Flea Market Trader, “although (solid) blues and blue-swirled examples are popular.”
Despite the once heavy production of graniteware, much of it was not marked by the manufacturer. Consequently, wares properly labeled or stamped by the original firm are highly sought.
Demand also appears to be fairly well distributed over the wide variety of items produced during the glory days of graniteware.