An In-Depth Look at Popular Vintage/Retro Enamelware Collectibles

Updated on October 9, 2017
Source

Enamelware has experienced a surge in popularity due to the current interest in mid-20th century design. The smooth, easy-to-clean surface of enameled metal kitchenware has also become popular due to concerns over toxins in plastic products and no-stick pots and pans.

Originally marketed in the 19th century as a safe alternative to toxic materials found in kitchen products, it seems as if we have come full circle.

Vintage pieces can be found at thrift shops and at yard sales and are very affordable. Of course, there are types of enamelware that are rare or in high demand that are quite expensive. Even chipped or partially-rusted vintage pieces can be attractive for those who like a rustic country look, though damaged goods are not advised for cooking or eating purposes. Fortunately, there are many new enameled kitchen products on the market today that are safe and useful.

Old blue enameled milk can
Old blue enameled milk can | Source

What Is Enamelware?

Enameled metal has been used for thousands of years in ancient Rome, Greece, and Persia for jewelry and in the decorative arts.

Vitreous enamel was developed in Germany in the mid 19th century. A ground glass called frit is applied to metal then fired at temperatures hot enough to melt glass but not the metal. Minerals added to the frit produce color. The process has been used for advertising signage, medical equipment, kitchen appliances, bathtubs, cookware, dishware, basins, and pans. The term "enameware" refers to enameled steel or cast iron.

Early products were usually white. Usually, Britain produced white enamelware with a dark blue rim. Swedish products were cream colored trimmed in green. Though many patterns and colors were developed over the years, the inside of an enameled cast iron pot was usually white. Today's popular enamelware Dutch ovens which are enameled cast iron are white inside.

By the late 1800s blue spotted Agateware became popular. In the 1890s, Agateware which was enameled nickel and steel, was marketed as a sanitary alternative to kitchenware that used lead and arsenic in its production.

Granitware mimicked the look of granite. Developed by Charles Stumer and produced by the St. Louis Stamping Company, it was originally called Granite Iron Ware. The term "granitware" eventually became a generic term for specked gray and white enamlware.

Later patterns included stenciled flowers, checkerboard prints, a chicken wire print, sentimental cartoons, marbling, fruits, polka dots, hearts, and leaves.Enameled canisters were printed with the words of the intended contents such as flour, sugar, and tea.

Granite ware circa 1895

Granite ware coffee pot produced by the St Louis Stamping Company
Granite ware coffee pot produced by the St Louis Stamping Company | Source

Enameled Gas Stove circa 1932

Source

Dutch Ovens

Le Creuset, a French company, began producing their popular brand in the 1920s creating the iconic Dutch oven in "Flame" which was orange. They introduced yellow in 1956. Today, Le Creuset's products come in many colors including blue, green, gray and white.

Julia Child, mother of the modern food movement, used Descoware made by a Belgian company. Her cooking show introduced many people to French cooking using fresh ingredients in classic enamelware cookware.

Enameled cast iron is very heavy. It can be found in a wide range of prices. Higher priced products are long lasting and believed to be less prone to chipping.

Le Creuset Dutch Oven

The iconic Le Creuset Dutch Oven in Flame
The iconic Le Creuset Dutch Oven in Flame | Source

Collectors' Favorites

Vintage enamelware is quite inexpensive especially if it is marred, chipped, or shows some rust spots. However, as with most older goods, there is a demand for particular brands and types. Unusual styles and colors are popular with collectors.

Prices are very high for Scandanavian mid 20th century enamelware. Products designed by Cathrine Holm for the Norwegian company Grete Pryte Kittelsen are brightly colored with simple patterns. Illustrated here is the Lotus pattern. Produced from the 1950s to the 1970s, these command top dollar on online auction sites.

Kaj Franck Finel also created attractive enamelware in the mid 20th century. The intense colors and iconic designs are highly prized by collectors.

You can loosely date some mid century pieces by color. The 1950s and 1960s brought us bright basic colors like red, white, and bright green. Examples from the 1970s often come in fall colors like harvest gold, dull orange, and avocado green.

Enamelware from the 1920s and 30s with cute, sentimental designs are not nearly as expensive as mid 20th century products.

Cathrinehom bowl in blue Lotus design
Cathrinehom bowl in blue Lotus design | Source

Final Mugs

The pretty, bright colors of mid 20th century Scandinavian design are highly collectible and quite expensive
The pretty, bright colors of mid 20th century Scandinavian design are highly collectible and quite expensive | Source

Toxins

You may not want to actually cook with vintage enamelware. In the old days, few regulations prevented the uses of toxic materials. Despite manufacturers claims that enamelware was clean and sanitary, additives like lead and cadmium were often used in the production of bright colored frits. For instance, Le Creuset used cadmium in red and orange colored enameled iron cookware. The company still produces red and orange products but now complies with standards set by California regulations, some of the strictest guidelines in the world. While cadmium is still used, production methods prevent the toxin from being released during cooking. Also, the inner cooking surfaces are white.

Years ago, a type of uranium used in the frit for brightly colored enamel was radioactive. US government regulations stopped the use of uranium based compounds used in the production of cookware in 1938.

Today there is some concern that certain countries like China do not provide enough regulation to ensure safe cookware. Inexpensive lead tests are available on the internet and at many hardware stores.

New enamelware mugs on display.
New enamelware mugs on display. | Source

Using Old Enamelware

Old enamelware can be put to any number of uses. Chipped or partially rusted pieces look charming and evoke a rustic feel to a kitchen or to an outdoor gathering. They work well for picnics, cookouts, or a tea party on a wide porch. You can enjoy your old enamelware even if it is slightly toxic.

  • Coffeepots and mugs can hold a flower arrangement.
  • Use a mug to hold utensils. Place the forks tine side up like a flower arrangement.
  • Line a large bowl or basin with a linen towel and fill with breads, muffins, or rolls for a party.
  • Fill large basins with ice and stock with bottles of soda, beer, or wine.
  • Use a large shallow pan as a serving tray.
  • Fill an old saucepan with berries. First, line it with cling wrap. Once it's filled, you won't even notice the plastic wrap. It will look like you just picked the berries!

Cream With Green Trim

Cream with green trim is typical of vintage Swedish enamelware and can be used with caution. The large pot would be nice filled with ice and a few bottles of wine or lemonade.
Cream with green trim is typical of vintage Swedish enamelware and can be used with caution. The large pot would be nice filled with ice and a few bottles of wine or lemonade. | Source

Cast Iron Enamelware Care

  • When you buy a new enamelware Dutch oven, wash with warm soapy water using a soft cloth or sponge. Towel dry.
  • If there is exposed cast iron on the rim, season the iron. Run a paper towel coated with cooking oil around the rim and place in a warm (not hot) oven for 15 to 20 minutes. This will prevent rust.
  • Never use steel wool pads or abrasive cleansers as they will scratch the smooth surface.
  • Do not air dry. Use a towel.
  • Do not bang on your enamelware pot or bang the pot on a hard surface.
  • Avoid quick temperature changes.
  • Do not use metal utensils. Use wood or silicone spoons and spatulas while cooking to avoid marring the surface.
  • If stained, soak overnight using 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Wash and rinse. Towel dry.
  • You can use a bit of bleach water to remove stains. Make sure you wash and rinse and dry.
  • For stains, rub a paste of baking soda and water on the stain. Wash, rinse, and dry.

Questions & Answers

  • Can the worn white interior of my vintage Dru Holland ware be repaired and if so, where?

    There are people out there who suggest that the enamel can be repaired with a food safe epoxy, but most experts and manufacturers will not recommend using it for cooking after the repair.

    Personally, I would not cook with vintage enamelware. Toxic metals have been used in the past to coat iron. These include lead and cadmium. Please do not use damaged enamelware. Chipped or worn edges can break off and wind up in your food.

    If I were you, I'd use the pot as a display piece. Use it to store small items, as a container for a flower arrangement, to store recipes, or anything your imagination can come up with.

© 2017 Dolores Monet

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      2 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Peggy - yep! There are many modern examples of enamelware that are safe to use. The older stuff is wonderfully decorative.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This would certainly give a vintage look to home decor if using or displaying this vintage enamelware. It is amazing to think that uranium, lead and/or cadmium was once used in the making of these pieces. Considering that I think that it is probably best to use them for display only.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      16 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Flourish Anyway - I love those things. Some of the old Hoosiers (if that's what yours is) had a little cupboard with a built-in flour sifter. They were so cute!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      16 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Ms Dora - thanks! I always fondly remember that big blue enamelware roasting pan and the wonderful smell of turkey at Thanksgiving.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      16 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Genna - I took a photo of a few of my own examples of enamelware and when I looked at the picture I realized that I had left so many pieces out. I am not too fond of cooking on top of the stove with my enamelware Dutch oven but use it in the oven. Thanks!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      16 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I love Dutch ovens, Dolores...I use one all the time; they cook beautifully. Thank you for the cautions about using older enamelware, and the toxins they may have. Very helpful!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      16 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for bringing back fond memories of enamelware around the house. I grew up with enamel drinking mugs, also enamel basins before we had showers and sinks. How we cherished them and tried to protect them from chipping. Your article inspires new appreciation for them.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      16 months ago from United States

      Love, love, love vintage dishes, especially shabby chic enamelware. Wonderful article, Dolores.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      16 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi pstraubie48 - I am a big fan of thrift shops myself. Angels always welcome!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      16 months ago from sunny Florida

      Lovely...classic look....I enjoy browsing in antique shops and what not shops searching for enamel ware. It brings back fond memories of my childhood (O, I sound old....I guess I am NOT a spring chicken but think I am ...hee hee)...

      Well done pinning

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      16 months ago from USA

      My great grandmother passed some kitchen pieces including a cupboard with an enameled top down to me. This was helpful in its suggestions for how to use the items for entertaining. Thank you!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://delishably.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)