Welcome back to my favorite series! The letter G was a tough one. The words or topics I thought of were either too broad or too narrow so I settled on graniteware. Hope you enjoy it! You can see the collection of former posts (A to F) by clicking here. This post contains affiliate links.
What is Graniteware?
First, let’s establish what we’re talking about when we use the term graniteware. Graniteware is a type of enameled metal cookware and kitchenware…known more commonly as enamelware. The grey, granite-like look of the pieces gave it its name.
However, the terms enamelware and graniteware are often used interchangably. Strict collectors may only refer to the grey, early pieces as graniteware but you will often see listings of enamelware of all colors use the term graniteware as well.
For our purposes today, we’ll use the term graniteware to refer to vintage enamelware. Other names that get used are agateware, speckleware, glazedware and enameled ware.
A Quick History
While there had been enameled cookware in Europe, the graniteware we’ll be discussing is that which got its start in second half of the 1800s and continued on until WWII in the United States.
Charles Stumer took out the patent in 1848 and early producers were the St Louis Stamping Co, Lalance & Grosjean (later produced for Sears Roebuck) Bellaire Stamping and Vollrath.
Pieces produced were plentiful! (Say that 5x fast!) You can find enameled coffeepots, colanders, basins, tubs, ladles, cookware like muffin tins and pans as well as dinnerware like cups, plates and bowls. The list is endless.
The colors were also quite varied. You could have grey of course, but then blue with white speckles, white with red or black trim, purple, brown, green, pink and more. White enamelware came to be associated with medical or dental settings.
Popular with collectors are the more unusual speckles and swirls – although again, some collectors will balk at including the swirled enamelware pieces in with “graniteware”. (Although not, apparently, the author of the above book, lol. So that’s comforting)
What was the appeal? How did graniteware get so popular?
First, it was inexpensive. It was lightweight (compared to cast iron) and it was easy to clean. Although it tended to crack and then rust, the frugality of the time led to the production of repair kits.
Graniteware continued to be popular until around WWII and on when the development of aluminum cookware pushed it aside.
Of course, you can still find it in stores today. It enjoyed a resurgence in popularity several times over the years. With the farmhouse look so in demand these days, many stores carry enamelware complete with fake “chips” to give people that rustic look they crave. 🙂 Which leads us to ask….
How to Tell Old Graniteware from New
Here we get to the nitty gritty of what we as resellers need to know. Older graniteware sells the best so we need to know as much as we can if we want to be accurate in our listings.
Has a sticker that says Made in China = Not old. Just kidding. I’m sure you already knew that.
First off, a main identifying mark of older graniteware is the weight. Older stuff is heavier. If you get a ‘tinny’ sound when tapping it…it’s most likely a newer piece.
Also, on older pieces, the handles and spouts were riveted on.
Look for wood handles or with very early pieces…cast iron handles.
Does It Sell?
This is where doing some research can help us. Early pieces are going to be more rare and of course will demand higher prices.
Most early pieces were not signed with the maker since they were just considered utilitarian and not worth marking. There were exceptions and if you find those – they can be worth a premium. I saw a kettle on Worthpoint that sold for over $3000. It was marked “Granite Iron Ware” (a line by St Louis Stamping Co) and was also marked with patent dates of 1876 and 1877. That sale was back in 2005 but I’m sure a rare marked piece like that would still be in demand today.
Other high selling pieces (over $1000) seem to be red and white swirled and speckled pieces. This 2 gallon coffee pot sold for over $1500 last year and was marked “Purity Ware”. (color + maker mark + early = $$$)
Okay so that’s well and good. We can look at Worthpoint or Terapeak or even just Ebay solds and sort from high to low. We can see that the rare pieces sell for high prices. Swirly reds and blues and greens are all good to watch for. Pieces marked with the maker or with advertising companies…also good to look for. (example railroads)
But those are rare pieces that we might not come across. What about the more average enamelware pieces we may find at yard sales, thrift stores and estate sales? Are those worth picking up and flipping?
To answer that, let’s have a chat with Sara, the vintage dealer behind the Etsy shop SfusoVintageStuffs.
I’ve known Sara for awhile and I’ve noticed that in our discussions on selling vintage in the Facebook group Got Vintage Shops Dealer Support Group, she was always sourcing and selling graniteware! Very consistently and it seemed very quickly as well.
So I decided to pick her dealer brain to see if she had any tips for sourcing and selling enamelware.
How did you get into selling graniteware?
Honestly? I needed the cash and I had a ton of it. I am a born and bred Flea Market “enthusiast” and I bought every piece of white enamelware with black trim that I could find because I love it and I used it. Pitchers, coffee pots, bowls, platters, trays and refrigerator boxes; they all make me swoon and they are all useful. There came a point where my “collection” was bigger than I could manage so I had a tag sale, I kept what I loved, sold what I could and then I bought some more.
Is there something special about graniteware that you like?
What’s special about enamelware? Nothing. It’s utilitarian, they are everyday objects that are well made, which makes them sustainable, they have history and character. Enamelware was not made to be special, it was made to be useful, and I find beauty in its usefulness.
Do You Have a Memorable or Favorite Piece?
I have had, and sold, a few Bath Basins. My Gram had one in the sink at our Lake house and every grandkid got a bath and a picture in it, so those are special to find. I also love when I find a great medical piece too, I found a Dental Tool tray, with the lid (which was very exciting). Finding odd pieces also gives me a chance to get creative with repurposing ideas.
What’s Your Favorite Piece in Your Shop Right Now?
Right now, here in NY, pickins are slim and I have not been able to keep up with the demand. We can’t have Estate Sales yet and our rural Flea Markets are just starting to open so I don’t have many pieces in the shop at the moment. I did get two fun pieces last week in a swap with a local dealer friend. She knows that enamelware is my thing and I had a few pieces that are right up her alley so we made a trade. I got a great White Enamelware Butter Pot and a beautifully decorated Enamel High Chair Tray.
Where do you source most of your graniteware?
Under the kitchen sink! In all seriousness, if I am going to an estate sale I head right for the kitchen. Usually all the way in the back of the bottom cabinets there are pots, loaf pans and sometimes, if I am having a good day, a muffin tin. Then I head to the basement and the garage; that’s where you find the big trays, bowls and basins. Remember, enamelware is pretty indestructible and when Mom was done with it in the kitchen Dad took it to the garage or to the garden. Oh yeah … look under all of the plants too.
[Also,] barns and flea markets, but I am finding less and less at flea markets for reselling. I will take trips, usually with my brother, to upstate NY. Through the Catskills and the Adirondacks where I know about some lovely small Flea Markets and we stop at everything we see along the way until the truck is full or we run out of money. I once drove 3 ½ hours to a barn sale in Delhi NY just for the enamelware … it was worth it.
Thank you Sara!!
Some things I gleaned from that interview and from poking around her shop, including the solds:
- Enamelware sells! In the few days since I started talking to Sara about this post, more pieces in her shop sold.
- The current farmhouse, modern rustic look is still going strong and the rest of her shop embraces that look as well.
- Give buyers some alternate uses or repurposing ideas for the graniteware. In Sara’s listings I saw the following ideas: watercolor tray, beer cooler, dog dish, planter, plant plate, soap dish, sponge holder, fruit bowl and other storage ideas.
I have sold some graniteware in the past. Mostly probably the 1960s and on revival pieces from Japan and elsewhere. Some European and Scandinvian pieces like from Cathrineholm and Arabia of Finland (Finel).
And a few older classic grey graniteware looking pieces. But honestly, the farmhouse/primitive look is not my forte so I don’t pay that close attention.
But I will now. That’s what a vintage education can do for you!
Share any graniteware stories or scores below!