How Old Is My Wagner Cast Iron Skillet?
Many cast iron collectors believe that the production of real Wagner cookware stopped in 1959. This was the year when it was sold to a company that already owned Wagner’s number one competitor, Griswold.
This is why a cast iron skillet that was made after 1959 is not deemed as a collectible by antique collectors.
I would say that the 1960s–early 1980s-made cast iron cookware is still pretty darn good, though, and probably some of those pieces are better than what you can get today. (Read more about Wagner Cast Iron.)
In many cases, we cannot determine the exact date that a piece of cookware was made.
We can come pretty close to a range of dates once we understand a little bit about the manufacturing of the cookware.
The iron foundries would have molds for the various pieces of cookware and over time the molds would need to be replaced. Or through expansion the foundries would get more molds to increase production or to make another piece of cookware.
Why is all this is important?
Well, the logos and markings on the bottom and handles of cookware would change over time. In this way, we can assume within a range when a piece of cookware was actually made.
The two pieces in the image above (which I found on eBay), are most likely from the period from 1925–1959. It’s a pretty big range, I know.
And one of them, the #3, was apparently never used.
When I got it, there was a little bit of rust present on the gray, unseasoned, raw cast iron. Amazing that it never had any food on it until I bought it.
I simply washed it with some soap and hot water, soaked it in 50% vinegar & 50% water for 20 minutes. After that, I seasoned it using the method outlined at this site.
One of the best ways to tell is by the font, location, and styling of the logo and trademarks on the bottom of the cookware. I highly recommend checking out a reputable guidebook if you are trying to determine the age of your Wagner Ware.
I used the photos there to review the font and location of the logo on the bottom of the skillet. You can see the script-style on the “W” where there is a small loop in the center. The logo and writing is in the center near the top, or opposite the handle.
The “Wagner” has a bit of an arc to it, while “Ware” and “Sidney” are written straight with no arc.
There are forums of Wagner collectors online that you can ask for help in determining the date when your cast iron pan was manufactured. A professional appraiser can also help but it will mean additional cost.
There are forums of Wagner collectors online that can help you in dating Wagner cast iron. A professional appraiser can also help in determining the date when your cast iron pan was manufactured but it will mean additional cost.
Wagner Manufacturing Company
The Wagner brothers, Bernard and Milton, established the Wagner Manufacturing Company in 1891. But even before that, the brothers were already making light hardware castings for stores as early as 1881.
They also manufactured a variety of metal tableware, or holloware, for government contracts. The Wagner brothers are acknowledged to be the first to make cast iron cookware in Sidney, Ohio which is the site of their first factory.
Upon its incorporation, two other brothers, William and Louis, were added as co-owners of the company.
In 1892, Wagner added nickel-plated cookware to its product line.
In 1894, the company became one of the first companies to manufacture aluminum cookware. This was quite revolutionary at that time.
In 1897, Wagner acquired its Sidney-based competitor Sidney Hollow Ware Co. from Phillip Smith. Just like Wagner, it was one of the pioneers in nickel plating cast iron. It was also manufacturing products that were comparable to Wagner’s. William Wagner joined the company to run the operations of Sidney Foundry.
In 1903, the Sidney Hollow Ware Company was sold back to its original owner Phillip Smith. Unfortunately, he was unable to reopen it due to his failing health.
In 1913, Wagner was distributing its cast iron and aluminum products in Europe.
At one point, the company cornered a 60% share of the cookware industry market. And, aside from cookware, the company also manufactured other metal products such as furnace grates, feed troughs, and chemists’ mortars that were sold domestically.
Uniting Wagner and Griswold
The Great Depression that the US experienced from 1929 and lasted until about 1941, found many industries struggling. To stop its falling sales, Wagner introduced a new line called Magnalite. Although it became immensely popular, it was not enough to offset the big blow that the recession dealt Wagner.
To its credit, Wagner managed to survive longer than many foundries. But in 1946, the heirs of the Wagner brothers begun divesting their holdings in the company.
In 1952, the company was sold to the Randall Company, a car parts manufacturer.
In 1959, Randall itself was sold to a company called Textron which, interestingly, had also purchased Griswold Manufacturing Company about two years earlier.
Many collectors are of the belief that it was at this time that the production of the true Wagner cookware stopped. It is for this reason that cast iron pans made after this period are not being considered as collectibles.
Almost any piece after 1960 by both Griswold and Wagner do not get much attention from collectors as the others manufactured by both iconic brands earlier did.
Beginning of the End
In 1969, General Housewares Corporation bought Textron, and along with the purchase came the Wagner and Griswold brands. The company continued the operations of the two brands as two separate divisions through the 70s, 80s, and part of the 90s.
Griswold products were manufactured in the Wagner foundry since the Griswold foundry in Erie Pennsylvania was closed in 1957 when it was sold to Textron. This is the reason why after the closure, Griswold cast iron skillets did not have the Erie marking anymore.
There are pieces from this period that were made from Griswold molds but carry both the Griswold and Wagner names in their markings at the bottom of the pan.
Still, most antique cast iron collectors do not consider Griswold pieces made in the Wagner foundry to be authentic Griswold, although they are, for all intents and purposes, authentic.
Unfortunately, the quality and style of both brands began to remarkably decline at this point. General Housewares even developed some new patterns and styles, the most noteworthy of which is the Griswold “Hearthstone” line.
In 1991, General Housewares released the “Wagner’s 1891” line of cast iron pans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wagner Manufacturing Company. The skillet carries the “1891 Original” designation at its bottom. Nowadays, it is common to see them being sold for only $5 to $10 in antique shops.
In 1996, General Housewares sold the Wagner and Griswold cookware lines to a group of investors that included a former Wagner employee. They named the company as WagnerWare Corporation.
In 1999, the foundry in Sidney was permanently shut down. By the following year, Wagner fell into receivership and all production was ceased.
The assets of the company were then sold to World Kitchens which manufactured some products under the WagnerWare name. In 2005, the American Culinary Corporation bought the rights, legacy, and whatever that remained of the Wagner and Griswold brands. Unfortunately, they no longer manufacture cast iron pans under these brand names.
Today, there seem to be no cast iron pans produced after the Wagner foundry closed shop in 1999. Collectors lament that there is no known existence of modern Wagner cast iron pans released by American Culinary.
The Wagner Manufacturing Company is known for quality in its wide range of cookware. Today, its cast iron pieces are highly valued by collectors and hobbyists. Wagner’s cast iron frying pans, Dutch ovens, and bakeware still command premium prices because of their beauty and durability.
Dating a Wagner cast iron can be tricky, to say the least. One way of doing it is to pay attention to the logos and other markings at the bottom of the pans. They often changed through the years and are good indicators of the age of your cast iron.
Being familiar with the company’s rich history would also be a big help to approximate the time when the skillet was manufactured.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is a Wagner cast iron skillet worth?
If you have an old cast iron skillet hidden somewhere in your kitchen cabinets, chances are it’s more valuable than you think. If it’s a Wagner cast iron skillet, it may be worth $200 - the same price you paid for a new stainless steel pan. The cast iron skillet will cook better, too.
Wagner’s rich history and the high quality of its products have made it a favorite collectible in the antique market. The price of a vintage Wagner may be the same as the prices of new skillets. However, a very rare Wagner cast iron skillet can cost up to $1,500.
Is Wagner Ware cast iron good?
Wagner manufactured a full-range of high-quality cast iron cookware. The amazing thing about the Wagner cast iron is that it has few casting flaws. This results in a cookware that is very smooth in and out.
To think that Wagner didn’t have the benefits of modern technology to be able to do this that manufacturing companies now enjoy. We must also appreciate the great skill and attention to detail that must have taken the workers of Wagner to produce such excellent pieces.
The fact that although a Wagner cast iron may be over a hundred years old and is still used to this day is a great testament to its quality and durability.
Do they still make Wagner cast iron?
A group of investors that included a former Wagner employee purchased the company in 1996 and renamed it to WagnerWare Corporation. They continued manufacturing cookware for another 3 years but closed their Sidney Ohio foundry in 1999.
In 2000, both the Wagner and Griswold cookware lines were acquired by the American Culinary Corporation. Although the new company continues to promote and produce both brands, cast iron has not been manufactured since the closure of the Sidney foundry.
How do you date a cast iron skillet?
Dating a Wagner cast iron can be tricky but fortunately, Wagner is easier to date than its contemporaries because the evolution of the company and its logos through the years are well documented. These provide valuable clues that can help give you the approximate date your cast iron skillet was manufactured.
The first step is to take note of all the markings on the bottom of the pan and where they are placed. The Wagner Manufacturing Company used several logos and other designations (like “Sidney, O”) through the years. Some pans made in the earlier days of the foundry do not have a logo at all. Some also carry additional size designation that is usually a number, the most common of which is “8”.
Then, look very closely at the construction of the pan since it can also provide clues to date your cast iron pan. Very old Wagner pans have a raised ring around their bottoms to keep the pan from direct contact with the top of a wood stove that was used then. Take note also of other things such as the handles and how they are connected to the body.
Consult a reputable guidebook that many enthusiasts and collectors use. Compare everything you have gathered about your cast iron pan with the pictures in the guidebook. Special attention should be given to the markings on it and compare them to those listed in the guidebook.
You can also discussions on a forum for Wagner collectors and enthusiasts. They can help you date your cast iron pan. Or, you can ask a professional appraiser to help you determine the date when your cast iron pan was manufactured.
What foods should you not cook in cast iron?
As good as traditional cast iron is for those one-pan meals and steaks, there are certain foods that you should avoid cooking in them.
First are those that tend to leave strong smells behind such as garlic, peppers, and some types of fish. The lingering odor that will stay in the cast iron may ruin the other dishes that you will cook after.
If your cast iron pan is new, avoid frying eggs with it also. However, once the pan is already well-seasoned, there won’t be a problem anymore.
Fleshy fishes can be able to stand the heat of cast iron pans but not the delicate types such as trout and tilapia. You can relegate them to a non-stick pan.
Acidic food is said to have a reaction to metal and thus should not be cooked in cast iron as well. Others believe that acid will discolor and break down the seasoning of the pan.
What is the rarest Griswold skillet?
The rarest Griswold skillet is a mint condition “Spider Skillet” that was made in the 1890s. It is said to be worth $8,000.
The spider with its web that is stamped on the base is a smaller cast iron skillet with legs coming off its sides. It is the only skillet that Griswold ever stamped a spider on. The reason behind why the company did this is still not known to this day.
Another rare Griswold cast iron skillet is marked with: “Cast Iron Skillet 13” followed by the Griswold Large Block Logo on the bottom, and 13 on the handle. It is reportedly worth $2,800.
It is one of the most difficult pieces to find since very few of them were made. Apparently, people didn’t want to buy them at that time because of their fear of the number 13.
This rare cast iron skillet has no cracks or chips although it’s believed to have been manufactured between 1924 and 1939. To bring it into pristine condition, it was cleaned via electrolysis, hand buffed, and seasoned with 3 layers of canola oil.
Image Credits via Flickr: Stockton350