From 1865 until the late 1950s, the Griswold Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania made various cast iron implements for home use including many types of hardware. Their selection of cookware included skillets, muffin pans, roasters, bread molds, waffle irons, kettles, dutch ovens, and even miniatures. These pieces stood the test of time, and are the items most often found by collectors today.
Since they were usually made with black iron, collectors easily recognize them now. The distinctive mark on the back of each piece frequently confirms a Griswold cast iron find, but this firm actually used a number of different marks during the life of the company.
More About Marks Used by Griswold
The first mark used by Griswold was simply "Erie." Later pieces can be identified by a cross-shaped mark within a circle similar to those shown in the illustration here. There were several variations of that mark used through 1957 when the company was sold.
Other companies manufactured cast iron using the name after the company changed hands, but collectors look for the words "Erie," "Erie PA" or "Erie PA USA" under the logo to confirm that their treasures were indeed made in Pennsylvania. The later use of the Griswold logo was legal, however, so newer pieces aren't technically considered to be reproductions. Ardent collectors don't favor them as much as the older pieces though, and the price they are willing to pay piece by piece reflects this judgment.
The Significance of Size Numbers
Since many Griswold items, skillets, for example, came in a variety of sizes, the numbers located on the backs helped consumers communicate the size they needed when they were new. Now, collectors use these numbers as indicators of value and rarity, since most price guides list Griswold pieces by item type and then by size number.
For instance, collectors may find #12 and #14 skillets (although not inexpensively for early marks) fairly readily. Finding a #13 to complete a Griswold skillet collection can be a bit more difficult to accomplish.
Collectible Cast Iron in the Kitchen
One of the best parts of collecting cast iron comes with being able to really enjoy the functionality of these pieces in the kitchen. Many cooks hang iron skillets and pans on walls for pleasing country style displays as well as for easy access.
Often found caked with years worth of grease, grime, and rust when discovered at flea markets and estate sales, with a little cleaning and care, these heavy-duty collectibles can function in the kitchen once again without worrying about damage or food contamination.
David G. Smith, also known as "The Pan Man," suggests wearing rubber gloves and eye protection while cleaning cast iron since these methods require using caustic chemicals. And, he cautions that these cleaning methods should be reserved only for iron.
Cast Iron Cleaning Basics
For an individual item, begin by spraying the pan with standard oven cleaner and putting it in a sealed plastic bag. Using a plastic bag will keep the cleaner from evaporating and allows it to work longer.
After a day or two, take it out of the bag and scrub it down with a brass brush. Smith prefers the type made for cleaning whitewall tires, noting it's just the right size "for doing pans." If all the grease doesn't loosen up right away, repeat the process concentrating cleaner on stubborn spots.
Cleaning Multiple Pieces
If you have several dirty items, Smith suggests a soaking solution of one and a half gallons of water to one can of lye mixed in a plastic container. Only use plastic since lye can damage or deteriorate other materials. The items should be placed in the solution so that they're covered and allowed to soak for about five days. Remove the pieces and use the same brass brush method to scrub them clean.
Removing mild rust should be done with a fine wire wheel on an electric drill while crusted rust can be dissolved by soaking the piece in a 50 percent solution of white vinegar and water for a few hours. "Don't leave it more than overnight without checking it. This solution will eventually eat the iron!" Smith shared on his website.
Once the pan is clean, it should be seasoned. This is done by warming it in the oven for a few minutes then applying a little shortening, vegetable oil, lard, or bacon fat to the surface of the pan. Put the skillet back into a 225-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove and wipe it almost dry to eliminate any pooled grease. Put it back in the oven for another half hour or so, completing the initial seasoning. The seasoning process will continue with use especially if you use it to cook fatty foods the first few times it hits the stove.
Cleaning After Use
After cooking, articles stuck to the pan should be loosened with a spoon. Avoid using scouring pads. They cut into the seasoned surface ruining the effect. It's also important to remember not use detergent or soap of any kind to clean cast iron since this will also break down the seasoning. Instead, put hot water in the pan and bring it to a boil. Let the pan soak for several minutes, empty the water and then wipe dry with a paper towel. Reheat the pan and apply just enough grease to cover the surface before stowing it away.