NEW YORK – Cookware and kitchen tools are a million-dollar business today. While new products are readily available, many people still prefer to use antique and vintage tools. Often contributing to this phenomenon is the desire for having tools just like Grandma’s, which brings up fond memories of being a child and watching her cook. The aesthetic appeal of old tools is also powerful from an Art Deco toaster with its elegant streamlined shape to an ornate soup ladle.
The great thing about old kitchen tools is most are affordable and can readily be found at flea markets and garage sales. Barring rust or broken parts, tools made 40, 50 or more years ago are still functionable. In many cases, they even work better than their modern counterparts. And sometimes they are no longer made anymore or not to the same level of quality.
“Even if you can find food mills more easily now, I’ll stick with my old one that came from my next-door neighbors because I know it can stand the test of time,” wrote Kristin Appenbrink in a blog about the appeal of old tools on thekitchn.com.
They also make decorating a kitchen fun. Instead of artwork, wall decor could be copper molds in whimsical forms such as fish. A collection of wrought iron trivets or wooden spoons can make for attractive groupings.
Cooking used to be an hours-long process in Colonial times, from roasting meat in a Dutch oven over an open fire or turning fresh-picked fruit into preserved jam. Heading into the 19th century, time-saving kitchen utensils became readily available from salad spinners to molds and potato peelers. Well into the 20th century, nonstick coated metal pans replaced copper pots for most home cooks even though many professional chefs still favor copper cookware. Cast-iron cookware, especially vintage examples, has seen a resurgence in recent years.
Among old kitchenware, vintage canisters are popular. From brightly colored enamel or metal canisters, often decorated with flowers, to ceramic examples, either round or squared off, canisters blend function and form.
Among popular kitchen tools that collectors seek out are hand mixers, waffle irons, graters and potato mashers. Collectors are often drawn to items that have a striking design and the handles/ material can increase a tool’s value. Lobster forks with Bakelite handles or tools having wooden handles in certain paint colors are sought after. Cookie cutters are also desirable, and older examples made of copper usually bring higher prices than aluminum ones.
Mason jars have wide cross collecting appeal. While they were, and continue to be made, for canning fruits and vegetables, they are versatile storage containers. As far as actual kitchen and food storage goes, vintage Corningware, Pyrex and Tupperware remain perennially popular.
Famous chefs and the tools they use often inspire budding chefs. Even their kitchens can be of interest. Julia Child’s home kitchen is where she began cooking and filmed her television cooking show in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a decade. In 2001, she donated her kitchen and its tools and equipment dating to the late 1940s to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is on display.
Toasters have long been collectibles and their design has changed much over the years. Before early electric toasters, people would use long forks to hold the slices over an open fire to toast the bread. In 1893, Alan MacMasters invented the first electric bread toaster in Scotland, which he called the Eclipse toaster. Dozens of design changes have been made since. By 1926, Waters-Genter of Minneapolis offered a redesign called Toastmaster. “It was the first automatic pop-up, household toaster that could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished,” notes Linda Gross, a reference librarian at the Hagley Museum and Library in a blog on the museum website.
One sometimes finds at auction examples of an Coca-Cola electric sandwich toaster/sandwich press, made in St. Louis, Missouri, around 1930. Having decorative scrollwork and an elegant black Bakelite handle, this device embossed a Coca-Cola script logo onto the bread. Several have sold between $1,500 and $3,500 in recent years.
Antique and vintage kitchen tools are not merely utilitarian items, they are also pieces of history and often a family heirloom with many stories to tell.