Nothing makes the home homier like the smell of freshly cooked or baked food. Even when you are away, the smell of freshly prepared breakfast will ground you and make the new place at least smell familiar. Yeah, it can also cause a bit of nostalgia, but hey, nostalgia ain’t that bad.
Anyhow, the point is, that you can’t cook and bake amazing dishes without the proper equipment. For instance, you can’t prepare an omelet in a saucepan (okay, maybe you can try, but why?). What you need for this task, and for so many more, such as cooking delicious steak, is one and only, the king among the cookware – the almighty cast iron skillet!
Of course, many of us regular mortals, use brand new skillets that we bought at the local shop, but what if I tell you that in this case brand new isn’t the best option? It might sound odd, but the more used the skillet is, the better it is for cooking.
So before you start looking for vintage skillets on your own, make sure you read this article with utmost care for details! Here comes my ultimate guide on how to find the most valuable cast iron skillet!
The Reasons Why You Need A Good Cast Iron Skillet
There are endless reasons why you should buy yourself a cast-iron skillet, but here are the three most important reasons.
The first reason and the most obvious one is that they can last for generations. This does not mean they are indestructible, they can crack, chip, and shatter in pieces if you don’t handle them properly. However, they are way more durable, unlike nonstick pans which you can change once a year if you use them regularly.
The second reason is that cast iron skillets can handle all types of cooking. You can use them on a stovetop, in the oven, on the grill, or on a campfire. Pans made from stainless steel can’t withstand this kind of oscillation. Plus most of them have handles made from plastic, which is not a good friend with high temperatures.
The final reason is the taste and structure that you can achieve only by using this ironware. Skillets can withstand very high temperatures, so when you fry, bake, or sautee your food at higher temperatures it creates a magical texture. The steak is perfectly seared, and the pizzas or tortillas are crispy, yet not dry! Oh, and the sauces become thick and perfect without needing to spend hours next to the stove.
I get that most people look more at the “negative” side – they are heavy, not so easy to cook with, you need to know how to maintain them, and not so easy to clean. But the fact is that owning a cast iron skillet is worth all of that “trouble”.
Most Valuable Cast Iron Skillet You Need To Acquire For Your Collection
1. Griswold Cast Iron #2 Slant Logo Skillet w/ Smoke/Fire Ring
- Year: 1907
- Price: $4,495
We love rare antique items, and Griswold #2 is one of the Holly Grails. This miniature skillet has around 4.5 inches in size. The cooking space is just enough to fit two eggs. It is a perfect breakfast utensil if you ask me. Even though considering the price you won’t use it for cooking, I know I wouldn’t.
Skillets in this size are extremely rare since back in the day people usually used larger cookware that is more uniform and you can use it for many different types of dishes. The cooking space measures 4 inches, while the rim of the cooking bowl is around 2 inches high.
It comes with two pouring spouts, even though it was rarely used for cooking the foods that need to be poured. You can find a few pieces of this particular model on eBay and Etsy for lower prices as well but in not-so-good condition.
2. Griswold #13 Cast Iron Skillet
- Year: 1909
- Price: $3,995
Griswold is THE NAME in the world of skillets, and iron-cast cookware in all. Most manufacturers produced skillets from number 1 to 20. The most valuable and rarest Griswold skillets are those under numbers 1, 2, 11, 13, and 20. Unfortunately, number 1 is extremely rare and those are very hard to find despite their small size.
Griswold cookware is very valuable since it is manufactured between 1885 and 1957. It is also lightweight (as much as we can say that for iron cast) and has an incredibly smooth cooking surface.
This particular specimen, #13 measures 12 inches in diameter. The rim of the cooking bowl is around 2.25 inches high and it has two pouring spouts on the sides. You will find a small handle across the regular one to ease up the handling.
3. Tecumseh Antique Vintage Iron Skillet #11
- Year: 1880-1885
- Price: $3,000
Tecumseh skillets are very rare. Unfortunately, this is a very mystic brand, even passionate collectors don’t know much about them. Supposedly they are manufactured in Michigan, but that is also unconfirmed info.
Tecumseh skillets #8 and #12 are seen on the market as well, but they have been sold immediately, as well as this #11. They are worth over a few thousand dollars.
The inside cooking surface of this skillet measures 10 inches, and the upper rim is approximately 2 inches high with two pouring spouts.
4. Wagner cast iron skillet #13
- Year: 1930
- Price: $2849,95
Not sure why, but getting an iron cast skillet in size #13 is really hard, no matter which brand you choose. The Wagner skillets are very valuable and appreciated, but they are a bit heavier than the Griswold models. This Wagner #13 iron skillet comes with a heat ring, there are models without it, so if you run across them no worries they are still valuable!
Now let’s mention some measurements. The diameter of this item is almost 15 inches, while the cooking surface is around 14 inches, which is a great size. The rim of the skillet is about 2 inches deep with two pouring spouts. Also, if you are interested, the handle is 5 inches long.
This specimen is a collector’s piece, so if you are one of those people, you should check this post on Etsy. The seller says it is cleaned and seasoned so you can put it in the use immediately if you are buying it for cooking purposes.
5. Griswold Cast Iron Skillet #20
- Year: 1900s
- Price: $1,250
As I mentioned there are specific models of Griswold skillets that are more valuable and sought-after among cookware enthusiasts and vintage collectors. Griswold skillet #20 is one of them.
The size of this skillet is huge. The cooking space measures 20 inches, however, it has 24 inches from one handle to another. The rim is straight and 3 inches deep. You can easily fit 30 pounds of food in this beast.
If this product caught your eye, visit eBay immediately and grab it while the ad is still hot!
6. Favorite Piqua Ware #11 Cast Iron Skillet
- Year: 1916-1935
- Price: $849
Favorite Piqua Ware is a lesser-known brand of vintage ironware cookware, and we are not sure why. They have some of the best-crafted cooking surfaces among all the skillets we have seen. This brand changed its logo very often. The most valuable and loved one is the smiley logo, you will find this logo on skillets #3, #9, and #11.
The diameter of this skillet is 11 inches, while the cooking surface takes around 10 inches. The high of the rim is usually always the same among all manufacturers, between 2 and 3 inches. It has two pouring spouts on the sides.
This particular piece was in use before, hence the price, but it is still in great condition. It is more suitable for people who will use it rather than for collecting.
7. Griswold ERIE #5 3348 Cast Iron Skillet – Fourth Series
- Year: 1905
- Price: $725
This is not the regular Griswold, this is the ERIE Griswold skillet. Before the Griswold became just the Griswold he operated under the name Seldon and Griswold Manufacturing Company. All the skillets that were produced in the period from 1880 until 1907 have the ERIE markings.
This skillet features a very handy size. It measures 8 inches in diameter, from one spout to another spout. The cooking surface is 6.5 inches which are more than enough space for your food. The only thing that I don’t like about it is the height of the rim, it is only 1.78 inches.
The skillet from this ad is used before, and it has some smaller markings, however, it is perfect for cooking and not so perfect for displaying. So cooking enthusiasts you know what to do.
8. Griswold #11 Cast Iron Skillet With Large Block Logo & Heat Ring Restored
- Year: 1920-1930
- Price: $699
Size #11 is also very rare to find. Despite the size, it is surprisingly very light, it weighs a shy above 5 pounds. You’ll love the smooth cooking surface. With a diameter of 12.5 inches, from one spout to another, this skillet is quite large. Luckily it is lightweight!
The cooking surface is around 10 inches, which is suitable for preparing larger amounts of food. The complete length of this skillet with handle is 17.5 inches, while it is 2.25 inches deep. This one is a collector quality since it was rarely used for cooking.
9. Wapak Indian #4 Cast Iron Skillet
- Year: 1900-1920
- Price: $650
Wapak Indian skillets were largely reproduced over the years. However, there are a few things you should look for when trying to identify if it’s real or fake. It must have a heat ring and a rectangular handle with a size number engraved on the front side. Also, an Indian head logo with a detailed headdress.
As you can see the one we found on eBay is a true gem. However, this piece needs restoring and cleaning, and then it is ready for display only since it has some cracks. The price is low as this because of the condition, otherwise, it would be a bit higher.
10. Antique Wapak #8 Cast Iron Skillet With The Indian Head Medallion Logo
- Year: 1903-1926
- Price: $599
This is how a well-preserved Wapak Indian logo skillet should look like. It comes in not so rare size of #8, but considering how good condition it comes the price is higher. This one is a real deal it has all the details I mentioned with the previous model.
The diameter measures 10.5 inches across (from one spout to another) and the cooking surface is 8.25 inches. The height of the skillet is 2.25 inches. It looks heavy and massive but it is pretty lightweight only 4 pounds.
The item is in great condition, with just small markings that come with age and use. You can cook in it since the surface is smooth and in the best possible condition, or you can display it in your collection. It is up to you.
How Can I Tell The Difference Between Real And Fake Vintage Iron Cast Skillet?
Just like with all other trendy and potentially collectible cookware, reproductions are always a big threat. There is a serious market for fake antique cast iron skillets. The worse thing is that they look so good and “real” that someone who isn’t so skillful can easily mistake them for the real ones.
There are a few details you need to pay attention to when trying to figure out if you are dealing with reproductions. They do perform great in the kitchen, however, they don’t have real value. So let’s learn how to recognize them. Look for the following:
- Weight – Recreations are known to be heavier than the real ones. So don’t hesitate and pick up the pan, if it feels wrong, then it is not real. For instance, an 12 inches skillet will weigh around 8 pounds. Logically, the weight scales up and down with the size of the skillet.
- Size – All recreations are a bit smaller than the original models because they are molded from the inside of the original skillet. Don’t be lazy take the measuring tape with you.
- Check for the logo – Every skillet must have the logo imprinted on the bottom. Also, as I already said, some companies changed their logo depending on the ear when they were manufacturing. Also, check for the stock number or the name of the city where it was produced.
- Rust – Vintage iron cast skillets must have some rust if they aren’t completely restored. The orange or red rusting on the pan is a clear sign of vintage cookware.
- Inspect the handle – As you noticed, all cast iron skillets are made in one piece. A real vintage cast iron skillet will never have seams or screwed-on handles.
- Cooking surface – All surfaces of your iron cast skillet should look the same since they are molded in one piece from the same material. All used vintage skillets will have dull black or dark gray color, as well as a bit rough surface. If the skillet was rarely used and still has some seasoning intact it will be a darker black with a smooth surface.
Most popular brands of vintage iron cast skillets
If you are a collector, you know that to find a valuable collectible you need to have a lot of knowledge, information, patience, an eye for detail, and a bit of luck. However, the first step is to know which brands are the ones you must pay attention to.
Here is the list of the most popular and reliable brands and the dates when they were in production. These are the most basic information you need to know about, especially if you are a novice:
- Selden & Griswold 1873-1957
- Griswold Manufacturing 1865-1957
- Vollrath Manufacturing Co. 1884-1960s
- Favorite Stove and Range Co. 1889-1935
- Wagner Manufacturing Co. 1891-1952
- Lodge Manufacturing Co. 1896-present
- Atlanta Stove Works 1898-1957
- Wapak Hollow Ware Co. 1903-1926
Where Should You Look When Hunting For Antique Cast Iron Skillets?
Luckily for you, vintage cast iron skillets, and cookware in general, can be found everywhere. You can score a great deal on yard and garage sales, people usually aren’t very much informed about the worth of their belongings.
Visit your local thrift shop, a flea market, as well as an antique shop, of course. Join some iron cast skillet communities and clubs on Facebook, Reddit, or any other web page you can find. The internet is full of them.
As usual, the best place where you can check the prices is online sources such as Invaluable, eBay and Etsy. These have a wide range of choices but make sure you check the product well before you purchase.
What does the number on the handle mean?
The number imprinted on the handle (or sometimes on the bottom as well) represents a measurement of the diameter of the bottom of the pan. Don’t get confused, this stamped number does not always mean an exact diameter in inches. Different manufacturers labeled their skillets differently.
The difference is not significant in most cases, but for instance, the #8 skillet from Griswold and Wagner has almost the same chart size, while Wapak’s is almost 2 inches larger.
Why did they label their skillets with size numbers?
Most cast iron skillets were made by the same company that produced the wood stoves, which were commonly used in the 1800s and 1900s. They imprinted the number as a way to clarify the compatibility between the pan and the type of stove.
What is the most valuable and rare cast iron skillet?
I bet most of you will be intrigued by this information. Anyhow, the most expensive antique skillet is a Spider skillet manufactured by the Griswold in the 1890s. This super-rare model is sold for $8,000!
Why is a vintage cast iron skillet better than a new one?
The vintage models are more durable, they heat more evenly, and conduct the heat way better since they were used on an open fire. You need to keep in mind that some vintage iron cast skillets won’t work well on your new-age stove with induction tops.
The point is that they are still made from the same material, however, the production process is different, better say speed-up so the quality is a bit compromised. Naturally, you must take good care of your skillet, no matter if it is vintage or brand new.
Never wash it with soap, and never expose it to large temperature changes (never place it on a stovetop after washing it with cold water) to prevent cracks and damage.
Want To Start Collecting Antique Cast Iron Skillets?
Investing money in a reliable and high-quality kitchenware is a must if you are a true gourmand and cooking enthusiast. Some dishes simply taste magical when you prepare them in the right kind of cookware.
If you prefer your food sauteed, caramelized, seared, and enhanced with out-of-this-world sauces then you must own at least one skillet! What do you mean you make a casserole in a dutch oven? You don’t know what you are missing out on!
A good skillet is what every household must have! If you share my philosophy and you have exquisite knowledge about skillets, and cast iron cookware as well, I kindly ask you to share some with us! We appreciate all information and advice we can get. Until the next reading!