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Collecting Vintage Enamelware

Last week while I was perusing Goodwill, I ran across a small collection of Vintage Enamelware pots and pans, there was also a small stack of plates that were in a pretty bad condition that I left at the store, but I grabbed up the pots and pans quickly.

Red rimmed enamelware has been on my “thrift store wish list” for a while. I’ve never had intentions to begin seriously collecting Vintage Enamelware. But the same part of me that has a soft spot for aprons, pyrex, and the mid-century domestics that involve wearing pretty dresses and aprons while baking some sort of fabulous cake from scratch definitely feels the draw to vintage enamelware.

I love the look of the vintage cook and dinnerware, and I am thrilled with my new purchases, but aside from a few other pieces which are mostly plates, I doubt I will add too much more to my humble collection of enamelware. I am trying something new and trying to have some self-restraint when it comes to collecting 😉

I immediately put my large stockpot to work as a centerpiece on my dining room table, where it holds a smallish poinsettia. I absolutely love it!

After the holidays, my “new” pieces will look great with my collection of vintage cookie cutters and cookbooks, which was really why I have been wanting some vintage enamelware.  If you are a casual collector also, or happen to be on the lookout for a few vintage pieces yourself I have a few care and collecting tips below.

Enamelware has been around since the 19th century, and some pieces are quite rare and highly sought after by serious collectors, fetching lots of money at sales. My tips below are geared towards those of us who want to score a few decorative pieces on the cheap at a thrift store or garage sale.

 Vintage Enamelware Safety Concerns

While enamelware was originally marketed as a clean and safe alternative to other presumably,  more toxic cooking methods, there was actually very little regulation at the time to prevent the use of toxic materials and additives. Lead and cadmium were often used in the production of the brightly colored trims and decorations on vintage enamelware. If the origin or date of manufacture of an enamel piece is unknown, it is especially important to avoid using it for any type of food preparation or service after it chips. Cadmium is especially common in red, yellow and orange enamel.

I happen to adore the look of old chippy enamelware,  and luckily, enamelware can be used both decoratively and functionally. Chipped or partially rusted pieces look charming and evoke a nostalgic feel to a kitchen or to an outdoor gathering. Vintage pieces work well for picnics, cookouts, or a casual gathering on a wide porch. There are ways you can enjoy your old enamelware even if you don’t want to serve or prepare food directly in it.

  • Coffeepots and mugs can hold small flower arrangements.
  • Line a large bowl or basin with a linen towel and fill with apples, oranges, and bananas for a pretty self-serve fruit bowl.
  • Large basins make stunning centerpieces, fill with gourds and mums in the fall, and evergreen and berries in the winter.
  • Use a large shallow pan as a serving tray.
  • An enamelware bucket is a great towel holder in a guest bath, roll towels and tuck the bucket into an easily assessable area.

Care of Vintage Enamelware

  • Wash with warm soapy water using a soft cloth or sponge.
  • Don’t allow chipped or cracked enamelware to “drip dry”, these pieces are very prone to rust,  for best results towel dry to maintain their appearance.
  • Never use steel wool pads or abrasive cleaners as they will scratch the smooth surface.
  • Handle carefully, try not to drop or bang on your enamelware on a hard surface.
  • Avoid quick temperature changes.
  • If stained, soak overnight using 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Wash and rinse. Towel dry.
  • You can use a bit of bleach water to remove stains, just use extra care to wash, rinse and dry.

I don’t frequently see Vintage Enamelware in my area at garage sales and thrift stores. I have a suspicion some of the older stuff ended up at WWII Scrap Metal Drives, and some was just retired to the barn or garage to hold nuts and blots.  The pieces I found at Goodwill were very affordable, only a couple of dollars each, which makes me think these are not as collected as Pyrex, or canisters.

Do you collect vintage enamelware? What are your favorite pieces?

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Wednesday 25th of August 2021

I’ve found some interesting pieces at a goodwill. They are multi colored swirl. Heavy pans and a kettle. Are these end of day?


Sunday 21st of March 2021

Would a piece made in the 80s or later be toxic?

Steve Shubinski

Wednesday 10th of March 2021

Hi Jen, I am trying to identify the maker on a piece of Enamelware. It is a small brown handled pot with a speckled interior. On the bottom is a crest showing 2 lions on either side of a shield with a U in the center. I am wondering if you might know the maker and age. I can send photos if you wish. Thanks in advance. Steve

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