Antique Kitchen Equipment
When you’re shopping for a piece of kitchen equipment like a range or a toaster, you’re probably focused on the features available, looking for the latest designs and updates available. Maybe you want to try an induction cooktop or think digital controls might be the way to go. However, there are some people who prefer to look for the opposite – the older the better, and being broken or rusty might not be a deal breaker. We spoke with some appliance collectors about finding, restoring, and trading these pieces of history.
While collecting historical kitchen equipment might seem like a fringe interest, there are enough people who take part in the hobby to sustain several active organizations. Mike Giles, website administrator for The Antique Stove Association, says the main focus of the organization is sharing knowledge.
“The goals of The Antique Stove Association are to provide information about antique stoves and related items,” he explains. “How the stoves are used, their history, manufacturer, how to repair and establish their value, as well as to promote fellowship among persons interested in antique stoves.”
The Toaster Collectors Association has similar goals. We spoke with Eric Murrell, editor of the Toaster Collectors Association Newsletter, about how it got its start.
“We all realized there was more than one person in the world who was collecting toasters, and you could meet and talk about them and ultimately share information and learn stuff. We formed in the late ’90s and have been going ever since.”
According to Murrell, easy access to other collectors is one of the best benefits of membership.
“The biggest thing is access to other people who collect toasters. My wife and I have over 300 in our collection, and that sounds like it may be every toaster in the world, but I assure you it’s not. There are still five or six that I’m looking for, and being in the club, you get access to people who have toasters to sell, those who want to buy toasters, and you have access to a knowledge base.”
The Antique Stove Association goes back a little farther, according to member Bob Sanders.
“The club was organized in 1984 and many of the original members still attend. Our conventions are like a family reunion,” says Sanders. “The annual convention is a time of fellowship and sharing stove-finding stories. It is combined with the typical business meeting, an in-house auction, [and] trading session where we exchange all kinds of treasures that relate to stoves.”
The Toaster Collectors Association also has an annual convention, with this year’s meetup slated for June in Anne Arbor, Mich.
“We get together every year for two or three days,” explains Murrell. “It usually starts on a Thursday and ends on a Saturday. People come from all over; we buy, sell, trade, [and] talk about toasters. We’re a pretty close-knit bunch and we’re all pretty good friends. It’s a great venue for buying and selling, for learning what’s new, and for catching up with your collector friends.”
There are more friends to catch up with than you might expect for such niche hobbies – there are about 250 members in The Antique Stove Association, while the Toaster Collectors Association’s Facebook group boasts more than 280 fans.
What leads someone to start collecting kitchen equipment? According to Sanders, he and many other members started working with antique stoves out of a love for the restoration process.
“[It’s] primarily the beauty and artwork of the early stoves. Also, restoring them was good therapy,” says Sanders. “Most all stoves collected by the members have been completely restored to like-new condition. There are about five or six members that make their living restoring and selling antique stoves.”
For Murrell and his wife, collecting toasters is something they got into almost by accident.
“In our early married life, we found that we were going through a toaster about every six months. I was at a garage sale and found a 1935 Toastmaster [with a] really cool art deco design, and it was eight bucks, cheaper than any other toaster out there. So I bought it, took it all apart, put it back together again. It worked great, and we used it for years,” explains Murrell. “It wasn’t too long after that when we found a book on collectible toasters, and lo and behold our toaster was in there. If the fact that it was a cool toaster wasn’t enough, the fact that we found it in a book was the clincher. Probably by the end of that first year, we had about 18 toasters. It wasn’t our intent to have 300 toasters, but they do kind of grow on you.”
People collect a wide variety of stoves and toasters, but collectors tend to focus on the decorative features available.
“For collectors, the most coveted types are the fancy Victorian stoves,” says Sanders. “Those with lots of decoration, artistic tile, and unusual shapes. There are many, many types and styles of antique stoves. The most popular cook stoves are those with warming ovens. Some of the early ones were very decorative and are coveted by collectors.”
Toasters vary a bit more, with each collector having some favorites on a “toaster bucket list.” Murrell described his personal toaster holy grail.
“The wire that makes a toaster work is called nichrome wire,” explains Murrell. “It was patented here in Detroit by a company called Hoskins Electric. For a very brief period, the Hoskins company decided, ‘You know, we should market the toaster.’ They came up with a toaster called the Cheerie Toastove. It was the first toast-making device by the guy who invented the nichrome wire. There is currently only one of those that anybody knows about, and it is in the Smithsonian. That, to me, is what I consider to be the holy grail, particularly because there’s only one.”
Collectors who learn the histories of the items they’ve acquired sometimes have unique insight into how the innovation of the equipment throughout the years has affected modern-day usage. Sanders points out that cooking with fire isn’t necessarily a thing of the past, and there have been times when returning to it has been necessary.
“Wood fire cooking is still a preference for some folks,” Sanders says. “Many of them are still in use today by resorts, camps, [and] rural homes. They were in heavy use during the fuel crises.”
When looking at the history of toasters, Murrell tells how commercial units of the past influenced modern residential toasters.
“The pop-up toaster was patented as a commercial toaster in 1921,” Murrell explains. “It was exclusively for commercial toast-making from 1921 to about 1926. It popped up automatically so the cook didn’t need to watch, so it was considered a big deal. They were not inexpensive for their time; they were quite pricey. It was really only the Depression and World War II that kept people from getting them. Everyone wanted one, but it wasn’t something people could afford until after the war.”