The History Of Enamelware

The story of enamel cookware begins in the 1760s in Germany. The idea of finding a safe, convenient coating (one that stopped metallic taste and prevented rust) first took hold there. Fifty years later vitreous enamel linings, also called porcelain, for kitchen pans were becoming familiar in several European countries.

Over the next few decades enamel-coated metal came into use for domestic pots, pans, basins, as well as for street signs, medical equipment and more. And yet enamelware was still a long way from the attractive and useful mass-produced utensils of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Enamelled cookware came to the US after Western Europe. Around 1850 Americans began to own enamel-lined culinary utensils, but they were very plain, nothing like the colourful mottled surfaces that were yet to come.

It was in the 1870s that a surge of competitive creativity began to change American kitchenware. Out of this came the huge range of enamel goods spattered, speckled, and splashed, which appeal to collectors today. The best-known brands, especially the granite and agate ware names, held onto a strong position into the 20th century. They sold for higher prices. In 1899 Lalance and Grosjean’s “Agate nickel-steel ware” was much more expensive than Haberman’s “grey mottled enameled ware”. L&G’s 2 quart lipped saucepan cost 18¢; Haberman’s was 7¢. Meanwhile, Sears had a set of 17 pieces of “Peerless gray enamel ware” selling for about $2.70. Agate nickel-steel ware ads claimed a “chemist’s certificate” proving it free of “arsenic, antimony, and lead” from the 1890s onward. Enamel had not quite shaken off the suspicion that some formulas leaked toxins into cooked food. Today most enamelled cast iron usually has a plain, often white, lining however gorgeously coloured the outside is.

New rivals – aluminium, stainless steel, Pyrex, plastic – brought serious competition. From the 1930s enamelled metal was never again an “obvious” attractive, affordable choice.

At the Old Strathcona Antique Mall, you will find a large selection of enamelware and graniteware. While the majority of these pieces are not used anymore for their original purpose, they are beautiful as accent pieces or repurposed in outdoor gardens or as indoor vessels for flowers, seashells or other collectibles.

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