Part of the allure of vintage cast iron, besides the fineness of the castings, are the unique trademarks and detail work the foundries of the past cast into each piece they produced. Pattern makers were both skilled craftsmen and artists, in some cases even carving small, unique figures ("maker's marks") into their work to identify themselves. There are instances, however, where the parentage of some 20th century cast iron ware seems mysteriously unclear.
Much of what's known to collectors as "unmarked" cast iron has quite a bit to do with marketing. In addition to store brands, like those made for companies such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, several major foundries produced unmarked versions of their goods for sale in hardware, department, and building supply stores. As such, these no-name pieces could be sold at a lower price without sacrificing the brand image and value of their main product lines. Product differentiation in the various channels was achieved by the use of paper labels affixed to the unmarked iron. A couple of manufacturers actually made the decision at some point to cast all of their pieces without trademarks, instead relying totally on the adhesive labels.
What's interesting about unmarked pieces is they are typically similar if not equal in quality to their marked counterparts. While the majority are not considered collectible, per se, they can represent excellent value as "user" pans, and can usually be obtained at a fraction of the price of comparable fully-marked ones.
Here are some unmarked pieces you're likely to see, and information on how to identify who made them and when. Some of them actually enjoy collectible status. Bear in mind that, as with marked pieces, transitions between designs did not necessarily occur abruptly, so all dates given are generalizations.
Click on any item with a icon for a gallery of photos:
Birmingham Stove & Range Co. - Birmingham, AL
- Skillets: If heat ring, unbroken and inset
- Ridge on bottom of skillet handle does not flatten out at sidewall of pan
- Lids have indented dimples for basting drippers
- Lids have pour spout "ears", even those supplied with dutch ovens
- Corn stick pans have alternating-direction cups, compound-curved loop handles and are usually marked only with numeral 7 and a letter or letters
- Corn bread skillets were made in two sizes, marked 6CBS or 8CBS and Patent Pending
1930s-1940s "Red Mountain" series
- ¾" high size number, typically followed by pattern letter(s) or dots at 6 o'clock
- Older examples often seen with number skewed to 6:30 and pattern letter at 5:30
- Older Red Mountain examples have larger pour spouts than later, and more crudely-incised size number and pattern letters
- Lids have indented dimples in a more-or-less random pattern for basting drippers, size number and pattern letter incised on top near or under handle
1950s "Century" series
- Small pour spouts
- ¼" high size number above diameter in inches at 6 o'clock, e.g. "NO.8" "10-5/8 INCHES"
- Lids have dimples in a radial pattern for basters, size number and diameter incised on underside
1960s "Century" series
- "Made In USA" added at 12 o'clock
- Later, pattern/quality control numbering added at 6 o'clock
1970s "Pioneer" series
- Knob handle on lids instead of loop
1970s "Lady Bess" series
- Descriptive name added below size e.g. "Skillet"
- Size differs from previous BSR to accommodate move to use of third party glass covers
Chicago Hardware Foundry
Hammered pieces usually unmarked except for numeral 8 or 9 followed by size number and often pattern letter at 6 o'clock
"Number in Diamond"
Size number inside diamond-shaped outline at 6 o'clock
May be late Favorite or Chicago Hardware Foundry
Lodge Manufacturing Co. - South Pittsburg, TN
- Skillets have outside heat ring
- Raised size number on top of handle
- Raised molder's mark letter on bottom at 6 o'clock
(From 1910 to the early 1930s, Lodge put its name on its products.)
- Skillets have inset heat ring with single notch opposite handle at 12 o'clock.
- ¾" high size number at 12 o'clock
- Raised small molder's mark letter at 6 o'clock
- All lids have grid of pointed tips for basting drippers, may have raised letter molder's mark on underside
- Skillets have inset heat ring with 3 notches at 9/12/3 o'clock.
- Molder's mark incised at 6 o'clock or raised, on a small flat blob of metal above the size number at 12 o'clock.
- Later, letters denoting pan type, e.g. "SK" skillet, "DO" dutch oven
- Lids have grid of pointed tips for basting drippers, size number and diameter or pan capacity incised on underside
- Corn stick pans have 5, 7, or 9 uni-directional cups, outward-curved ends for handles, with round or elongated hanging holes, button or bar-shaped levelling feet, and often the number 27 and letter C on the 7-cup
After ca. 1960
"Made In USA" added at center
Griswold Manufacturing Co. - Erie, PA
Unmarked a/k/a "Iron Mountain"¹
- Inset heat ring
- Unique handle shape, with untapered oval opening (except size #5)
- Italicized numerals on bottom of pans and underside of lids
- ½" high size number at 12 o'clock, 4-digit p/n at 6 o'clock
- Lids have raised, staggered concentric rings broken into 4 long segments each for basting drippers, p/n incised on underside, and raised numeral size number on top
- Inset heat ring
- Italicized numerals
- ½" high size number at 6 o'clock
- Three digit p/n at 12 o'clock
- Smooth bottom
- Unique artistic numerals
- ½" high size number at 12 o'clock
- Three digit p/n at 6 o'clock
- Three holes in handle
- #3/668 and #4/669 skillets only
Wagner Manufacturing Co. - Sidney, OH
- Descriptive size at 6 o'clock, e.g. "6½ INCH SKILLET"
- Size number incised on top of handle
- After the acquisition of Griswold in 1959, pieces typically referred to as "unmarked Wagner" made in Sidney, Ohio were also sold under the "Griswold Early American" label
- Lids have raised scallop-toothed concentric rings for basting drippers
- "Made In USA" added after 1960, below description
Late Unmarked Lid
- Solid concentric rings for basting drippers, incised markings and raised size numeral on bottom, and a unique bevel-edged handle shape indicative of a lid made from a Griswold pattern after the Wagner buy-out
Vollrath Manufacturing Co. - Sheboygan, WI
- Size number with or without dashes, may be underlined, at 3 o'clock, oriented sideways
- Hollowed-out skillet handle bottom
Sometimes, manufacturers marked their pans, but not their lids. Here are some examples identified:
Favorite Stove & Range Co. - Piqua, OH
Lids have raised, staggered concentric rings broken into 8 segments each for basting drippers, some with positioning lugs at edges similar to Vollrath, and a unique handle shape
Martin Stove & Range Co. - Florence, AL
Lids have raised, staggered concentric rings broken into varying numbers of segments for basting drippers, unique handle, and raised size number on top
Renfrow Ware - Los Angeles, CA
Lids have raised points in radiating lines for basting drippers, and incised rings forming concentric bands on top
Krane Manufacturing Co. - St. Louis, MO sold this unmarked enameled chicken fryer in the 1960s. Although in most all other respects like BSR, the underside of the handle is grooved; lids are inscribed with an R inside a diamond.
While unmarked pieces produced by the major manufacturers can often be identified, those made by the myriad small foundries of the 19th century and earlier usually are not. Typically, the only characteristics which distinguish these older pans are confined to molder's marks (usually the foundryman's initials) or a decorative handle style. Sometimes, certain designs can be narrowed down to a particular century or part thereof, or to a geographical region. Or, if there are marked counterparts of identical design and dimensions, that may provide a clue. But, knowing exactly who made these early pieces and when, however, is more-often-than-not impossible.
¹Has published collectible value.