Are you interested in collecting vintage enamelware? In this post I share information about its history, types to collect and value.
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When I think of enamelware, I always think of summer. There is something appealing about these light weight metal kitchen pieces painted in whites, blues or even soft yellows and greens. Anytime there is a summer picnic or any outdoor gathering, I always use enamelware to transport the food I made. It’s perfect because:
- It’s light weight
- The bowls are a generous size for salads
- It’s not breakable
- it’s easy to clean
- It comes in an array of cheerful colors
As with many things I share on this blog, I don’t collect enamelware for its value. Rather, I collect the pieces that I love and that I can use.
History of Enamelware
According to Old and Interesting, enamelware first came to the United States around 1850. The initial purpose of enamelware was to prevent the transfer of rust or metal tastes into food. The enamel was sometimes referred to as a “porcelain coating” . Enamel coatings were made by melting and fusing powdered glass to a metal base. The end result is a smooth, non-pourous finish, which of course, doesn’t rust. Because enamel is essentially powdered glass, it was easy to produce this kitchenware in an array of colors and patterns.
Initially the cost of enamelware was very high. However as time passed, it increasingly became more readily available and affordable. It was used routinely in kitchens in the 1920s and 1930s and remained in demand until the invention of plastic. (Hello Tupperware!)
Collecting Vintage Enamelware
Fortunately, enamelware is still easy to find. Most common are large white bowls with a black or blue rim. When you are out and about thrifting or antiquing, you may see the standard shallow white bowl that was used as a wash basin. If you search a bit more, you can find bowls in other colors such as blue and green. The bowl above is perfect for potato salad or pasta salad because it is so deep and because of its generous size. I also love the deep blue color.
Generally speaking, American enamelware is very affordable. You can buy a cup for as little as $5 and you can generally buy a large bowl for less than $20. Some of the more unusual pieces may cost a bit more but on the whole, this vintage collectible is still affordable. (And practical!)
I use much of my vintage enamelware daily. The extra large bowls are particularly useful when processing fruit for canning. They can hold large quantities of sliced strawberries, peaches or apples. Another bonus is that these bowls are easy to clean.
In addition to bowls, you can find serving utensils and large platters that are still useful today. I use a large enamelware platter for carrying food outside to the grill.
Of course, coffee pots, mugs, plates, cups, colanders, cookware and more were all made out of the enamelware. Then there was an increase in production of patterned enamelware. Most notably the Splatterware pattern and/or the Speckleware (AKA freckles) patterns.
The spoon above is wearing the the Speckleware pattern.
One of my favorite items to look for is enamelware from England. I always look for large flour bins and bread bins.
The English flour bin above is quite large and is one of my favorite items in my kitchen. On the bottom of the bin, there is stamp that says “Made in England, Phoenix Brand”. I notice the enamelware from England tends to be a bit heavier than American enamelware. This could be because it pre-dates American pieces or because a heavier grade of metal was used under the enamel coating.
Generally speaking, vintage enamelware from England is $100 and up. This is particularly true for the large flour and bread bins. With this cost in mind, you have to be mindful to also include overseas shipping.
Above is another Flour bin from England and this one came with it’s original scoop and a lid. You can also see one of the shallow wash basin bowls to the right, which are more common.
A while back, I was lucky enough to stumble upon this bread bin from England, which was in excellent condition. (Alas it has long since sold.)
I have found that enamelware from England is not only heavier but that the enamel paint seems to be more durable. Generally, it seems to have fewer chips and dings than American enamelware of a similar age.
French enamelware is also a favorite of mine. Having said that, it is difficult to find unless you look online and are willing to pay higher prices. French enamelware tends to be more expensive than enamelware from England, America or any other county. In contrast to other enamelware items, it can be very ornate and comes in a wide array of colors including pinks, and soft aqua blues. This enamelware often includes painted designs of flowers and sometimes has gold accents. It truly is beautiful and the price reflects this.
Generally speaking, French enamelware is usually $100 plus for any one piece. Similarly, you have to also include the cost for overseas shipping. Still, I find that because French enamelware is so popular, many people are willing to pay the high prices that accompany it.
In addition to individual pieces of French enamelware, such as pitchers or coffee pots, I am also always on the lookout for vintage canister sets.
I found this set of French canisters over a year ago. They have long since sold but they are a good example of French enamelware. Whenever I am able to find French enamelware, it usually sells quickly. I did scour Etsy and I found some reasonably priced French enamelware pieces that I linked below. However, please keep in mind the overseas shipping costs.
Here is another French canister set that sold several years ago.
Where to Find Enamelware
As I alluded to earlier – it’s a challenge to find English or French enamelware for a good price. Enamelware from both of these countries is very popular and as a result, the prices can be fairly high. If you are looking for a specific piece such as a French pitcher or an English bread bin then I would recommend you routinely check Ebay and Etsy. If you are able to visit large and well known antique shows – such as Brimfield in Massachusetts – there are very often dealers at these shows who specialize in selling European enamelware.
American enamelware is still easy to find and readily available. You can find it at many outdoor markets, antique stores and the occasional thrift store. The most common color is white with either a black or blue trim but if you are persistent you can find some items in the spatterware pattern as well as items in blue, grey, red, soft yellow and green. Pitchers, buckets, soap dishes, cookware, trays, and more were produced with enamelware so there is a wide array of choices.
Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope you are enjoying the Summer Collectibles Series.
Here are a couple more post you might enjoy
This post on Collecting Vintage Bottles
This post on Collecting Vintage Flags.
Shop the Post
Below are some links to enamelware pieces that I found for you on Etsy. Please remember the cost of the shipping will need to be included.