Like a good frugal Yankee, Appleby traveled all over New England looking for crusted-over pieces of iron that he could snag for just a couple of dollars, restore himself and then use for decades to come. Asked where to find a good vintage pan for a fair price, Appleby is coy.Revealing his favorite places to look for undervalued iron is like a fisherman giving up his favorite spot. Last year, Appleby helped organize a cast-iron cook-off at Bradbury Mountain State Park; this year’s competition is slated for September, he said.Pieces like those that pack Appleby’s basement are becoming sought-after kitchen additions for a new generation of home cooks, Appleby said.In the last 10 years, collectors say they’ve seen new interest in old pans in good condition.Fritz Appleby tilted his head, turned sideways, and descended the narrow wooden staircase into a stone-walled cellar, his personal laboratory, the ceiling too low for him to stand upright.
Sales, too, have seen a boost, according to local collectors, with the best examples of hard-to-find pans fetching hundreds of dollars or more online.
Pans produced as far back at the late 1800s, by contrast, were polished at the factory to a glass-smooth finish, or milled flat, leaving tiny concentric marks, like rings on a tree. On a lark, Appleby and his wife drove to an antiques store in Greenville. “I don’t know how many miles we put in, looking for that set.” THE OBSESSION GROWS Even though his personal collection was complete, Appleby’s obsession continued.
After some research, Appleby decided he would assemble a set of vintage Griswold pans, one of the larger producers; it made cookware at its Erie, Pennsylvania, plant from 1865 to 1957. “I found a brand and a logo I liked, and it took most of the year to find all the pieces I was looking for,” he said. The store owner, uninterested in cast iron, pointed him toward a stack of neglected cookware. He bought a guidebook that lists every pan and casting that Griswold ever produced, along with a general pricing guideline, and set out looking for bargains.
“It’s really neat.” BITTEN BY COLLECTING BUG Appleby’s collection began about four years ago, when he handed down to his son a set of cast-iron pans that Appleby had cooked with for years. In his quest to replace them, Appleby researched cast iron and stumbled into the pan-collecting subculture, where amateurs across the country help each other identify, restore and re-sell pans.
Although cast-iron pans are still produced today in the United States by Lodge Manufacturing Co.