Red Enamelware: Bright, Tough, Collectible

Traditional Red Enamelware

Vintage Americana-Style Tableware and Cookware

Enamelware was so popular in North American households of the 1800s and early 1900s for many of the same reasons we still use and love the bright dishes and cookware today.  For many of us, it conjures a fond memory of camping trips or summer holidays at the cottage…

Red Enamelware Mug

My favorite red marbleized enamelware mug.

Whether you call it graniteware, speckle ware, or another of the names given regionally to the brightly colored enameled-metal items, you know it when you see it. But how often do you see red enamelware pieces?

My own enamelware collection is almost entirely the black, deep blue, lighter blue, or forest green graniteware that we see most often, although I’m pleased to have scored a few truly antique pieces in a solid creamy enamel with contrasting trim in red, black, or green.

Red is not so common. And that makes it even more fun to collect – not to mention, one stand-out red piece in an otherwise blue / green / cream colored display, in your cabinet or arrayed across a mantel or on open shelves, makes its own decorative accent.

Until recently, in fact, my growing collection boasted only one red speckled enamel stew pot and a small mug in the red and white marbleized pattern.

I’ve just added a couple of graniteware espresso mugs and one red marble-type mug.

GSI Outdoors Red Graniteware 4oz Espresso Cup

Speckled granite ware Espresso Cup available at Amazon.

(Don’t you love the whole idea of “roughing it in the bush” on a camping trip, hipster style – sipping your campfire-perked coffee from a tiny enamel mug?)

So practical, as the small lightweight unbreakable cups fit neatly into the corner of a backpack or hang from a carabiner without getting in your way as you hike or hang out at the campsite.

Bonus, the toddlers in our family like to drink their milk from the “cute little baby mugs” and there’s no need to hover anxiously, as these cups are not about to break and risk a cut to those wee fingers.

Enamelware is made with a vitreous coating heat-melded on to steel or in some cases, typically in some cookware lines, on to cast iron. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.

Red speckled enamelware small coffee pot and pitcher

Red by Jean L [CC BY 2.0] on Flickr.

Why I Love Enamelware

The colors are so intense and the traditional style so, well, comforting and homey, it’s hard to resist enamelware – especially the red stuff!

I fell in love with it as a child, and started collecting while I was still in middle school. My godmother gave me a different enamelware piece for my birthday and Christmas each year, so by the time I was ready to move out of my parents’ home and set up my own place, I already was quite well equipped for cooking and tableware. And every time I looked at the display of bright enamelware in the tiny dark kitchen of my first apartment, it just gave the warmest feeling of home!

Enamelware is practical as well as beautiful, too.

  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Easy to clean – dishwasher safe
  • Food safe
  • Naturally non-stick
  • Heat proof – you can use it in the oven, on the stovetop, or on the campfire.

Enamelware is made of metal, however, so it can’t be used in your microwave. (Well, nothing is 100% perfect, eh?)

Summer hutch by Jean L [CC BY 2.0] via flickr.

Summer hutch by Jean L [CC BY 2.0] on Flickr.

Collectible and Vintage Enamelware

Enameled serving ware is a pretty good place to start a kitchen-centered collection, if you pine to be a collector but haven’t got started yet.  For one thing, it is quite delightful how often real antique enamelware jugs and cream pitchers will turn up in yard sales and garage sales, just because people don’t always realize the value of “that old thing” that’s been around all their lives, used everyday.

From a home decorating perspective, too, it’s handy that you can mix and match the vintage and contemporary pieces in one display (or in use, on your table and in the kitchen) because the traditional style has not changed very much at all since the 19th century. Even the newest of graniteware pieces have a lovely vintage vibe.

GSI Outdoors Red Graniteware 8 Cup Percolator

Red enamelware Percolator Coffee Pot available at Amazon.

One enamelware piece that’s dear to my heart is the kind of old-fashioned stovetop coffee pot that you may remember from summer camp or from Grandma’s house.  My grandmother got hers for a wedding gift and used it every day through 65 years of marriage.

Durable? I would say so! – because we’re still using that same old coffee perc, down at the cottage. Enamelware may get the odd chip in the finish, as years go by, but that just adds character.

Different Styles

Graniteware or Speckle Ware? Marbleized, Flecked, or Solid Red Enamelware? Which is your choice?

Inspired by tradition, graniteware table settings, utensils and cookware pieces are made from heavy-gauge steel with an enamel coating, kiln-hardened twice at ridiculously high temperatures so it’s really durable.

The fine speckled enamel finish with white flecks on a red background is the “granite ware” pattern more typical of the tough enamelware cookware pieces. This traditional speckled pattern came out of Granite City, Illinois back in the late 1800s. Until recent years, the traditional speckled type has been more readily available than the “spatter ware” pattern (with the white in larger blotches) or the showy “marbleized” style (with swirls of white), but these days we’re seeing more variety in the pieces for sale – especially in tableware.

Cooking pots and roasting pans, tea pots and coffee pots, all that sort of practical piece we are most likely to put into daily kitchen use or to take on a camping trip, still seem to tend to be speckled rather than to have the bold splatter or marble patterns.

Personally I find the traditional speckled granite ware to be the most appealing and it shows the beautiful bright red color to best advantage, but the spatter and marble pieces make a fine display on a shelf or hutch, especially when they are mixed in with the lovely old-fashioned solid-color enamelware pieces, either in cherry red or in creamy white with a red edge.

Cream or white enamelware dish with red trim, filled with cherry tomatoes

One day’s pickings by Cheryl of EraPhernalia Vintage [CC BY-SA 2.] on Flickr.

Learn More…

Martha Stewart’s site has an oldie-but-goodie article about the charms of collecting antique/vintage enamelware that gives a nice little overview (plus tips on caring for and cleaning your cookware) if you’re just new to all this, a reprint from the Summer 1994 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Even better, if you’d like to start delving into vintage enamelware collecting in greater depth and learn more of the history of these cheap and cheerful pieces, turn to CollectorsWeekly.com – but do be warned, you may just find yourself with a new hobby or passion!

By the way, sellers often use “enamelware” and “graniteware” etc. almost interchangeably, so check out both terms when you’re looking at auction sales catalogs or eBay listings.

Whatever your preference for style or color of enamelware, there is something quite wonderful about knowing you are using the same kind of kitchen ware and tableware as your great-great-grandparents might have used.

I wonder, if you went looking in the attic of the old family homestead, would you find a piece or two of vintage enamelware?

Author

likes to make and do and think and explore and share what is discovered. She is also incurably curious. If you are, too, you can find her posting as Flycatcher...r...r on Twitter and Google Plus.

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