Griswold cast iron probably needs no introduction, given the massive cult following that it has garnered over the years. It’s among the most recognizable vintage cast iron out there, and collectors from across the country now dig through yard sales, searching for that elusive Griswold cross.
Griswold is often compared to Wagner Ware, and while the two companies have similar histories, there are significant divergences that catalyze some of us as Wagner Ware fanatics and others as Griswold die-hards.
There is so much rich history packed into the Griswold story, and so much to consider if you’re looking to purchase, restore or cook with these beautiful pieces of vintage cast iron. This article addresses everything you need to know about Griswold, the coolest vintage cast iron out there.
Here is Griswold cast iron, the ultimate guide.
What is Griswold Cast Iron?
“Griswold” was a brand name of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, a family-owned manufacturer of cast iron and aluminum kitchen wares based in Erie, Pennsylvania. The company was active from 1865 until its acquisition by the Randall Company in 1957.
Oddly enough, the Griswold Manufacturing Company did not begin as a cookware company. Instead, Matthew Griswold and his cousins began by manufacturing cast iron door hinges and other hardware products, including stove pipe dampers, thimbles and stove furniture.
But these ventures into hardware didn’t last long, and soon the company began focusing on the very kitchen products they are known for today. Griswold was known for producing extremely high quality, yet affordable, cast iron, and their cookware offerings included skillets, pots, grinding mills and waffle irons.
It’s hard to talk about Griswold without mentioning its Ohio cousin, Wagner Ware. Like Wagner Ware, Griswold has one item that remains the most famous, ubiquitous, and perhaps most cherished by collectors and cast iron enthusiasts alike, the Griswold cast iron skillet.
But Griswold cast iron skillets come in a variety of sizes, and are emblazoned with an even greater variety of brand markings. So while some skillets may read “Griswold” in italicized letters, others printed the company name in block letters inside the Griswold “cross,” and still others are marked only with the location of manufacture, Erie, Pennsylvania.
Like Wagner Ware, the Griswold Manufacturing Company often changed the way it marked its cast iron over the years, but each of these names refers to the same line of high quality products. And thankfully, these markings can tell us quite a bit about the vintage cast iron in question – but more on this later.
Is Griswold cast iron good?
The short answer is “yes” – Griswold cast iron is known for exceptionally high quality, aesthetics, and performance.
The longer answer also happens to be “yes.” Griswold cast iron is one of the hallmarks of great American manufacturing, and has been known since its beginning for superior craftsmanship. In fact, Griswold cast iron was so well known that competing manufacturers were even believed to have used existing Griswold pans as molds for their own products.
There is a reason why people say “they just don’t make them like they used to.” When the Griswolds began producing cast iron kitchenware in the 1870s, their focus was on quality.
This means that today, most vintage Griswold Manufacturing Company cast iron products still in circulation are as good as they were the day they were cast. Thankfully, the notion of built in obsolescence – the practice of designing items that must be continually replaced – hadn’t yet found its way into manufacturing, and products were actually made to last.
You may be tempted by newer cast iron products like Lodge, which are of course convenient and affordable alternatives to vintage cast iron, and in truth I have some Lodge products myself.
Take for example this Lodge Reversible Griddle. It fits comfortably over two burners and it’s two-sided, with deep grooves on one side and a smooth surface on the other.
Now cards on the table, I actually own this Lodge griddle, and there is no shame in stocking your kitchen with a newer piece here and there. When it comes to griddles, this was really a financial decision, since vintage griddles can be quite pricey.
But comparing newer cast iron to a vintage Griswold piece is like apples and oranges. Indeed, vintage cast iron in general has a number of advantages – like thickness of material and a much smoother casting surface – that make it superior to contemporary, mass produced cast iron kitchenware.
But let’s go back to that Lodge Reversible Griddle. If you zoom in on the cast iron surface you’ll notice that the casting isn’t perfectly smooth, and that the cookware has a rough, almost sandpaper-like finish. This will definitely affect performance, and it’s gritty finishes like that which you avoid when you go vintage.
Just check out the Griswold pan below for an example of what I’m talking about. Look how smooth!
Griswold cast iron was made better and made to last, as evidenced by the fact that there is so much of it still in circulation today. So many of their pieces are well over 100 years old.
Just like their compatriots over at Wagner Wage in Ohio, workers at the Griswold Manufacturing Company factory in Erie, Pennsylvania devoted time and attention to each pan, casting and then machine smoothing each item with an unmatched level of skill and craftsmanship that put their pieces a notch above.
Whereas contemporary cast iron skillets are produced on a scale that makes quality control difficult and often results in casting flaws, pits or bubbles, if a Griswold pan wasn’t perfect, it didn’t leave the factory.
To be fair, there are modern cast iron manufacturers that still produce great kitchenware today. Le Creuset comes to mind as one of these. Staub is another. But even Le Creuset coats their cast iron in enamel, which is convenient, to be sure, but also hides any manufacturing imperfections.
Le Creuset is also super expensive, which means that while you can buy newer cast iron of the same quality as vintage, you’ll be paying a lot more. My point in advocating vintage cast iron is also that it’s already passed the test of time – so why not stick with it?
Griswold Cast Iron History
The Griswold Manufacturing Company was founded in 1865. Based in Erie, Pennsylvania, it remained a Griswold family business until 1946, when it was sold to investors and then eventually acquired by the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1957.
The old Griswold Manufacturing Company factory, at the corner of 12th and Raspberry Streets in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Starting as the Seldon-Griswold Manufacturing Company, the joint venture of Matthew Griswold and his cousins, J.C. and Samuel Selden, the company was renamed Selden & Griswold Manufacturing Companyin 1873.
Just a decade later though, Matthew Griswold would buy out his cousins and take control of the company, rechartering it as the Griswold Manufacturing Company. Griswold was later elected to congress, and control of the company passed to his sons, first Matthew Griswold Jr. and later Marvin Griswold, who oversaw a period of rapid growth.
This was really the heyday of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, and pieces from this era are truly magnificent. The company introduced enameled cookware in the 1920s, and then started experimenting with electrical products in the 1930s.
Ely Griswold was the final member of the Griswold family to control the company, and facing financial challenges, decided to sell Griswold Manufacturing to investors in 1946.
Following acquisition by the Randall Company of Cincinnati in 1957, the Griswold brand joined its former competitor, Wagner Ware, as a cookware asset of larger cookware conglomerates, and was quickly shuffled between owners, passing through a number or corporate hands until finding its current resting place with American Culinary.
Of course, the products that were later produced under the Griswold name are not the same as those unique pieces sought after by collectors and produced in the old Erie, Pennsylvania factory.
The following is a detailed history that follows the trajectory of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, and the Griswold brand:
- 1865 – The Seldon-Griswold Manufacturing Company is founded in Erie, Pennsylvania by Matthew Griswold and his cousins, J.C. and Samuel Selden.
- 1870s – Griswold begins to manufacture skillets, pots, grinding mills and waffle irons.
- 1873 – The company is renamed Selden & Griswold Manufacturing Company.
- 1884 – Matthew Griswold buys out the Selden family, taking full control of the company.
- 1885 – A fire destroys the original Griswold factory, which must be rebuilt.
- 1887 – The company is reorganized and chartered as the Griswold Manufacturing Company.
- 1891; 1895 – Matthew Griswold is elected to Congress, serving two terms from March 1891 to March 1893, and March 1895 to 1897.
- 1893 – The company develops the first aluminum tea kettle.
- 1903 – The Griswold Manufacturing Company moves to a new factory at 12th and Raspberry Streets.
- 1905 – 1914 – Matthew Griswold Jr. serves as company president.
- 1914 – 1926 – Marvin Griswold serves as president of the company and oversees a period of rapid growth.
- 1919 – Matthew Griswold senior dies.
- 1920s – The company begins producing enameled cookware.
- 1930s – The company begins producing electrical items.
- 1940s – The company experiences financial decline, owing to competition from other manufacturers, labor disputes and a decline in quality.
- 1946 – Ely Griswold (the last family member to preside over the company) sells the Griswold Manufacturing Company to a New York investment group.
- 1957 – McGraw-Edison of Chicago acquires Griswold, and is then acquired by the Randall Company’s Wagner division.
- 1959 – The Randall Company is sold to Textron.
- 1969 – Textron sells off the Wagner and Griswold divisions to General Housewares Corporation.
- 1996 – The General Housewares Corporation sells the rights to Wagner and Griswold to the Slyman Group.
- 2000 – The Wagner and Griswold lines have fallen into receivership, and are bought by the American Culinary Corporation.
- 2000s – The American Culinary Corporation, based in Willoughby, Ohio and committed to American manufacturing, produced Wagner and Griswold brands in their Ohio factory, but appears to have closed permanently after only a brief run.
Do they still make Griswold cast iron?
Unfortunately no, Griswold cast iron is no longer in production – American Culinary bought the rights to Griswold (together with Wagner Ware) in 2000 but eventually ceased production on both cookware lines.
After the company was sold to a New York investment firm in 1946, it changed hands a number of times before rights to both the Wagner and Griswold brand names were purchased by American Culinary.
Unfortunately, American Culinary seems to have gone defunct, as there is no evidence that the company is still producing kitchenware, and their factory in Willoughby, Ohio has permanently closed.
Where is Griswold cast iron made?
Griswold cast iron was made in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the company began producing cast iron products in 1865. It continued to be manufactured in Pennsylvania until it was sold to a New York investment firm in 1946.
The specific location of the factory in Erie changed a few times. In 1885, a fire raged through the original factory, which had to be rebuilt. And only 18 years later, operations were moved to a larger factory (and previous home to another Griswold venture, Shaw Pianos) built at the intersection of 12th and Raspberry Streets (see above).
Unfortunately, Griswold followed a similar path to it’s Ohio analogue, Wagner Ware. After Ely Griswold sold the company in 1946, it changed hands a number of times before getting acquired by the Randall Company in 1957, which by that time also owned Wagner Ware.
The Randall Company eventually sold its Griswold and Wagner divisions to Textron, which then sold them to the General Housewares Corporation, followed by the Slyman Group, and finally, American Culinary of Willoughby, Ohio.
After a brief revival in 2000 by American Culinary, production on Griswold kitchenware has once again gone dark. It seems as though the Wagner and Griswold lines of kitchenware are finally no more, which is even more reason to cherish the vintage pieces still in circulation.
After being sold to investors, it looks like that old factory at the corner of 12th and Raspberry Streets in Erie, Pennsylvania passed to the hands of the Cohen Industrial Supply Company, and if you look closely you can still see the outline of the word “Cohen” on the old brick walls.
After Cohen moved out, the building was used – at least for a while, and appropriately – as a haunted house. But as of now, as you can see, the old factory at the corner of 12th and Raspberry Streets in Erie, Pennsylvania has been boarded up.
How do you date Griswold cast iron?
The best way to date Griswold cast iron is by referencing the Griswold logo, or maker’s mark, on the bottom of your cast iron. The “Griswold,” “Erie” and “Griswold cross” logos appeared and disappeared, were enlarged and repositioned every few years beginning with the first cookware produced in the 1880s.
From the early 1880s until 1957 the company changed their cookware markings numerous times. And while these logos can’t be used to establish an exact year of manufacture, they can come in handy when narrowing a piece’s history down to the correct decade.
Aside from the writing at the bottom of your pan, you can also check a few additional design features that changed through the years. For example, the presence or absence of a heat ring can be used to get a relative sense of a pan’s age.
Heat rings were popular on cast iron skillets designed for use on wood and coal stove ranges. The ring helped to keep the pan above the direct heat of the fire. But with the introduction of electric ranges in the 20s and 30s, heat rings started to disappear in favor of flat bottoms.
So generally speaking, if you have a skillet with a heat ring, chances are it’s pretty old. I’ve broken down relative age ranges of Griswold cast iron below, with a brief summary of logo and design changes in the column to the right.
1880 – 1907: The “ERIE” logo
Some of the oldest Griswold pans around, these skillets feature the “ERIE” logo in large block letters on the bottom of the pan. The location and size of the “ERIE” markings changed a few times during this period, but if your pan says “ERIE” and does not have any other Griswold-related markings, then you can be sure it’s from the period between 1880 and 1907.
Because of their rarity, these pans can fetch quite a price. They are known for their high quality, smooth surfaces, and they are actually slightly thinner in gauge than later cookware.
But owing to the fact that these pans were often used on open flames and over alternative fuel sources, many have significant pitting in the base. This is usually the result of sulfur heat sources.
Pitting, warps and cracks are definitely defects to look out for when buying a pan of this era.
1884 – 1910: The “ERIE” Diamond logo
The “ERIE” diamond is super rare and highly sought after. Overlapping with the period above, when most pans were simply printed with the “ERIE” lettering, some elite lines and especially griddles featured the “ERIE” markings within a small diamond shape, right in the center of the pan.
These pieces are extremely cool, but unfortunately, there aren’t that many in circulation anymore. The logo was small and happened to be in an area vulnerable to pitting and sulfur damage.
So if you have an old pan with significant pitting in the center, who knows, it could have once had one of these diamonds.
1905 – 1906: The “GRISWOLD’S ERIE” logo
This phase of production can be thought of as marking a period of transition from the older “ERIE” markings to the subsequent “Griswold cross” variety of logos. During this period, “GRISWOLD’S” often appeared in a large arc that spanned the top of the pan, while “ERIE” appears in straight block letters of equal size, just below.
Right after this phase, the “ERIE” marking would get smaller and smaller relative to the “Griswold” markings, and would eventually be replaced with a variation of “EPU,” which stands for Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, the location of manufacture.
1906 – 1916: The “GRISWOLD” slant logo and circle cross, without EPU
Around 1906 Griswold first introduced the famous “circle cross” that would become its most recognizable logo. Of course, the “circle cross” changed over the years, but the first of those markings featured the name “GRISWOLD” in large, slanted characters.
Most notably, for the first ten years of using this logo, the company did not include the “EPU,” or words “Erie P.A., U.S.A.” under the “circle cross.” In the photograph above, for example, the pan says “ERIE,” but makes no reference to Pennsylvania.
If your skillet features the “GRISWOLD” slant logo and has an “EPU,” it could have been made during this period (see below), but more likely would have been manufactured after 1916.
1909 – 1929: The “GRISWOLD” slant logo and circle cross, with EPU
The use of the “EPU” – which references the location of manufacture, Erie, PA USA – overlaps with a period when the location was not included, making dating these pieces somewhat challenging.
For that reason, the EPU itself is not a great indicator of age, and you should instead look to the “GRISWOLD” slant logo itself as your best reference.
The only certain way of narrowing a piece’s age down with any certainty using the EPU is determining whether it could be as old as1906 (without the EPU) or as old as 1909 (with the EPU). But again, this isn’t a particularly helpful metric.
1920 – 1930: The “GRISWOLD” block logo
The “GRISWOLD” block logo is incredibly popular, and refers to a new marking that Griswold started using in the 1920s. Very similar to the previous slant logo, the block logo is essentially the same, but with straight letters.
Keep in mind that almost all Griswold skillets would have at this time still included a heat ring, and these block logo pans are no different.
1930 – 1939: The “GRISWOLD” block logo, without heat ring
As I mentioned before, most cast iron produced at the turn of the century and even into the early decades of the 1900s featured a heat ring to protect the pan from direct contact with hot coals and alternative fuel sources.
But beginning in the 1930s, Griswold started removing the heat ring, producing instead flat bottomed pans that were more practical for use on electric ranges. So if your pan is completely flat on the bottom, it means it was most likely made after 1930.
1939 – 1944: “GRISWOLD” slant logo, without heat ring
In a bizarre decision, Griswold seems to have reversed course on its block versus slant letter design around 1939. For about five years, from 1939 to 1944 it reintroduced the “GRISWOLD” slant logo.
The best way to differentiate these later slant logo pans from earlier pieces is by referencing the presence or absence of a heat ring. If it has a heat ring, it would be much older (probably from the 20s, or earlier), and if it doesn’t have a heat ring, it would have been made within this five year period.
1939 – 1957: Small “GRISWOLD” block logo
Finally, the last variation on the Griswold logo came in 1939 when the company drastically reduced the size of the “circle cross.” The logo was still featured on the bottom of the pan, right in the center, only in much smaller text.
These pans are still very cool, and I actually like them quite a bit. But for many, the smaller logo just doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal or character as pans with the larger font markings.
How much is Griswold cast iron worth?
Griswold cast iron value depends primarily on condition and rarity, and rare pieces can fetch quite the price. Even Griswold pieces in poor condition (as long as there are no cracks) are often still valuable, since most can be easily restored.
Most Griswold skillets are worth anywhere from $20 to $50 for an unrestored skillet, and $40 to even $100 for a fully restored piece. But as I said in the beginning, some Griswold pieces have somewhat of a cult following, which can drive prices sky high.
For example, more sought after pieces, like dutch ovens, skillets with matching lids, and full size griddles can be worth upwards of $500. And at the time of this writing, at least a dozen Griswold pieces are listed on eBay for over $1,000!
That brings me to the question of where to buy vintage Griswold. As you might have guessed by now, the easiest and quickest way to find vintage cast iron is on eBay. It’s full of pieces in an array of conditions, but prices can be high, and you’ll probably need to pay for shipping. And remember, cast iron is heavy, so shipping can be expensive.
It’s also difficult to get a feel for a piece on eBay, and if you’re new to cast iron you may want to actually touch the piece you’re about to purchase. If you don’t find something in your price range on eBay, my advice would be to give your search some time. Slow it down, and perhaps turn your attention to yard sales and/or thrift thrift stores.
The good news is, because Griswold cast iron was so well made, there is still a ton of it in circulation – just be patient!
How do I restore Griswold cast iron?
It’s actually much easier to restore Griswold cast iron than you may think. Most cast iron restorations are a matter of simply removing debris and rust with an abrasive brush like iron wool before re-seasoning with a neutral oil.
Of course, these two steps – removing debris and re-seasoning – need to be broken down and clarified if you want to return an old yard sale skillet to its glory days. And there’s no way around it – transforming that heavy, rusty old pan into a fully restored, re-seasoned and ready to use cast iron piece will take a little elbow grease.
We have an entire post dedicated to restoring vintage cast iron here. Check it out for tips, tricks and best practices, and take a close look as we break the process down, step by step.
How do you clean a Griswold cast iron pan?
The best way to clean Griswold cast iron is immediately after use with hot water and some paper towels. Rinse the remaining food debris from the pan with hot water, and then wipe your pan clean with the paper towel.
If you find that too much food has stuck to the bottom of your pan, you can use a lightly abrasive sponge or brush, like I’m using below – but do not use dish soap!
There are plenty of abrasive products on the market now being advertised for cast iron, and some of them are pretty cool, like the Ringer, marketed as the “original stainless steel cast iron cleaner.” Imagine a dishcloth made from medieval chain mail armor and you’ve got it.
The only thing that deserves repeating here is to never use dish soap! Dish soap will ruin the seasoning on your cast iron – essentially stripping it of the oils that coat and protect your skillet – meaning you’ll have to completely re-season.
Conclusion – why Griswold is simply the best
If you’ve made it to the end, you already know why Griswold cast iron is so special, and those high price tags on eBay are probably starting to make a little bit more sense. Remember though, while eBay is an option, it’s still pretty common to get lucky at yard sales and local second hand stores – just keep an eye out!
Griswold is the oldest of the major vintage cast iron manufacturers. Just think about it – they were making cast iron just as the Civil War was coming to a close! Some Griswold pieces can even pre-date Wagner Ware by several decades.
As a company, Griswold may have risen and fallen, but its pans have truly stood the test of time. Although the company is no more, the products remain. It’s just logical that anything that can withstand 100+ years of regular use was made well.
And in addition to superior craftsmanship and functionality, collectors can agree that Griswold pieces are simply beautiful. The aesthetics – and specifically, the Griswold cross – whether large or small, are just stunning. With such variety still in circulation, it’s no wonder why so many collectors have caught the Griswold bug.