What makes Wagner cast iron so collectible? Learn how to date, identify and the history of Wagner Ware.
Why do cast iron collectors and enthusiasts love Wagner Ware cast iron cookware? Like most of the old vintage iron, Wagner Ware has super smooth cooking surfaces and is lighter than modern cast iron. In fact, Wagner and its main competitor Griswold Manufacturing Co. were the two Goliaths which made some of the finest quality cast iron cookware of the late 19th to the mid 20th century. Today Wagner cast iron is highly collectible and sought-after by enthusiasts and those preferring vintage cast iron to newer pans.
Sure much of vintage cast iron is collectible but what makes Wagner cast iron so sought-after?
Wagner Manufacturing Company and Griswold were the two leading cast iron cookware foundries in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Both companies were highly innovative and had a huge selection of products and a wide range of sizes. They were highly respected for their quality and were favored over other brands during the time.
Which was better Griswold vs. Wagner? I’m sure most cast iron fans recognize the quality of both Griswold and Wagner. If you have either a Wagner or a Griswold you have yourself a great pan. However, you don’t need a Wagner or Griswold skillet. I still have a soft spot for Sidney Hollow Ware and Favorite Piqua Ware.
Before checking to see if you have an old Wagner Ware skillet. This is what you can find in this article.
1. Wagner cast iron “why is it so collectible?”
2. History of the Wagner Manufacturing Company
3. Where to buy Wagner cast iron
4. Considerations when buying Wagner cast iron cookware
5. How to identify and date antique Wagner cast iron using trademarks and logos.
6. Final thoughts on collecting vintage Wagner Ware cast iron
What makes Wagner Cast iron so collectible?
Wagner cast iron is super smooth.
Wagner cast iron is highly collectible for good reason. Like most antique cast iron, Wagner Manufactured very high-quality cookware for their entire range of cast iron products. Unlike Wapak cast iron which often has very characteristic casting flaws. Wagner cast iron tends to have few casting flaws resulting in very smooth cookware on both the interior and exterior of the cookware.
Wagner Ware made their cast iron in the late 19th to mid 20th century.
It’s really neat to think that workers would have worked on individual pieces, and machined smooth the interior and exterior of each pan. You can only see this level of detail in high end cast iron cookware such as Le Creuset and Staub. Today Le Creuset and Staub have the benefit of combining traditional and modern methods of manufacturing. However for the workers at Wagner, to make cast iron cookware without casting flaws or bubbles must have taken great skill and attention to detail.
Collectors of Wagner cast iron are very lucky to have a full line of products and sizes to add to their collection. Heard of a Gem Pan? Me neither, however Wagner made those too.
Sure, I think you can’t go wrong with a good old Wagner cast iron skillet it will serve you well they’re great fun to use. However you may want to to consider a Wagner Dutch oven. They are super smooth just like the skillets and reasonably priced. You can also buy cast iron muffin pans, they’re pretty cheap. Although watch out for shipping costs, cast iron can be weighty. Some of the Wagner cast iron cookware includes:
- Dutch ovens
- Gem pans
- Waffle irons
You can even collect Wagner cast iron cornbread pans that are in the shape of corn cobs. Wagner Manufacturing also produced aluminum cookware. Aluminum cookware must have seemed revolutionary for the time.
Block logo or the ever so popular Wagner Ware Sidney O skillets you have a wide choice.
If you are looking for a vintage skillet then Wagner skillets are a great choice. You can choose from sixteen different logos and trademarks or markings. I like pans with heat rings while other may prefer a pan with a smooth base.
I think this wide selection makes Wagner cookware more collectible than other manufactures such as Vollrath and Martin Stove and Range which made a limited range of products and used few logos.
Wagner Manufacturing Company focused on quality over quantity.
Quality was a focus from the very start for Wagner Manufacturing Company they even advertised to consumers this selling point. Old advertisements read;
“We do not strive to manufacture hollow ware as cheaply as possible, but as good as it can be made. We cannot afford to put on the market ware that will not sustain our reputation. The name ‘Wagner’ is cast on the bottom of each piece of ware.”
The History of Wagner Manufacturing Company.
Who founded Wagner Manufacturing?
Wagner Manufacturing Company founded in 1891 by Milton M. and Bernard P. Wagner. However, two more Wagner brothers, Louis, and William Wagner joined the company in the following years. Another key player in the foundation of the company was R.O Bingham. Bingham previously worked at Marion Stove works and the Sidney Manufacturing Company.
Where was ‘Wagner cast iron’ or ‘Wagner Ware’ made?
The company was based in Sidney, Shelby County, Ohio. Although early cookware was simply stamped Wagner, later Wagner included Sidney O. To their cookware around 1895. The term Wagner Ware was used when Wagner added “Ware” to their logo in the 1920’s
Early growth strategies paid off for the company and Wagner cookware started to sell in Europe.
The Wagner Manufacturing Company were quite aggressive for the time. Here’s what Wagner did in the early years of the company:
- they bought out their main competitor (Sidney Hollow Ware Co.)
- added several lines to their cookware range.
Wagner Manufacturing Company added a nickel plated line to their cookware.
To compliment their cast iron range, Wagner added a nickel plated range. Unlike cast iron and copper pots, nickel plating does not react to acidic foods such as tomatoes which can taint food. It’s easy to look past the development of nickel plating however in the 19th century bonding two metals together would have required great expertise in metal casting.
Wagner Ware also made aluminum cookware.
Along with nickel plated cast iron the Wagner brothers in 1894 manufactured a line of aluminum cookware which Wagner Manufacturing was one of the first companies to do so.
Wagner Manufacturing Company bought a major competitor.
In 1897 Wagner bought a Sidney based competitor called Sidney Hollow Ware Co. from the founder and owner Phillip Smith. Sidney Hollow Ware also made very high quality cast iron cookware that was extremely light and smooth. Sidney Hollow Ware Co. were also early adopters of nickel plating cast iron.
It was quite shrewd to buy the Sidney Hollow Ware Company, after all, Wagner Manufacturing and Sidney competed in the city and had comparable products. However, it was common knowledge that Smith made a tidy profit from his original investment in the foundry. To run the Sidney Foundry Willian H Wagner joined to oversee the running of the foundry
In 1903 the Sidney Hollow Ware Company was sold back to the original founder Phillip Smith. Sadly due to heath reasons Phillip Smith did not reopen the foundry.
Aluminum Ware Ware cookware exported to Europe.
By 1913 Wagner cast iron and aluminum products were selling in Europe. By this time Wagner had a full line of metal goods including:
- metal grates
- agricultural goods
- aluminum tea kettles.
I would be very hesitant to use aluminum because of the well documented health concerns. Mind you at the time the possible side affects of aluminum cookware were therefore unknown. In the 1930s Wagner manufactured a cookware line with a patented aluminum alloy which they called Magnalite. Here is an ebay article on Magnalite.
In a gutsy move the Wagner Manufacturing Company introduced a new product in the mist of the great depression.
I have to take my hats off to Wagner because they introduced a new product line in one of the deepest recessions. Wagner Ware Magnalite is made very well, that’s no surprise when it comes to Wagner Made cookware. They were steadfast on making only quality products because Wagner Magnalite is such high quality it is still collected and used to this day.
The impact of the great depression on Wagner Ware cookware and Wagner cast iron sales.
Although Magnalite was introduced to stop falling sales at Wagner Manufacturing it was not due to their product range. Magnalite which was hugely popular could not offset the effect of one of the biggest recessions. From 1929-1941 the US was in the grips of what we now call the Great Depression therefore not only Wagner but many other foundries struggled to survive some didn’t.
Wagner Ware and Griswold combine, however it’s not the manufacturing powerhouse it could have been.
Wagner Manufacturing Co. lasted longer than many foundries however in 1952 Wagner was sold to the Randall Company. Unbelievably the Randall Company was a car parts manufacturer.
In 1959 the company was sold again. This time to a company called Textron, Textron had also purchased Griswold Manufacturing Company earlier. At this time it is considered production of Wagner Ware stopped. Wagner cast iron pans made after this date are currently considered not as collectible.
With the world rediscovering cast iron cookware will we see Wagner Ware skillets manufactured again?
There is a glimmer of hope for Wagner Ware. In 2014 American Culinary bought both the Wagner and Griswold trademarks. So fingers crossed cast iron fans, one day they may decide to manufacture Wagner cast iron again.
Where can you get your hands on some Wagner Ware?
- Grandparents (best deal and great to keep your heritage in the family)
- Antique stores (check online to compare the stores price)
- Garage sales (rescue those poor skillets from the tip)
- Flea markets (search the markets for hidden gems)
- Online (largest selection available however asking prices can vary greatly).
Here are some buying considerations when it comes to Wagner Ware.
Remember I’m not a cast-iron expert, however here’s my tuppence worth as an enthusiast.
1. There’s plenty of Wagner cast iron around, take your time.
There’s no shortage of Wagner cast iron. In fact Wagner had huge market-share of the cookware market back in its hay-day and there are plenty of fantastic Wagner skillets and Dutch ovens available in great condition.
2. What size skillet or Dutch oven suits your needs.
The first thing you may want to think about is the size you need. There are often plenty of #8 skillets around. This size seems to be the most common, not only for Wagner skillets but for most of the other vintage cast iron manufacturers such as Favorite Piqua. If you’re interested in a Dutch oven then a Wagner Ware Dutch oven could be just your ticket.
3. Inspect carefully, some Wagner Ware is nickel platted.
Check the cookware carefully. The Wagner Manufacturing Company were early adopters of nickel plating. Although much of Wagner cookware will be made of just cast iron, heavy seasoning can hide nickel plating. Nickel plated can wear off or be patchy in places. Take a close look before purchasing.
4. Would you like a Wagner Ware skillet with a smooth bottom or with a heat ring?
Do you want a pan with a smooth bottom or one with a heat ring? The older Wagner Ware skillets will have a heat ring while the later made pans have a smooth flat base. It’s really a personal preference. I tend to like the older skillets with heat rings I think they have more character but the smooth bottom Wagner cookware tends to be a little cheaper and from all accounts, they are great cooking pans.
5. Does the cookware sit flat?
As with all antique cast iron it could be a good idea to ask the seller if the pan sits flat. This is especially important if your cooking on a flat surface such as induction or glass.
Wagner cast iron Logos and marking. How to date your vintage Wagner cookware.
Although I’ve researched carefully please use the dates as an approximation only.
Wagner cast iron cookware to my knowledge has sixteen known logos, brands or markings. These include:
Straight Wagner logo 1890~
Wagner arc logo 1891-1910.
Double Arc Wagner Sidney O 1895-1915.
Sidney Arc 1897-1903.
Straight Sidney logo 1897-1903.
Straight Wagner Sidney O. (Centered.) 1910-1915
Wagner Sidney O. Wagner slightly arced while Sidney O. Is straight. Low 1910-1915.
Wagner Sidney O. Wagner slightly arced while Sidney O. Is straight. Top 1915-1920.
First Wagner Ware Sidney O. with Arc Wagner and straight Ware and Sidney. Circa 1920s.
Stylized Wagner Ware Sidney O. Circa 1922-1924 heat ring 1935-1959 no heat ring.
Centralized Stylized Wagner Sidney O. 1924-1935 with heat ring.
Pie Logo 1924-1934 to the best of my knowledge (different authoritative published works are inconsistent).
National cast iron 1914-1930.
National with center Stylized Wagner Sidney O. 1930-1940.
Long Life logo 1930s.
Wardway and Montgomery Ward. Wagner Manufacturing Company was contracted by Montgomery Ward Department store to produce an in-store label. 1930s.
Note: Photos used for educational / research purposes are credited to www.ebay.com and sellers. However, the photos are heavily modified from the original.
Fortunately, Wagner cast iron is easier to date than other foundries of the time. Wagner Ware also has a huge collector base so dates are well documented. The Cast Iron Collector is a valuable online resource for enthusiasts also there are facebook groups you can share your love of cast iron cookware.
Final thoughts on Wagner cast iron.
The Wagner Manufacturing Company was known for quality over quantity and therefore had a great reputation for trustworthy products. Today Wager cast iron is highly prized with collectors. However, you don’t need to be a collector to enjoy vintage cast iron.
Although many cast iron enthusiasts may look for a Wagner mage skillet your not limited there. Wagner made a huge selection of cast iron goodies, therefore you may find yourself becoming interested in:
- muffin pans
- Dutch ovens
- Scotch bowls
Since Wagner made some of the finest cast iron of the 19th and 20th century Wagner cast iron is enjoyed by cast iron fans and hobbyist alike. If you have found this article interesting, take a look at our vintage cast iron page, if you want to find leading foundries from the 19th and 20th centuries.