Trivets New and OldBy Carol and Jimmy Walker
New and Old
An early Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog offered pressing iron trivets for four cents each. Today, the same ordinary trivet in good condition sells for $20 to $50. Rare and unusual trivets can be worth $300 to $500. As the price has risen, so has the number of reproductions, fakes and lookalikes.
Although "trivet," in the strictest sense, refers only to three-legged metal stands, collectors use the term to describe both 3 and 4-legged stands used to support hot pressing irons, cookware and serving dishes. The three legged designs were made to set level on rough surfaces: four legs might wobble, but three legs are always steady.
Nineteenth century trivets are primarily made of cast iron. Other old trivets are made from brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, and bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Bronze trivets were made mostly from about 1850 to 1900. It is very doubtful any bronze trivets were cast in this century. Aluminum and aluminum alloys are modern 20th century materials. There are no old aluminum trivets.
Cast iron trivets were first widely reproduced in the 1930s. In later decades, brass trivets began arriving from China, Japan and India. While the vast majority of general antique reproductions are usually imported, perhaps 80% of confusing trivets were made by three American firms.
Those firms are: Wilton Products, Inc., Wrightsville, PA, ca. 1935 to 1989; John Wright, Inc., Wrightsville, PA, ca. 1947 to present and Virginia Metalcrafters, Inc., Waynesboro, VA, ca. 1938 to present. The first two firms specialize in iron, while Virginia Metalcrafters produces mostly brass items. Some of the early production by these firms is beginning to be considered collectible in its own right. Other American company names found on not-sold trivets include Grey Iron, Emig and Iron Art . Emig and Iron Art were two major distributors which contracted with independent foundries for their castings.
Here is a list of features, construction, and markings that should be considered danger signals when examining a trivet:
Crude, rough casting Old iron has a smooth, fine grained surface. New iron is rough textured, jagged edged and coarse grained. Usually apparent in most close up photos of the surface.
Light color New iron has a gray appearance; old iron is dark, almost black.
Company and design names on the back Genuine old American trivets are usually unmarked on the back. An exception is the Ober maple leaf trivet, see Figs. 7-10. Be suspicious of other trivets with markings or numbers on the back side. Don't confuse "China" with "Taiwan". The mark "Taiwan" was not used until about 1959; there are no antique trivets marked Taiwan.
No Casting Gates Casting gates are distinct metal stubs usually found sticking out from along the mold seam (see Figs. 5-6).
Finning Finning is a thin flow of metal between the gaps where the mold halves meet. This is typical of loose, low quality pattern castings (Fig. 12).
Modern grinding marks Deep parallel or deep circular grinding marks are left by modern grinding tools (Fig 11). Old trivets were smoothed with a file by hand.
Flat black paint Original trivets were painted or lacquered a glossy black. In genuine old trivets, this has dulled over the years. New flat black paint attempts to copy this look. Fresh paint may signal "repaint" but not necessarily a reproduction. Check the paint for wear (Figs. 13-14). Old paint will show wear in logical points of heaviest use such as handles, edges, raised design and always on the feet. Authentic wear is the result of years of honest use and is hard to copy.
New Rust Recently formed rust is rust colored, a reddish-brown. Old rust is deep brown, almost black.
Trivets that match reproduction pressing irons Some trivets are made to be paired with irons known to collectors only as reproductions. These trivets must be suspect for the company they keep.
The impostor roster is filled with reproductions, fakes, copycats and knockoffs. A copycat is similar in style to an old piece but not an exact copy. Knockoffs are modern copies meant to sell for much less than the original antique. Then there are the fakes and reproductions which deliberately intend to deceive. These are fraudulently offered for sale at the same price as the original.
Most reproductions, even those made as exact copies of the original, start life honestly. If the piece is not marked in the casting, problems begin when the paper label is removed. Some artificial aging is added and the new trivet suddenly becomes old. Even marked reproductions can be a problem. The Wilton firm, for example, made child-sized sets of trivets and matching pressing irons. Only the trivets are marked with the company name. When the iron and trivet become separated, identification becomes difficult for the iron collector. But the trivets remain easily recognized as new because of the name "Wilton" on the back.
Carol and Jimmy Walker have written many articles about antique iron for numerous antiques publications.