Wagner Cast Iron Skillet
Here is my first vintage cast iron! I have heard about how great the vintage Wagner cast iron (or WagnerWare cast iron) is versus the new modern varieties that you might find these days. Today, Lodge dominates they market and I have plenty of Lodge cast iron cookware (skillets, griddles, and dutch ovens). You can also find some cheaper brands, probably made in China, and most likely inferior to the Lodge. These Wagner cast iron skillets were actually in pretty darn good shape overall. The quality was apparent even it if was partly psychological. Either way, I could immediately see how smooth the interior surface of the skillets were.
Buying Vintage Wagner Cast Iron
I found this piece on eBay as part of a lot of 3 Wagner Cast Iron Skillets – there was an unmarked #3, a WagnerWare #3 1053H, and a WagnerWare #6 1056N. In the photo on the auction, it was clear the 1053H was never really used – there was no seasoning to be seen, the color was of raw cast iron (gray), and there was a little rust clearly visible. The unmarked #3 and the 1056N looked fantastically seasoned – shiny and black! Well, there you go, you can see for yourself
I was seeking out good deals for some Wagner skillets on eBay. The thing is some of the very clean pieces that have been stripped, de-rusted, and re-seasoned can fetch a pretty penny. We’re talking $20 or $30 up to over $100. Surely some of these items are over priced to some extent, maybe some of the pieces are just really rare and hard to find, or maybe some bidders let their emotions take over and the final, winning bid was higher than they intended. It isn’t like there is manufacturers suggested retail price for this stuff.
Anyhow, I focused my search on some of the lower priced items initially. Once I narrowed it down a bit, I looked for items with some apparent and visible defects. My reasoning was that it would be easy in most cases to fix any of those defects. If a skillet is rusty, then you can clean it well, use some vinegar at a 50% dilution with tap water and soak it for a little while. Maybe use a little steel wool to get the last bit off. If a skillet is a little crusty or even a lot crusty with old greasy seasoning, you can still deal with that. You’d be able to use some restoration methods and end up with a pretty good result.
You also have to think about the shipping costs with cast iron, after all, that iron is pretty darn heavy! Some of the pieces are bulky and require a awkwardly shaped box. Essentially, you have to take into account the shipping cost when bidding because in some cases the shipping can make up 50% of the total price. Just keep that in mind…
Here are a couple other tips when buying on eBay:
- Ask questions! You can just be direct and ask about the condition: Is there any rust on the item? Is there any pitting? Are there chips, especially around the edges? Is the bottom completely flat and absent of wobbling? Are there any defects? You only want to purchase from a reputable seller and a reputable seller will answer your questions promptly and honestly. I actually bought a pretty beat up Wagner 1058 that was a little rusty on the inside and had 1/8″ of visible gunk and seasoning in some areas. I cleaned it up using some oven cleaner and patience. It looked pretty beautiful once it was cleaned up but a crack was also revealed. It’s not a huge deal since it actually doesn’t seem to affect the cooking at all even though you can see the crack on the interior and the bottom of the skillet. That’s a long way of saying that, 1) a crack isn’t necessarily a big deal, and 2) defects may not be apparent if the cast iron cookware has a thick layer of seasoning.
- Flat bottom usually means no heat ring rather than non warped. Check out a few of the auctions that do have cookware with a heat ring and you will see what I mean. Cast iron can become warped if it was heated or cooled too quickly and the result is a permanent disfiguring of the metal. It is most critical if you are cooking on a flat glass top and if the warping is severe, you may not be able to use the cookware effectively on the stovetop but the oven or grill would still be fair game. If you are using a gas range, or electric coils, the impact of a warped piece is far less important. To reference the Wagner 1058 again, this skillet was flat on the bottom with no wobbling initially. Well, after all of the cleaning it turned out to be a little wobbly. I do have a flat, glass top stove top range so this isn’t ideal. However, the skillet is still usable and seems avoid having a hot spot based on the point of the skillet that is actually touching the stove. I do need to do some more research on that though.
- Beware of reproductions. Here is another gotcha that you can ask about and while the seller may not admit it directly, you will have made it clear that you know what you’re talking about! Look out for the “Wagner’s 1891 Original” which was manufactured from 1991 to 1999. You can find these often; you’ll know they aren’t vintage because of the engraving on the bottom dated “1891” and the fact that they are completely underprices for some cast iron that is over 100 years old.
How Much Does Vintage Cast Iron Cost?
In this case, I won the auction for $12.05! A great bargin if you ask me! “How much was the shipping?!” you say. The shipping for the lot of 3 skillets was $15.85. Yep, the shipping cost more than the goods. Each of the skillets was less then $10 a piece, they can pretty much last for a few lifetimes if you take care of them right. I felt great about this deal overall. This may be an exception as far as the pricing but I think if you lurk around and take your time while monitoring the auctions, you too can find a good deal. As I mentioned, you can find a full range of pricing, from reasonable to outrageous.
Afterthoughts: Quality of Vintage Cast Iron
Well, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the unnamed #3 but it turned out to be wicked smooth and in excellent shape. The seasoning on this one was first rate! The 1053H was pretty much pristine – It looks like it was in the original box for 50 years and got a little damp. I am certain that it was never used and after a little vinegar bath for about 30 minutes, plus a little baking with canola oil (how to season), this 1053H was better than it was new. The 1056N looked great with a very solid looking seasoning. I took it for a test run with an egg and it performed flawlessly – no sticking at all! I am really happy with my purchases and look forward to finding more great deals on eBay.
Wonder why you can use a #3 or 1053 cast iron skillet for? Check out this recipe for calzones cooked on the grill.