Most country cooks have at least one piece of graniteware or enamelware in their kitchen. Perhaps it’s an old roasting pan, a waterbath canning kettle or a coffeepot. It might be white with a red rim, dark blue with speckles, mottled gray, or blue, green, yellow or even pink. My first piece was a white saucepan with a red rim, so small that I used it to warm baby bottles or to melt butter. That piece is long gone but over the years I’ve owned many more useful pieces of porcelain-coated steel cookware.
So what exactly is the difference between graniteware and enamelware? Not much is the best answer, it seems. Both were made by coating a metal with glass (porcelain). The process, developed in Germany in the late 1700’s, requires very high heat to fuse a coating of porcelain to a metal base. Originally this process was used on cast iron utensils, and it became popular very quickly.
Graniteware cookware was soon commonplace in kitchens across Europe before making its way to the US, where one of the first to use the process was the Saint Louis Stamping Company. The company was founded by brothers Fredrich and William Niedringhaus, German immigrants, who began producing porcelain coated cast iron in the 1870’s. The brothers soon developed a formula to coat imported tin with porcelain in addition to cast iron. Later the town of Granite City, IL was established by them when the company began using steel as the base metal, and they expanded their operations to include a steel mill. The company underwent many changes over the years and eventually came under the ownership of US Steel.
|Washpans in the bathroom|
Graniteware was a variation of enamelware, and was made with a speckled surface that resembled granite stone. Enamelware can be a solid color, but also comes in many beautiful patterns. These patterns are created by applying a piece of paper with an oxidized pattern on it to the porcelain while it is still hot. European designs included checks and polka dots and other creative patterns. This cookware was the most popular in use in American kitchens until the 1950’s when aluminum and stainless steel came into favor. Enamelware washpans, kettles, coffeepots, ladles, funnels, baking dishes,cups, bowls, plates, and even tabletops were found in almost every household. Bathroom items such as soap dishes,pitcher and bowl sets, and bedpans were also manufactured.
|Soap dish and cup in the bathroom|
Today the terms graniteware and enamelware are used interchangeably, although some collectors will refer to products made before 1910 as graniteware, and later products as enamelware. Most pieces are not marked with a maker’s name as the items were considered as inexpensive, daily-use products not worth marking. A revival of interest led to more pieces being manufactured in the 1960’s, and today it is not unusual to find items that look like antiques with “made in China” labels. Don’t we wish they had been marked, to make identification of older graniteware easier!
Still, there are ways to tell if a piece is older or of more recent manufacture. Weight is the first indicator—older items are heavier. The finish will feel smoother, and the handles and spouts will be riveted rather than welded on. Most will have a chip or two (new pieces have fake “chips” to look older). Handles and knobs that are not part of the metal structure of the piece will be wood, not plastic. Cast iron handles were used before 1910.
More than you ever wanted to know on this topic, right?
(Originally published in Two-Lane Livin', November 2017.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.