What makes some cast iron pieces so expensive versus others?

What makes some cast iron pieces so expensive versus others?

The cost question of vintage cast iron, or rather, why one is more expensive than others is something that all of us have asked at some point of our cast iron journeys.  As beginners, there is a LOT to learn about value and why some pieces are far more expensive than others.  I learn more every day when it comes to prices and demand because prices fluctuate year to year as well.  So for this article I've broken down value into two separate categories:  the rarer pieces, and the common expensive pieces.  We'll explore both and hopefully leave you with a better understanding than when you arrived here.  

Rare Pieces:  Rare cast iron pieces, like the Griswold 411 skillet, #2 Skillets of any maker, the famous Erie "Spider" #8 logo, or even the Griswold #50 hearts and star gem pan, are often thousands of dollars to acquire, if you can even find one.  The regular cast iron cook that loves to cook with vintage cast iron but may not necessarily be spending hours upon hours researching them, may not ever see one of these beauties.  Therefore, they are "very" rare to them.  However, the constant collector, who is seeking to finish sets of items or to build a showroom of cast pieces, will definitely come across these in their research, and they are less "rare" and more "hard to find".  Rarity of something is often subjective in the mind of the collector because it depends on how often and how deep you are looking.  What's rare to someone may not be rare to another!  

Also its worth noting from experience that what are generally referred to as rare or hard to find pieces are often that way because of supply and demand and possibly because of a lack of purpose.  We learned in high school economics that supply drives price, so if something is less often available, the price will naturally trend higher.  And I've found from my travels that the rarest, most expensive pieces can actually be less affective in the kitchen.  Take for instance the #50 Hearts and Star Griswold Gem pan.  Measuring 6 inches in diameter, its cute as all get out....but it really doesn't actually DO much.  You can bake Christmas cookies in it, because it's so small, it would be February by the time you finish baking!  The #19 Golf Ball six cup gem pan is just the same.  What exactly do you DO with that??  I believe that these are so hard to find because so little were actually manufactured due to lack of demand!  So don't be surprised if you are able to add one of these to your collection, that you find you don't actually USE it very much! 

Also, a perfect example of a very expensive skillet that is hard to find due to scarcity is a Griswold #13 skillet.  Why?  Well because 13 is a traditionally unlucky number so it probably wasn't very popular, BUT, I speculate that most folks did not have the money for complete sets of cast iron back then, so if you had a #10 or #12, you probably didn't really need a #13, especially if you had a #14 or #20.  So naturally they were produced a lot less than the even numbered skillets surrounding the unlucky 13.  

So while the "rare" collector pieces are scarce to find and are often not very useful once you acquire them, how about "common" expensive pieces?  What drives prices so high for some and not for others?

Common cast iron:  Common cast iron pieces, like every day skillets, waffle irons, dutch ovens, etc... are usually more expensive for three reasons:  1. Age 2. Look 3. Availability.   

1. Age:  Lodge is the longest tenured cast iron foundry in the US and has been around since the late 1800's.  We almost have a full set of the Lodge "Arc" logo skillets (we feature them on our home page banner) and they are amazing to use in the kitchen.  They are a tough collection to complete and some like the #14 Lodge Arc are things of legend.  I still haven't seen one!  They are more expensive simply because they are one of the first sets that Lodge made.  Age is a big driver in cast iron skillets. 

2. Look:  You could make a case that the small block Griswolds are just as beautiful to work with in the kitchen as the smooth bottom large block skillets, and you would be correct.  So why are small blocks priced lower than large block?  Pure and simple, its the large logo.  People like that display look.  So because  they sell faster than the small block, the price to acquire them has gone up dramatically, and thus the retail price has as well.  Same maker, same style, but definitely not the same price.  

This may be sacrilege to some of you, but I do NOT like cooking with one of the most expensive series' of skillets, the Wapak Indian Skillets.  They are hands down the most expensive of the common era skillet sets to own and this is because of how cool the indian head logo looks.  However, I don't like the handles at all, the rib cuts into your hand and I don't enjoy them as daily users.  But they are IMMENSLY popular and always range in the $400 to $1500 range depending on size.  So while it's awesome to look at hanging on a wall, I just don't like to cook with them.  However the point of this is that look has everything to do with price.  

3. Availability:  The last factor we will touch on here in this blog post about prices of skillets is overall availability.  When the old foundries were producing pieces from patterns, they had to decide where they would dedicate their resources.  While there are catalogs of foundry pieces for sale, most foundries sold their pieces ala carte.  So they produced sizes as they were demanded, and naturally sizes like the #3 and #8 were most in demand.  Therefore you will find that some sizes of common pieces are much more in demand for collectors to complete their respective sets.  In skillets, sizes 2, 7, 11 and 13 are more difficult to find than the rest.  In dutch ovens, once you get larger than a #8 of any size, the price goes much higher.  This is due to a lesser available pool of #9, #10 or even larger dutch ovens.  Their prices start to skyrocket from there.  In waffle irons, about 80% of the available pieces are size 8 irons.  There are far far more 8's than any other size (6 through 9).  So you see availability sets the pricing trends as well.  

 So in closing, we have started to make pricing charts in our FAQ section of the website and hope to add more soon.  I hope that sheds some light on the factors that drive pricing, but I also hope you keep one thing in mind.  Just because something is expensive, it doesn't make it better than something less expensive.  Some of the best pieces we LOVE to work with have no logo or need for a logo on them.  They heat well, they cook well, and they do their job well.    Enjoy the cook!  Phil





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