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Decoding Cast Iron Numbers and Lettering

Decoding Cast Iron Numbers and Lettering:

Unveiling the Secrets of Vintage Cookware

Decoding Cast Iron Numbers and Lettering

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In the world of vintage cast iron cookware, aficionados often encounter a mosaic of numbers and letters etched into the surface of these iconic kitchen companions. While these markings may seem cryptic at first, they carry significant historical and functional importance. These inscriptions tell the tales of bygone eras and the evolution of cookware manufacturing. In this article, we’ll embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of cast iron numbers and lettering and explore the intriguing world of model designations that some manufacturers introduced.

Size Numbers: Beyond the Diameter

One of the most ubiquitous markings on vintage cast iron cookware is the size number, typically found on the top of the handle or the underside of the piece. However, a common misconception often leads collectors and enthusiasts astray, as these numbers do not directly indicate the diameter of the cookware in inches.

The origin of these size numbers can be traced back to the era of wood-burning stoves. Cast iron pans were tailored to fit the openings on top of these stoves, known as “stove eyes.” These stove eyes, akin to modern stove burners, featured a heavy cover piece to regulate heat. Additionally, heat rings, the raised rims found on the bottom of many early cast iron pans, served multiple purposes. They created a seal between the pan and the stove eye, provided stability for pans with less-than-perfectly flat bottoms, and helped distribute heat evenly.

As each stove manufacturer had differently sized stove eyes, cookware had to be tailored accordingly. Consequently, pan manufacturers created a range of sizes to align with various stove eyes. Even as gas and electric stoves supplanted wood-burning stoves, the tradition of using these size numbers persisted.

Nonetheless, these size numbers were far from uniform across all manufacturers. Different companies had slightly varying dimensions for their skillets. Some even intentionally made their pans slightly larger to advertise them as more substantial. For example, a Wagner skillet’s size #2 might be the same as a Martin size #3. This variability in size numbers adds a layer of fascination for collectors.

Numbers with Letters: Decoding Pattern Letters

Sometimes, collectors and enthusiasts stumble upon cast iron pieces bearing markings like “3B” or “8CX.” These letters, known as pattern letters, follow the size number and are linked to the molds used in production. Every model of a cast iron pan necessitated a pattern for molding, and these patterns were frequently crafted from aluminum for efficiency.

The primary role of pattern letters was to identify the specific pattern employed for casting, enabling manufacturers to track the quality of their products. Some pieces might have multiple patterns, especially if they were in high demand, while less common pieces might have only a few letters.

The absence of a letter following the size number carries no particular significance. It merely denotes the use of another pattern within the same group. Typically, collectors pay minimal attention to pattern letters, unless they’re endeavoring to assemble a collection just for the thrill of it.

Pattern Numbers: A Griswold Specialty

Griswold, a renowned cast iron manufacturer, employed a pattern numbering system that might seem cryptic initially. In addition to size numbers, Griswold pieces bear pattern numbers unique to each model, size, and type of pan produced. These pattern numbers often include a letter unique to each working pattern.

For instance, a Wagner pan marked “1053C” designates a regular skillet (105x), size #3 (xxx3), crafted from the pattern for it lettered “C.” This system simplified the identification of the model and pattern used for a specific piece.

Other manufacturers implemented similar systems, where pattern numbers stayed consistent for a given size and type of cookware, even as designs evolved.

Small Raised Letters or Numbers: Molder’s Marks

Occasionally, collectors encounter small raised numbers, letters, or combinations of letters on a cast iron pan. These marks, known as molder’s marks, were incorporated into the mold during casting. They served to tally the number of pieces each molder produced and identify subpar work. Letters generally indicate a specific molder, while numbers more likely represent a foundry shift.

Other Alpha-Numeric Markings: A Modern Touch

In the mid-20th century, manufacturers introduced dimensional descriptions on cast iron pieces, such as “10 5/8 IN.” or “6-1/2 Inch Skillet,” often in addition to or instead of traditional size numbers. These pieces are typically not deemed collectible, with a few exceptions for early unmarked Wagner Ware and Birmingham Stove & Range Co. “Century” items appreciated for their practical utility.

In some instances, small pans may bear a tiny numeral on the bottom of the handle, usually ranging from 1 to 4. These numbers were used for efficiency when casting multiple small pieces simultaneously in a gang mold.

Lastly, some manufacturers adopted letters as model designations, such as Lodge Manufacturing Co. in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These letters, like “AS” for All Star Pan or “DO” for Dutch Oven, helped consumers identify the intended use of the cookware.

Model Designations: A World of Possibilities

In a fascinating twist, certain cast iron manufacturers took this practice further by using letters as model designations, offering unique insights into the purpose and features of their cookware. This innovation, pioneered by Lodge Manufacturing Co. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, added a layer of distinction to their products. Let’s explore some of these letters and what they signify:

  • AS – All Star Pan: A versatile pan for all-star cooking, suitable for a range of dishes.
  • AT – Ash Tray Skillet: An intriguing combination of a skillet and an ashtray, designed for specific uses.
  • B – Breadstick Pan: Ideal for crafting delicious breadsticks, perfect for bakers.
  • BE – Bacon & Egg Skillet: A specialized skillet tailored for cooking bacon and eggs to perfection.
  • C – Cornstick Pan: Designed to create delectable cornbread sticks, a Southern favorite.
  • CAF – Camp Fryer: Suited for outdoor cooking during camping trips, complete with fryer capabilities.
  • CB – Corn Bread Skillet: Crafted for baking mouthwatering cornbread, often with a unique skillet design.
  • CC – Combo Cooker, Indoor/Outdoor: A versatile cooker that can be used both indoors and outdoors.
  • CF – Chicken Fryer: Perfect for frying chicken to a crispy, golden-brown perfection.
  • CK – Country Kettle: A rustic kettle that evokes a sense of countryside charm.
  • CO – Camp Oven: An oven designed for campfire cooking, perfect for the great outdoors.
  • CP – Fluted Cake Pan (Bundt Pan): Tailored for baking fluted or bundt-style cakes, producing beautiful and intricate designs.
  • CP – Cactus Pan: A pan with a cactus design, adding a touch of whimsy to your culinary creations.
  • CS – Chef Skillet: Designed for the culinary enthusiast or professional chef.
  • D – Danish Cake Pan: Ideal for baking Danish-style cakes, with a unique pan design.
  • DO – Dutch Oven: A classic Dutch oven, known for its versatility and performance.
  • DOF – Deep Fry Oven with Cover & Basket: A deep fryer that includes a cover and basket, making frying a breeze.
  • DOT – Dutch Oven Trivet: A trivet designed to complement Dutch ovens, providing heat insulation.
  • MP – Melting Pot: Perfect for melting ingredients like chocolate or cheese for various recipes.
  • FB – French Bread (2-loaf Vienna Roll Pan): Designed for baking French bread or Vienna rolls, often with the capacity for two loaves.
  • FBK – Flat Bottomed Straight Kettle: A kettle with a flat bottom for even heat distribution.
  • FF – French Fryer with Basket: Tailored for frying French fries, complete with a handy basket.
  • FP – Fish Pan: Ideal for cooking fish dishes with a specialized design.
  • FS – Foursome/4-In-1 Skillet Set: A versatile skillet set that offers four different cooking options in one package.
  • GC – Glass Cover: A glass cover designed to fit specific cast iron cookware, allowing you to monitor cooking.
  • IC – Iron Cover for Chicken Fryer and Dutch Oven: A cast iron cover designed for chicken fryers and Dutch ovens.
  • LG – Oblong (Long) Griddle: A long, oblong-shaped griddle, perfect for cooking multiple items at once.
  • M – Muffin Pan (6-cup Turk Head): A muffin pan with a unique Turk Head design, ideal for making muffins.
  • NG – Round Griddle, New Style: A new style of round griddle, offering specific features.
  • NTP – No Trump Card Pan: A unique pan with an intriguing name, potentially associated with a specific function.
  • OG – Round Griddle, Old Style: An older style of round griddle with distinctive features.
  • OS – Oval Serving Griddle: An oval-shaped griddle tailored for serving delicious dishes.
  • P – Popover Pan: Designed for baking popovers, creating delightful, puffy pastries.
  • PP – Perch Pan: Tailored for cooking perch, a specialized pan for a specific type of fish.
  • RBK – Round Bottomed Straight Kettle: A kettle with a round bottom, designed for specific cooking needs.
  • SC – Skillet Cover: A cover designed to fit cast iron skillets, providing added versatility.
  • SK – Skillet: A classic skillet, versatile for a wide range of cooking tasks.
  • SP – Sauce Pan or Stew Pan: A pan designed for preparing sauces and stews.
  • SQSK – Square Skillet: A square-shaped skillet, providing a unique cooking experience.
  • TB – Top of Stove Broiler (Axford style skillet): A broiler designed to be used on the top of a stove, often in the Axford style.
  • TK – Tea Kettle: A kettle tailored for heating water for tea, a staple in many kitchens.

These model designations not only add character to cast iron cookware but also offer valuable insights into their intended use and features. Whether you’re a collector or a cooking enthusiast, understanding these designations can help you appreciate the versatility and history of these timeless kitchen companions.

In conclusion, the world of cast iron numbers and letters, along with model designations, is a fascinating journey through time and utility. These markings, from size numbers to pattern letters and modern model designations, provide a rich tapestry of information for collectors and enthusiasts to explore and enjoy. As you use or collect vintage cast iron cookware, remember that each marking tells a story of craftsmanship and purpose that goes beyond its appearance.

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