Antique Cookstoves: What to Know
Many folks try to reclaim that time in their life by hunting down antique cookstoves because, after all, few things can replace an old fashioned cooker. Right?
Not necessarily. Before you dive into the antique cookstoves market, you need to be aware of some of the basics behind this small and expensive niche.
Old does not always equal great.
Many cookstove manufacturers came and went in the 19th and 20th century; for some it was hard economic times, for others it was simply their poor craftsmanship leading to poor sales. Know the difference. Glenwood, Northwestern Stove Works, Rock Island Stove Co., and Clarion are among the most common brands to stand the test of time, and the true quality stoves were made mostly from cast iron, a material that will hold up for hundreds of years with good design and some basic maintenance. Mind the material you’re looking at in the stove, and note the company.
A rare stove means rare parts.
One member of the Cookstove Community recently approached us trying to identify an antique cookstove they had recently come into possession of. After a little research the brand was identified, but the company went out of business nearly 70 years ago. The stove body was in fine shape with little to no rust, an impressive feet for a piece of equipment that could be over a century old, but it was missing a few things: The base, ash door, skirt, and more. These parts were essential to the stove’s operation, and while the body may have been pretty, it was little more than scrap in light of the missing pieces. Cast iron stove parts were formed with specific molds from each manufacturer, and if that manufacturer is gone, you can bet the molds are too (it’s also worth noting that the same parts tend to fail on every unit in a given line of stoves, so finding those parts on another antique is also difficult). If you find an old stove that’s missing parts, you must be sure that you can track down those parts before purchase.
Don’t expect to heat your home.
Thanks to advances in heating technology, today a single stove can do just about everything from cooking meals to providing domestic hot water and, of course, offering up all the warmth you could ever want. But things weren’t always this way, and while you might remember Grandma’s cookstove being plenty warm, the reality is that it was built during a time when most people had multiple stoves in their household. This meant that the most efficient heaters were dedicated wood stoves, while cookstoves were built with one thing in mind: Cooking. In fact, most antique cookstoves top out at about 50% efficiency, well below what you could expect to achieve with a modern stove. If you’re considering going the antique route, don’t expect what you get to rival today’s standards of flexibility and heating.
Have your antique stove restored by professionals.
So you’ve just found an ancient stove amongst the piles of a yard sale. It’s tempting to think you could simply take it home, give it a good polish and a new paint job and be on your way. The reality, however, is that properly restoring an old stove to a functional state requires a significant amount of time, dedication, and know-how. Special materials and tools are used to restore the finish, parts will need to be replaced or recast, new welding may need to be done, and so on. No matter how “together” a stove may look, if it’s a true antique that hasn’t been used in decades or more, you will need professional help to get it back to working condition without risk of permanent damage. There are many stove restoration companies across the United States, particularly in the Northeast, and a quick search of your area will likely yield some results.
Consider a modern stove with antique style.
You might think all cookstoves on the market today feature a modern look, but that’s not entirely true. Several manufacturers make cookstoves with a decorative, old-fashioned look that disguises their modern, efficient insides. Elmira Stove Works produces the Fireview, a traditional looking steel stove with multiple warming ovens and a gas side burner, and Heartland produces the Oval, which is also traditionally designed with an overhead warming oven and the ability to provide domestic hot water. Heartland AGA makes a similar line as well, with their Sweetheart units.
Our own recommendation for a quality, classic stove comes in the form of the Margin Gem, by Margin Stoves. The Gem offers a cast iron cooking surface and porcelain exterior finish for a look that says traditional, with an internal reburn system that offers modern technological efficiency. It’s the perfect combination of old and new, and you can learn more here. You can also see more modern, antique-style cookstoves on our videos page.
We absolutely understand the appeal of antique cookstoves: You’re not just buying a piece of history, but the aesthetics of stoves that were made a hundred or more years ago are very special. The modern stoves mentioned above were built on the shoulders of those ancient manufacturers, and there’s something to be said for that. However, antiques are expensive, and our hope is that all users of wood heat with an eye towards the classics know what to expect from such high dollar items. Keeping the memory of your heritage alive with an antique is a labor of love, and as long as you begin your search with that in mind, you will find satisfaction.