Collecting, cleaning, displaying, researching, and appreciating TRIVETS and related go-withs!
Many questions received from collectors revolve around the history, age and/or value of a trivet. This is the third in a series of three blog posts to help you better evaluate the trivets in your collection.
Although there are no hard and fast rules in classifying trivets, the castings of each era have unique characteristics ~ which is why I personally find it helpful to to use the descriptive terms antique, vintage and contemporary.
● ANTIQUE: Greater than 100 years old, particularly those cast before 1900. According to US Customs Laws an antique is defined as an item 100 years old or older. Early American trivets have distinctive characteristics of design and casting that differentiate them from later trivets.
Trivets over 100 years old make a fine addition to any metalware collection. However, finding antique trivets in display worthy condition (without cracks, pitting or other damage) can be challenging; so the hunt is on! I never pass up the opportunity to add an interesting antique trivet to my collection. If not in the best condition, it becomes a place holder until a better example can be found.
The quality of workmanship and the variety of design in antique trivets is incredible. And, as seen here, displaying brass and nickel-plated trivets alongside those of darker cast iron accentuates their beauty and makes for an attractive display.
To better understand the history and techniques of metal casting, I highly recommend the book A Collectors Guide To Trivets and Stands (Kelly & Ellwood, 1990). This reference book also contains a comprehensive catalog of antique trivet designs.
ONE SIZE SMALLER: The trivet measurements provided in Trivets & Stands are especially useful, since antique trivets were often used as patterns. Any resulting reproductions would be slightly smaller, due to the shrinkage of molten metal after cooling. Cast iron shrinks 1/8″ (2/16″) per foot; brass and copper shrink 3/16″ per foot. See the example below, where an antique nickel-plated cast iron Ober trivet has been placed (face to face) under a 1/8” smaller cast iron reproduction trivet marked WINCHESTER, VA and 43-TRIVET.
Being able to confidently and correctly identify an antique trivet comes with time and experience. In the meantime, here are some additional guidelines.
BRASS/BRONZE: Antique trivets made of these softer metals are more likely to show wear such as loss of surface design, bowing in the center, or bent legs. Casting marks are not always evident since they were more easily removed during finishing.
CAST IRON: Antique American trivets were rarely signed. They are generally larger and more finely detailed than the reproductions that followed. Legs are greater than 1″ in length and, commensurate with age and use, may no longer be straight. Almost all antique trivets will bear a casting mark; check carefully on the reverse or along the edges.
A trivet with a round SPRUE-MARK most probably predates 1865. This circular scar will be found on the center reverse and measures 5/16″ to 1/2″ in diameter. Some sprue marks appear as shallow, smooth depressions; others may be elevated above the surface and feel rough to touch.
A raised, rectangular WEDGE-MARK is another early (most probably pre-1865) casting mark. It’s usually about 1/8″ in width; the length can be anywhere from 3/4″ or more. Again, it’s found on the reverse of the trivet, near the center of the design.
The GATE-MARK is a casting mark that appears along the edge of a trivet. One or more prominent, unfiled gate-marks signifies a casting from around 1865 to 1900. After 1900, most castings were finished using machine grinding; those grinding marks, when visible, are uniformly spaced. Should you find a trivet with irregular grinding marks, it would suggest a casting before 1900, since the gate-mark would have been smoothed by a hand file.
Antique trivets have legs over 1″ long, raising the surface enough to dissipate heat from a hot pot or sad iron. The shape of the legs may be either straight or tapered. On cross-section the leg will be square, triangular, quarter, half or full round.
Here are some additional pointers when trying to determine the age of a trivet. See also the previous two blog posts in this series: Contemporary trivets and Vintage trivets.