Collecting, cleaning, displaying, researching, and appreciating TRIVETS and related go-withs!
Many questions received from collectors revolve around history, age and/or value. This is the first of three blog posts to help you better evaluate the trivets in your collection. See also Vintage trivets and Reproduction trivets.
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. The quality of workmanship and the variety of design in antique trivets was incredible. 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). T&S also contains a comprehensive catalog of antique trivet designs.
● Brass: Antique trivets made of this softer metal are more likely to show wear such as loss of surface design, bowing in the center, or bent legs. A cast mark is not always evident on brass since it was more easily removed.
● Bronze: Historic cast bronze is usually 90% copper, 6% tin and 4% zinc. It develops a patina over time which generally adds to its value. Bronze should never be polished; instead, wash bronze in water, dry, then keep dust free.
● Cast Iron: Antique American trivets were rarely signed. They are generally larger and more finely detailed than the reproductions that followed. Almost all antique iron trivets will bear one more cast marks; check carefully on the reverse or along the edges. Warning: cast iron can be brittle! Protect it well when storing or shipping.
● Legs: Antique trivets generally have longer legs of 1.25″ to 1.5″ or more, raising the surface enough to dissipate heat from the surface below. Their shape may be either straight or tapered. On cross-section the leg will be square, triangular, quarter, half or full round. Commensurate with age and use, legs may no longer be straight.
● Signature: Antique trivets were rarely signed on the reverse. Those by William B. Rimby of Baltimore, MD are an exception.
Casting is a process in which a liquid metal is delivered into a mold containing a three-dimensional negative image of the intended shape. The metal is poured through a hollow channel. The metal and mold are then cooled, the casting is extracted, and the access point(s) broken off ~ leaving a sprue, wedge, or one or more gate marks.
● Sprue Mark: A trivet with a round sprue 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.
● Wedge Mark: A raised, rectangular WEDGE-MARK is another early casting mark, likely pre-1865. Again, it’s found on the reverse of the trivet, near the center of the design. Usually about 1/8″ in width, the length can be anywhere from 3/4″ or more.
● Gate Mark: This casting mark appears along the edge of a trivet. One or more prominent, unfiled gate-marks signify 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.
● One Size Smaller: The trivet measurements provided in the reference book 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.