In the 1990’s I rented a marvelous apartment in an unrestored 1920’s building. Each of the 20 units had a 1920-30 Magic Chef gas/propane antique gas stove. The owner dumped them all. Today a good one, restored, might run you up to $6000.
D. L. from Santa Barbara sends me a photo of her 1920-1930 Oxford Universal Range, of which she owns two identical – one purchased for her and one for her married son. I have made this mistake too; I buy things for Lock, but my son and his wife don’t have the same (retro) taste I do. The result: D says she needs to sell one of her Oxfords.
You’ll see this is a 4-burner. The porcelain enamel top shuts over the burners, creating a square profile. My research indicates a manufacture date of 1932 made by Cribben and Sexton Co. of Chicago, IL. I found it on virtual display at Kendall College of Chicago, at The Culinary Curiosity Exhibition, from the Mel and Janet Mickevic Collection. 200 early kitchen objects collected by the Mickevics adorn the culinary arts school, including one of D’s Oxford range.
Preparing food has changed dramatically in my lifetime–think of the microwave, the toaster oven, the rice cooker. Air conditioning was scarce; refrigeration was unreliable in the hot summers of my childhood. Think back to the Depression, the era of D’s stove, and you’ll remember the Deco streamline in rich folks’ interior designs. The middle classes needed some flair in the Deco direction, and this stove was the answer. Hard for us to see now, but D’s stove, as opposed to the earlier models, was actually considered elegant and streamlined, folding up into a 36” x 42” x 25” cube on graceful little cabriole ivory enameled legs. The hardware is teardrop shaped dangles of black ceramic. The top over the range creates a space saving prep surface. Notice the introduction of the oven’s temperature control in a dial to the side. Even though oven thermometers were invented in 1915, only by the 1930’s were they standard built-in equipment.
The porcelain enamel finish is deep green malachite, marbleized. This is a Deco nod to Classicism. The clean lines of Greek and Roman designs, so beloved of the Deco period, are referenced here. The marble look also spoke to solidity and importance. By the 1920’s cooks could choose a stove color: gray, white, beige, green and blue.
Before gas stoves, which we take for granted today, kitchen ranges pre-1930 were often oil-fueled. (People with furnaces will have an insight into the difference.) Propane stoves were also outmoded by the 1930’s when semi-reliable natural gas lines were added to homes in the more populated areas of the US.
D asks me the value, and in this category of collectibles, we see a wide range of prices paid, simply because either you want an old stove or you don’t. Those that have to dump an old stove have a beast on their hands. They are heavy and perhaps untrustworthy and modern cooks want more mod cons, although D tells me she finesses a turkey every year in her Oxford. So I see them selling in desperation for $50. Yet I see a similar retro gas antique restored and partially reproduced stove like D’s selling for $6800 on the “Good Time Stove” site. Sites have stove auctions, which reinforces my supposition that the marketplace has no concrete “blue book” of definite valuation.
However, 65 million major appliances–refrigerators, stoves, and dishwashers–are shipped to US consumers yearly, along with 100 million small appliances, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Some big names are turning retro: Frigidaire went back to its 1950’s era script-style logo. And the most expensive retro stove of all grows in popularity in the US: the Aga Range has always been the kitchen status symbol of the UK. Their brightly enameled cast iron exterior piloted in Sweden in the 1920’s belies an interior that cooks by radiant heat – it’s always on.
As close a valuation for D’s stove as I can get is quoted in USA Today, 2012: A cooking school in Pennsylvania tracked down one of D’s style stoves and paid $1500 before restoration. Restoration is costly, more if you want a stove converted to electric.
Still, two factors are in play with old retro stoves: they say grandma or mom, implying good loving food, and they are saved from the growing landfills of our consumer culture of “throw-away.”
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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