Interior Decorating Information

Vintage Enamelware Takes Us Back

Enamelware is a trip down memory lane. White jugs with blue trim and laundry tubs with red trim all bring us back to a simpler time. It's a part of the farmhouse country look.

What: Vintage items made of enamelware include ladles, coffeepots, jugs, strainers, jelly moulds, measuring jugs, bread tins, sauce pans, laundry tubs, chamber pots, garbage cans, canisters and trays. There is also a large supply of reproductions of these items available. Look for reproduction laundry tins, canisters and bread tins from major retailers.

History: The Egyptians and Chinese treated enamelling as decorative art. It was only during the 18th century that the Swiss and Germans began to use enamel to cover cooking utensils. By the middle of the 19th century, companies in the United States and Europe were producing enamelled kitchenware.

Process: Long before Teflon and other protective finishes, enamelling was the hot new thing. Prior to enamelling, food was cooked in non-porous, glazed stoneware that was better suited to baking. To cook foods at high temperature the cookware needed to be made of iron. Coating iron with a porcelain enamel created an easy to clean, sanitary and chemical resistant surface. This was a great technological advance.

Colours: A lot of enamelware is white and is often trimmed with blue, black or red. Some enamel can be found in red, yellow, blue, orange and brown. Part of the charm of these vintage collectibles is their bright colours.

Use: Enamelware is used today for display and the tins, tubs and trays are still used for their intended purposes of storage or serving.

Condition: Vintage enamelware is likely to have glaze or hairline cracks and chips. Not to worry though because collectors expect to find chips. Items without chips are harder to find.

Original Labels: Original paper labels still intact increase the value of enamelware, as they help verify authenticity.

Price: Starting at $5 for certain items and they are still plentiful.

Sources: Garage sales, flea markets, antique fairs, EBay.

Care: Hand wash enamelware in hot soapy water. Avoid very hot burners, abrasive pads and cleaners.

Martin Swinton owns Take-A-Boo Emporium, an antique shop located in Toronto, Canada. He does furniture restoration, caning and rushing repairs, custom reproductions, upholstery, teaches courses on antiques and does appraisals for estates and community events. He can be reached at 416-785-4555 or by visiting

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