Home PageCast Iron CollectingLargest Vintage Cast Iron Cookware Collection in the United States: Larry and Marg O’Neil, Tacoma, WA

Largest Vintage Cast Iron Cookware Collection in the United States: Larry and Marg O’Neil, Tacoma, WA

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©The Pan Handler LLC 2016. All rights reserved. Photos by and ©Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography, and ©Mary Theisen, The Pan Handler LLC. For information on how to purchase high-resolution reprints of any of the photos, please contact S.Lamb Photography at slambphoto@gmail.com

Larry and Marg O’Neil own what is reputed to be the largest collection of vintage and antique cast iron cookware in the United States; more than 13,000 pieces.  The collection is displayed in their beautiful Tacoma Washington home overlooking Puget Sound, as well as at their private Cast Iron Museum located on their farmland on the outskirts of Tacoma. Larry and Marg collect cast iron with the same passion and enthusiasm that they devote to seemingly everything that they do.

Larry & Marg O'Neil at their cast iron museum in Tacoma, WA. April 2, 2016. Photo by mt

Larry & Marg O’Neil at their Cast Iron Museum in Tacoma, WA. April 1, 2016.

Larry and Marg have been married almost 60 years. They met in grade school, were high school sweethearts, and married when Marg was 19 and Larry 21.

March 2, 1957

March 2, 1957

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Larry and Marg are both very strong people. Larry is a bit reserved; Marg is a spitfire. They are partners in every respect –  family, work, life. Marg became restless after the birth of their two sons, Mark and Jerry. As she puts it, “I wanted a job, so he [Larry] bought me a store.” In 1963 they bought a small “mom and pop” store. Marg ran the store, while Larry worked both at  the store and at St. Regis Paper Company as head truck mechanic.

Larry and Marg's first store, 1963.

Larry and Marg’s first store, Kapowsin, WA. 1963.

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First store.

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In 1965, Marg and Larry built a store to replace their first store. Kapowsin, WA.

Larry (left) at about age 26. He was then head truck mechanic for Champion Paper. He worked both at the stores and for Champion paper for several years before leaving to focus full time on the grocery business.

Larry (left) at age 30, while working as head truck mechanic for St. Regis (now Champion) Paper Company. He left St. Regis in 1965 to focus full time on the grocery business.

That “mom and pop” store eventually led to Larry and Marg owning and managing five grocery stores. Larry says, “We didn’t know anything, but we knew how to work.” Clearly, they did. The two worked alongside each other, learning as they went. When they realized their second store was losing money on meat cutting, Larry learned how to cut meat and purchased meat cutting equipment. He built that skill and eventually that store became the largest wild game processor in Western Washington State. Marg recalls their young boys standing on milk crates alongside Larry and helping to cut meat, while Marg wrapped and boned.

Larry and Marg's second store.

Larry and Marg’s second store, Spanaway, WA 1972.

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Store number 3, Tacoma, WA.

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Store numbers 4 and 5 were “Piggly-Wiggly” markets. Parkland store, Tacoma, WA.

Portland Avenue store, Tacoma

Portland Avenue store, Tacoma, WA.

Big O's, Spanaway WA.

Store number 6: Big O’s, Spanaway WA.

Larry was also active in the Washington State Grocer’s Association; at one time serving as its President. He also served on the Public Affairs Committee for the Food Marketing Institute. In 1990, he was named Washington State’s “Grocer of the Year.”

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Larry and Marg at the 1990 awards ceremony where Larry was named Washington State “Grocer of the Year.” He was then, and is now, known in the grocery industry as “Big O.”

Larry says that Marg prefers that Larry make the major decisions in their partnership. Once made, Marg  makes sure that the decision does not fail. Marg is certainly no shrinking violet, however. One story I was told involved Marg working the cash register at one of the stores. A young patron threw some coins at Marg after she refused to sell him beer when he and his companion could not produce proper identification. Larry stepped in. The young man hit Larry in the face, knocking off his glasses. Larry punched him in the nose, breaking it. While this was happening, Marg “jumped on the other guy’s back” and pulled his hair. The man was charged with an offense, and Larry was called as a witness at the trial. During Larry’s testimony, Marg was in the galley, animatedly nodding her head when she agreed with Larry, and shaking her head when she disagreed with Larry’s recitation of events. If you have ever met Marg, you can easily picture this entire scenario.

Even now after their supposed “retirement” after 38 years in the grocery business, Larry and Marg own properties in different states that are leased to many different businesses. They are also very engaged in many philanthropic and community activities; they are Life Members of Ducks Unlimited of USA Canada & Mexico, and Life Members of the Eatonville & Gig Harbor Gun Club.

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Larry and Marg made thirteen pineapple/peach upside-down cakes – Larry’s specialty – in thirteen no. 9 skillets as part of a benefit for their golf club.

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Marg and Larry provided support for the Bachelor Island Wetlands project, as well as the Nisqually Estuary, both in Washington.

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Photo of Larry and Marg in Texas, being recognized by the President and the Chief Executive Officer of Ducks Unlimited for their support of Ducks Unlimited.

Larry and Marg receiving recognition at the 75th Anniversary celebration of Ducks Unlimited, Texas.

Larry and Marg receiving recognition in Nashville from the President and Chief Executive Officer of Ducks Unlimited at the 75th Anniversary celebration of the organization.

Larry became interested in vintage cast iron some years back after he asked his mother if he could have the two cast iron skillets hanging on her kitchen wall. His mother said that his sister had already spoken for them, so Larry set out to get his own. He found a Griswold and a Wagner skillet for $8 at a thrift store. That small purchase ignited a spark and a passion for vintage cast iron in Larry. He ultimately set out to learn about and collect one of each and every piece and variation of vintage and antique cast iron cookware; both those manufactured by large well-known foundries, and those old pieces for which the maker is unknown. As she does, Marg supported Larry, and made Larry’s interest her own. Larry’s two pans became a collection, and the collection became a museum.

The one family piece that Larry has is his Grandmother's Cascade stove. It is on display at the O'Neil Cast Iron Museum.

The one family piece that Larry has is his Grandmother’s Cascade stove. It is on display at the O’Neil Cast Iron Museum.

The O’Neil cast iron is the stuff of legends, and I was thrilled to be invited to profile the collection. On two beautiful sunny days in April 2016, Pan Apprentice Linda and I went to the O’Neil residence along with photographer Sarah Lamb of S. Lamb Photography. Our good friend Josh Miller, the delightful editor of Southern Cast Iron and Taste of the South magazines, joined us.

As we meandered up to the house, repurposed iron in the beautiful O’Neil gardens hinted at things to come.

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Cast iron pot with plant in front of the O'Neil koi pond in fronton the house.

Larry’s koi pond in front of their home. Larry and Marg enjoy working in their gardens.

Old wheelbarrow filled with succulents. O'Neil garden. Photo by mt

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Succulents nestled in an old cast iron Dutch oven. O'Neil garden. Photo by mt

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More repurposed pieces from the O'Neil garden. Photo by mt

When I stepped over the threshold to the house, I immediately realized that I was in the presence of cast iron greatness. I have seen my share of vintage cast iron cookware, but the O’Neil collection is the mother lode – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Larry and Marg are not mere “collectors,” they are collectors. In addition to their thousands of pieces, Larry and Marg have a staggering amount of knowledge and information about vintage cast iron. They have studied and read and conferred with other long-time collectors. They are active members of the two national cast iron collecting groups – the Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association and the Wagner and Griswold Society. They have traveled across the United States looking at, learning about, and acquiring iron. Larry told us that he figures he has purchased iron in every single state. (Marg of course immediately challenged Larry on this statement, asking “what about Connecticut?” Larry responded by reminding Marg of some iron he had purchased from Connecticut).

Look at that love.

Look at that love. Even after 60 years, they still hold hands. Throughout my time with them, they were never far from each other’s side.

Many exquisite and rare items are displayed throughout the home. While Marg originally told Larry that the cast iron had to stay in the lower level of the house, she eventually succumbed to the sheer volume and simple beauty of the pieces. The iron crept up to the main level and was worked into the décor. I saw iron in every room. I even saw an old cast iron double gas burner in use as a towel rack in the bathroom.

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O’Neil living room. Favorite stove; Griswold fireplace set on the right.

Griswold Classic no. 40 heater.

Griswold Classic no. 40 heater.O’Neil kitchen/dining room area.

Rare turquoise enameled cast iron Iron Mountain (by Griswold) Dutch oven with lid. O'Neil family room. Photo by mt

Rare turquoise enameled cast iron Iron Mountain (by Griswold) Dutch oven with lid. O’Neil family room.

Mint Griswold toy Mother and Daughter set in original box with backboard.

Mint Griswold toy Mother and Daughter set in original box with rare backboard. O’Neil family room.

The kitchen holds many beautiful pieces. Some of Marg’s prized Griswold Quaker Ware hangs on the wall and flows over onto a high shelf. Small skillets adorn the wall over the kitchen sink, and rare iron hangs on other kitchen walls. Shelves are filled with cast iron pups, toy pieces, and different variations of Griswold Santa molds.

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Above the refrigerator in the O’Neil kitchen. Iron L to R clockwise: Favorite Corn Pone Pan, Stag Head cake pan, rare double Favorite Piqua Ware corn bread pan, rare ERIE clock, rare ERIE spider skillet.

Some of Marg's prized Griswold Quaker Ware, atop the cupboards in the kitchen. O'Neil kitchen. Photo by mt

Some of Marg’s Griswold Quaker Ware, atop the cupboards in the kitchen. O’Neil kitchen.

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Josh and I marveling at the iron in the O’Neil kitchen.

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Rare “ERIE” clock on kitchen wall. Wagner “ABC” plate with sprue still attached in foreground.

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Griswold Santa cake molds on a kitchen shelf. Each is slightly different from the other. Larry explained that the Griswold mold was wooden. As it aged, it dried and began to crack. That crack, which lengthened as time went on, resulted in the slight casting flaw that is seen on one or both sides of Santa’s bag on some of the authentic Griswold Santa molds.

Chromed toy Griswold pieces top shelf; variety of cast iron pups on lower shelves

Small shelves in the kitchen display cast aluminum toy Griswold pieces and a wide variety of cast iron pups. Each piece is a bit different from the others; Larry likes to collect every variation of each piece.

More kitchen pups. Note the turkey photo. The O'Neils are long-time supporters of Ducks Unlimited.

Yet more kitchen pups.

Only known Griswold electric single waffle iron.Only known Griswold electric single waffle iron. In the metal shop where they did their metal work at Griswold, they always made these in doubles. One guy said that his wife did not want a double; she wanted a single. They made three of them; Larry does not know where the other two are. They did not make feet for these irons; lid knobs were attached and served as feet for the iron.

Only known Griswold electric single waffle iron. These waffle irons were made in doubles in the metal shop at Griswold. One employee said that his wife just wanted a single waffle maker, so three were made. Larry does not know where the other two are. Proper “feet” were not made for this waffle iron. Instead, lid knobs were attached and served as feet.

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Marg showing me her favorite users – a number 4 Griswold skillet and a single-hole handled Wagner shallow skillet.

Beautiful small stoves line the circumference of the dining room, and toy waffle irons, teapots, and skillets sit upon their cooktops. Some of Larry’s very small and rare pieces are in a corner display case, and Larry and Marg had set many unusual small pieces out on the dining room table for us to see. They together and separately told us the story and origin of each piece; chiming in with additions and corrections as the other spoke.

Buck's Stove, on display in O'Neil dining room.

Karr Stove, on display in O’Neil dining room.

XXX stove on display in O'Neil dining room. Toy waffle irons atop. O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Buck’s stove #2 on display in O’Neil dining room. Toy waffle irons atop, along with yellow waffle iron brush marked “Wagner.”

Assortment of small Favorite pieces. O'Neil dining room.

Assortment of small Martin pieces on the floor of the O’Neil dining room.

Rare complete sets of Griswold toy (size 0) Dutch Ovens.

Rare complete sets of Griswold toy (size 0) Dutch Ovens.

Trio of toy ERIE teapots, each slightly different from the others. O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Trio of toy ERIE teapots, each slightly different from the others.

Griswold cigar cutter.

Griswold cigar cutter.

Wagner commemorative bottle opener.

Wagner commemorative bottle opener.

Engraved watch presented by the Griswold Mfg. Co. to a long-time employee.

Engraved watch presented by the Griswold Mfg. Co. to a long-time employee.

Griswold pin.

Griswold 20-year employee pin.

Wagner beer bottle.

Wagner beer bottle.

Wagner commemorative pencil and pocket knife.

Wagner commemorative pencil and pocket knife. Larry believes that the pencil was made before ball-point pens came into existence.

Rare "Victor" starter gun, made by Griswold. Rare "Victor" starter gun, made by Griswold. There are only three known. They were manufactured only in 1922.

Rare “Victor” starter gun, made by Griswold. There are only three known. They were manufactured only in 1922.

Griswold burglar alarms. You will have to get Larry to tell you the story behind these!

Griswold burglar alarms. You will have to get Larry to tell you the story behind these!

Griswold inkwell set.

Griswold inkwell set.

Rare Griswold nursery pan with alcohol burner and original box.

Rare Griswold nursery sauce pan with alcohol burner and original box.

Tiny commemorative Griswold waffle iron with March 1888 calendar contained inside paddles.

Tiny commemorative Griswold waffle iron with March 1888 calendar contained inside paddles.

Wagner calculator, which Larry had pulled out for us to see.

Wagner calculator, which Larry had pulled out for us to see.

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Small Crescent stove with toy pieces on cooktop. O’Neil dining room.

Tiny Enterprise sad irons. Very delicate and rare.

Tiny Enterprise sad irons. The handles are removable. Very delicate and rare.

Rare Griswold aluminum and chromed iron cowboy hat ash trays.

Rare Griswold chromed iron (front) and cast aluminum (rear) cowboy hat ash trays.

Larry telling Josh about the 3-section Griswold XX.

Josh is holding a rare Griswold skillet with a removable three-section divider. This is the early version of the Griswold “All-In-One” skillet; later versions had the divider attached to the skillet. Larry explained that when it was realized that the removable divider allowed juices to flow under the divider, Griswold changed the pattern so that the divider was no longer removable. Some of Marg’s collection of Hummel figures are in the background. Marg also collects Imperial glass, and there are many impressive displays of glass throughout the home.

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Rare Favorite Piqua Ware 3-compartment Bac-N-Egg pan with enameled stand. Larry knows of only three enameled bases; they are rare.

Rare XXX (Unknown maker? FPW?) cast iron egg roaster.

Rare G.F. Filley cast iron egg roaster.

More lovely pups in the dining room.

More lovely pups hanging out in the O’Neil dining room. Each is different from all others.

Ornate toy cast iron teapot, G.F. Filley. Toy ERIE teapot in background.

Ornate toy cast iron teapot, G.F. Filley. Toy ERIE teapot in background.

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Wagner Ware Cast Aluminum toy skillets with lids. The lid without writing is harder to find than the lid with the writing.

Rare Favorite Piqua Ware enameled cast iron toy set. O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Only known set of Favorite Piqua Ware brown enameled cast iron toys.

Interesting toy hammered kettle bottom. Unknown maker. Larry has never seen another. O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Interesting toy hammered kettle scalloped bottom, presumed to have been made by Lodge.

Thingamajig. O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Unusual pot scraper.

Toy Griswold cast aluminum tea pots.

Toy Griswold Colonial design chromed cast iron tea pot. Larry does not know of the existence of another. Cast aluminum toy tea pot in the background.

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Larry showing us an unusual vegetable cleaner, and telling us its history.

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Unusual aluminum cup made by Wagner, with “Panama Exposition” inscribed on the bottom. Larry and Marg have never seen another. Wagner Ware button inside cup.

Griswold toy bailed skillet, used as advertising "give-aways." O'Neil dining room. Photo by mt

Griswold toy bailed griddle, used as an advertising “give-away.”

The lower level of the house holds even more treasures. It is hard to do justice to the wide variety and rarity of the pieces that we saw. Thousands upon thousands of pieces are displayed in several rooms. Stacks of iron are piled on shelves and the floor, and hanging from the walls and ceiling. Black, chromed, nickel-plated and enameled iron, cast aluminum, old patterns used by foundries for cast iron sand casting, display stands, and oh so much more.

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Larry’s Wagner wall.

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Part of Larry’s Griswold wall.

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Wapak Indian Head Medallion skillet set.

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Mostly Wagner aluminum ware, with some Griswold mixed in.

Griswold and Wagner aluminum ware.

Griswold and Wagner aluminum ware.

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Upper left is a rare Griswold no. 20 aluminum lid.

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Enamel, enamel, enamel…as far as the eye can see.

Josh, holding a blue enameled Griswold no. 20 hotel skillet (day 2).

Josh, holding a blue enameled unmarked no. 20 hotel skillet (day 2).

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Full set of Griswold “ERIE” skillets on red display stand. Griswold large block logo Dutch ovens to the right. Three-sectioned solid Griswold pan in background on wall along with many other Griswold pieces on display.

Full set of Griswold large block logo skillets on Griswold display stand. Wagner stand to the right. Larry wants to replicate the store display photo that he has seen.

Full set of Griswold large block logo skillets on Griswold display stand. Wagner stand to the right. Here, Larry is replicating a store display that he has seen.

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Two different variations of Griswold Dutch ovens, sizes 6 – 13, all with trivets.

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Griswold set of milled-bottom skillets in center of top shelf. Aluminum Griswold oval roasters on bottom shelf.

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Griswold aluminum griddles with wood handles hanging from ceiling.

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Set of Griswold chromed cast iron skillets. Brand-new with label.

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Forefront is brand-new Favorite Piqua Ware skillets with label.

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Naughty Nellie boot removers – each slightly different (they were made by different manufacturers). Miscellany.

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Marg and Josh Miller in front of some of the O'Neil collection of red enameled Griswold pieces. The enameled pieces are some of Marg's favorites.

Marg and Josh in front of some of the O’Neil collection of red enameled Griswold pieces. The enameled pieces are some of Marg’s favorites.

Josh was also charmed by the enameled pieces.

Josh was charmed by the enameled pieces.

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Wagner oval roasters.

As we wound through the maze of iron in the rooms, Larry frequently stopped to point out various exceptional and rare pieces. We heard over and over about how a certain piece was the only known one, one of two or four known, a previously-unknown variation, and so on. Larry seeks out every different variation of every piece of vintage and antique cast iron cookware. It was as though we had walked into a treasure trove of vintage cast iron cookware and Larry and Marg were living encyclopedias of cast iron knowledge and history. I would find myself looking at one remarkable piece when Larry would call me to the other side of the room to show me something equally or even more remarkable and to tell me its story. I couldn’t take notes and photos fast enough to document everything that I was seeing, hearing, and experiencing. I saw so many pieces I had never seen before, and pieces I had never even known existed. It was mind-boggling.

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Brass pattern for a bundt pan. Tiny writing on handles identifies manufacturer. Hole drilled in the pattern – Larry says it is common to find holes drilled in patterns.

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Prototype for Wagner Magnalite sauce pan which was never put into production. The handle was too heavy and caused the pan to tip.

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Larry showing Linda and Miss Maisie the Maltese a pattern for a small logo #13 Griswold skillet. The small logo #13 Griswold skillet is not known to have ever been put into production.

Wagner cast iron breakfast pan with very scarce 1/2-sized Wagner cast iron bacon press.

Aluminum pans made the Wagner Manufacturing Company to be used in prisons.

Wagner cast iron breakfast pan with very scarce 1/2-sized Wagner cast iron bacon press.

Wagner cast iron breakfast pan with very scarce half-sized Wagner cast iron bacon press.

Only known Griswold indestructible rural mailbox.

Griswold cast iron rural indestructible mailbox. It is the only one of which Larry is aware.

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Josh is holding a lead pattern for a Martin “hamburger logo” skillet.

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Lovely Griswold loaf pan with lid. The original price sheet was contained inside – it was hard to read but I believe it said .49.

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Wagner fondue pot. Only 5 known.

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This interesting skillet had a sloped bottom – part of the “heat ring” had more depth than other parts.

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Small tumbling pieces; used to polish cookware.

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Larry showing us a no. 13-1/2 chromed fish skillet marked Griswold.

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Beautiful bailed Griswold bundt pan.

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Pattern for Griswold Scotch bowl.

Very scarce Griswold coffee roaster.

Very scarce Griswold coffee roaster.

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Larry and Marg in front of the Wagner wall.

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Unusual plastic pattern for a skillet.

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Josh examining the finely polished surface of a Griswold pan.

Different grades of rouge used to polish aluminum; came directly from the Wagner foundry.

Different grades of rouge used to polish aluminum; came directly from the Wagner foundry.

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Rare Griswold Milk Box.

Rare Griswold Milk Box.

Josh, posing as Darth Vader with an odorless skillet.

Josh posing as Darth Vader with an odorless skillet.

After barely skimming the iron in the home, Linda, Josh, Sarah, and I piled into our rental car and followed Larry and Marg to their private cast iron museum located on their farmland in the outskirts of Tacoma. We were amazed, overwhelmed, and over-stimulated by all of the things we had seen, heard, and learned at the house. We didn’t then realize that we had seen only the tip of the O’Neil cast iron iceberg.

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Alongside the farm driveway. Sign from one of the O’Neil grocery stores.

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Larry has a barn full of iron that he sorts, and another with iron that he sorts and sells. He is interested in keeping only one variation of each piece for the museum; he sells duplicates. When we were there, Larry had many old Griswold “ERIE” skillets with maker’s marks that he was in the process of sorting. I wasn’t able to wrench any of those from his fingers, but I did purchase about 80 other lovely pieces from Larry and Marg.

Marg's father's old pickup outside a barn where Larry has many pieces of iron. When we were there, Larry had many old Griswold "ERIE" skillets with maker's marks that he was sorting.

Marg’s dad’s old pickup outside the barn.

Son Jerry's cast iron garden at the farm.

Sons Jerry and Mark’s cast iron garden at the farm. Jerry lives in the home you see at the upper left in this photo.

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More of the cast iron garden. The cast iron museum is located in the building you see in the background.

Pole barn on the O'Neil farm property. Many pieces of cast iron await sorting and cleaning within the barn.

Pole barn on the O’Neil farm property. Many pieces of cast iron await sorting and cleaning within this barn.

The O'Neil farm property is about 20 acres. It is a bucolic scene. Gentle cows graze while Mt. Rainier stands stately in the background. Son Jerry lives in a home on the property. I asked Larry and Marg what kind of farming they did. Larry told me that they "raise a few cows and chickens, and clean cast iron."

I asked Larry what kind of farming they did. Larry said they “raise a few cows and chickens, and clean cast iron.”

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The cows were awesome. When son Jerry calls them, they come running, and eat hay or grain right  from his hand.

I got to feed the cows!

I got to give the cows a treat!

What is the story of these toppers again?

Someone had stored their truck canopies on the O’Neil farmland; at one time there were 50 located here. Now they are just decor on the farmland. Mt. Rainier in the background.

Outside of the O'Neil cast iron museum.

The outside of the O’Neil cast iron museum.

Linda and Larry Benzel. The Benzels helped Larry and Marg many, many days over the span of many months readying the cast iron museum for its opening in 2012.

Linda and Larry Benzel. The Benzels helped Larry and Marg for many, many days over the span of many months readying the cast iron museum for its opening in 2012.

"No Trespassing - If you enter there is no exit." Larry is not kidding. Larry once shot a man four times with buckshot who was robbing one of their grocery stores.

Sign on cast iron museum: “No Trespassing – If you enter there is no exit.” Larry is not kidding. Larry once shot a man four times who was robbing one of their grocery stores, after the man shot Larry in the leg.

We pulled our car up alongside Larry’s truck in front of a large pole barn. Larry rolled open the door, as we silently watched. I swooned. I have never seen such a huge collection of iron. The two-level 4500 square foot building is filled to the brim with cast iron cookware that has been carefully sorted and organized. Iron sits on the floor, hangs on the wall, and dangles from the rafters. Rows upon rows of shelving sourced from the O’Neil grocery stores are stacked with iron.

Panoramic view of the O'Neil Cast Iron Museum, Tacoma WA.

Panoramic view of the O’Neil Cast Iron Museum, from Sarah Lamb’s iPhone, Tacoma WA.

Once inside the museum, Josh ran off looking for particular iron pieces, snapping photo after photo on his phone. Sarah darted around taking photographs. Linda and I walked through each row of the museum with Larry, who acted as our docent. Larry frequently stopped to pick up a special piece and tell us its history, or to show us an unusual feature on a piece. Occasionally I saw a piece that I thought was a duplicate of one I had seen earlier in the day, but Larry always pointed out a difference, however subtle. We saw huge displays of Griswold, Wagner, Martin, King Stove, Atlanta Stove Works, Favorite, Favorite Piqua Ware, Lodge, Mi-Pet, Ozark, Marietta, Sperry, G.F. Filley, Charter Oak, Mt. Penn., Barstow (a favorite of Marg and Larry’s), Findlay, McClary, old gate marked pieces from unknown foundries, and much more. While Larry’s favorite manufacturer is Griswold, he is also keenly interested in very old cast iron pieces from unknown manufacturers. Larry appreciates the beauty of the fine old iron casting. He is more intrigued by very unusual pieces and small differences between old pieces than he is by the “name” on the piece.

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Unknown mfr., 5-handle skillet.

ERIE teakettles. Each is different from the other.

ERIE teakettles. Each is different from the other.

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Table filled with rare and unusual pieces.

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Shopping carts used in the O’Neil markets were repurposed as iron transporting carts.

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Toy stoves and sad iron heaters; teakettles on floor.

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The “Canada” section (see the maple leaf on the wall?) McClary, Findlay, and more.

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One of Larry's favorite stoves.

This “Quick Meal” stove is one of Larry’s favorite stoves.

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Favorite stove.

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Griswold stovepipe dampers on wall in sizes up to 18″. Commercial Wagner and Griswold aluminum pans on right.

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Griswold electric stove.

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Martin Dutch oven with dial.

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Rare Martin broiler.

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Martin pattern for lid hanging on wall.

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The bakers on the top shelf have little cups on the  inside, in which people  baked potatoes, cakes, and entire meals.

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Glue pots.

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Folks often mistakenly call small stoves "salesman's samples." This is a true salesmen's sample. Brochures touting its virtues are in the lid on the right.

People often mistakenly call small stoves “salesman’s samples.” This is a true salesmen’s sample. Brochures touting its virtues are in the lid on the top right.

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Looking down from the mezzanine level of the O’Neil museum. Josh is standing in front of shelves of wood-handled skillets and every different variety of Griswold “Victor” skillets. Full set of Favorite Piqua Ware on the wall next to the Duck’s Unlimited banner. Griswold number 8 pn 704 skillets displayed in alphabetical order by pattern letter – Larry is still looking for a few of the vowels.

Midway through our tour of the main level, we stopped for lunch. It was a bucolic scene. Gentle cows grazed beneath the gaze of Mt. Rainier, standing stately on the horizon. We basked in the sunlight at a large table which Marg and Larry had set up outside the museum. Son Mark prepared a macaroni and ham and cheese dish served up in a number 10 cast iron skillet, with a number 5 skillet with a vegetarian version alongside. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the O’Neils who had been playing and doing chores came by to say hello and to sample the macaroni and cheese.

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Larry gently chided Mark on his selection of skillets; I think he wanted Mark to use a more esoteric one.

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The extended O’Neil family, Father’s Day June 19, 2016. Taken at the farm; Mt. Rainer in the background. Back row L to R: Zane and (granddaughter) Rose Speegle, (grandson) Ryan O’Neil, Marg, Larry, (grandson) Spencer O’Neil, (granddaughter) Mareena O’Neil. Front L to R: Stephanie (Jerry’s partner) holding (great-grandson) Emery (Ryan’s son), (son) Jerry O’Neil holding (great-grandson) Liam, (Zane and Rose’s son), (son) Mark holding (great-grandson) Keaton (granddaughter Marissa’s son). Behind Mark is his wife Melissa. Stephanie helped Larry and Marg with the museum by making the typewritten signs you see in many of the photos. Granddaughter Marissa lives in Ohio and is missing from this photo.

Granddaughter Marissa at the farm. June 23, 2016.

Granddaughter Marissa at the farm. June 23, 2016.

Larry at our lunch with youngest grandchild, Marissa O'Neil.

Larry at our lunch on April 1, 2016 with youngest grandchild, Mareena O’Neil.

After lunch we completed our tour of the main level, and moved to the mezzanine. There, Larry showed us gas waffle irons, aluminum pieces, hotplates, deep fryers, roasters, sad iron heaters, coffee grinders, teapots and teakettles, meat grinders, kettles, and bowls. Many small ovens and stoves sat on shelves. Awards and recognitions given to Larry and Marg individually and together – for their work within the grocery industry and their 40+ years of support of Ducks Unlimited – lined the walls behind the iron. A section of the mezzanine was devoted to pieces sourced from the original Wagner foundry in Sidney, Ohio. We saw signs and wood from the foundry, tampers, rouge, grinding stones used in the casting process, and the old employee time clock.

Two-thirds of the mezzanine level.

Photo showing two-thirds of the mezzanine level.

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Josh looking at a wall of single-spouted skillets.

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My favorite photo; Museum mezzanine. I don’t even know what those pieces are that are hanging from the rafters on the upper left, but they are extraordinarily cool.

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Bolo ovens upon bolo ovens.

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Josh, Sarah, Larry, Marg. Taken from across the museum; mezzanine level.

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Tobacco cutters.

Tobacco cutters.

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Electric waffle irons.

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Electric waffle irons.

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Shelves were lined with recognition and award plaques given to Larry and Marg  behind iron pieces. I saw awards and recognition from the Grocery Association, Duck’s Unlimited, Grocer of the Year, Largest wild game processor, Board of Washington State Food Dealers, Volunteer Fire Fighter, Food Marketing Institute (FMI – Global organization), and Western Association of Food Chains, amongst others.

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Wagner griddle. Marking is “Second to None.” These pieces are scarce. The museum has an entire corner stand filled with them.

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Signs and pieces from the Wagner foundry.

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From the Wagner foundry.

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From the Wagner foundry.

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Miscellany from the Wagner foundry.

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Grinding stone from the Wagner foundry.

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From the Wagner foundry.

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Linda with her favorite sign from the Wagner foundry.

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From the Wagner foundry.

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Signs from the Wagner foundry.

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Signs from the Wagner foundry.

Larry spent hours walking us through both levels of the museum. He takes great pride in his pieces, and enjoys discussing and displaying them to visitors to the museum. He is especially happy when a visitor is able to help him to identify a previously unidentified piece. I was tickled when I was able to help identify an old unmarked Lodge Bundt pan!

I asked Larry how he and Marg had learned so much about the antique and vintage pieces. He and Marg both agreed that they learned the most from other cast iron collectors in the two national collecting groups. They have also studied the reference books written by David C. Smith and Chuck Wafford (commonly called the “blue” and “red” books), as well as the Griswold Muffin Pan book written by Jon B. Haussler. Larry also has a very large collection of cast iron ephemera including catalogues for many different companies, advertising, orders and price sheets, and much more. These old papers are a great source of information. I spent hours on my second day with Larry and Marg looking through boxes of ephemera, but didn’t even crack the surface of what they had.

Me, happily digging through boxes ephemera at the O'Neil residence.

Me, happily digging through boxes of ephemera at the O’Neil residence.

At the end of our museum tour, Larry surprised us by showing us a very special piece – a rare 1940 Griswold store display called the “Mystery Display Table.” From a wooden box marked “Property of the Griswold Mfg. Co.,” Larry carefully removed a Griswold salesman’s old attaché case. From that case, he removed a square base with an attached sign marked “Griswold Cast Ware.” He then removed a sample Griswold skillet from the box and placed it onto the base. Marg plugged the cord of the base into an outlet. We caught our breath, and stood and watched as the Griswold skillet turned round and round displaying its simple beauty. As we silently watched the skillet turn, we reflected on it and all we had learned that day. We had come full circle. Our day was done and our tour was complete.

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Mesmerized by the Griswold store display.

Mesmerized by the Griswold store display.

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All told, we spent two full action-packed days with Larry and Marg looking at their collection, digging through ephemera, listening and learning, and taking photographs. Through it all Larry and Marg were patient, gracious, generous, and more than hospitable. I can’t thank them enough for taking the time to share their collection and knowledge with us. It was an amazing, educational, enlightening, and fascinating experience. The memories of the visit and all the iron I saw will stay with me.

Linda, Larry, Marg, Josh, me and Miss Maisie the Maltese.

Linda, Larry, Marg, Josh, me and Miss Maisie the Maltese.

Larry and Marg love to show their collection to enthusiasts, and welcome you to visit their cast iron museum. While the museum is not now open regular hours, you may arrange a visit to the museum by contacting Larry and Marg at loneil7701@aol.com.

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Most of the photos taken for this blog post were taken by the talented Sarah Lamb of S. Lamb Photography. Sarah is a hardworking young photographer who is also interested in vintage cast iron. Sarah travelled at her own expense with us to the O’Neil Cast Iron Museum, and took many of the photos you see in this blog post.

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Sarah has created a beautiful 2017 vintage cast iron calendar with photos taken primarily from the O’Neil collection. If you enjoy vintage cast iron and you would like to help support a hardworking young entrepreneur (not to mention help to pay for some of her travel expenses incurred for this article), you may view and purchase the calendar at Sarah’s website, slambphoto.com. Here is the link to purchase.

Calendar

Sarah has also created and is selling beautiful 4″ x 6″ postcards on heavy card stock of a few of the special pieces from the collection. You can find them here.

 

Me at the farm at the end of our museum tour.

That’s all, folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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