10 Tips to Identify an Unmarked Antique Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillets can survive for decades or even centuries. And if they’re well taken care of, they get better with time. Meaning the older your iron pan is, the better its quality, and the more reliable its performance. This is because cast iron skillets – if they’re well-seasoned and maintained – will develop a permanent non-stick patina that gives amazing cooking results.

It’s also the reason why garage sales, estate clearances, and storage container options are the best source of cast iron skillets. If you buy a new one from the store, you have to season it from scratch, and it will take years to ‘grow’ your own patina. But if you buy an antique pan that’s 20, 50, or even 100 years old, you can restore it to perfection and you’re set. But how will you know?

After all, if the pan has been sitting in storage for years, it will look neglected and abandoned. It will also be rusty and caked with mud and debris. So unless it has a trusted brand name on it, how will you know it’s a good quality iron skilled as opposed to a blackened tin pot or a pan that’s rusted beyond recovery? Let’s explore tips on how to identify unmarked iron skillets.

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How to Identify an Unmarked Antique Cast Iron Skillet

Tip #1: Start with the Brand

When you spot a cast iron skillet at the junkyard or flea market, it could be a hundred years old. So it helps if you review common cast iron brands before you start scouring salvage piles. If you have an overview of top brand characteristics, it’s easier to identify them when you see them.

For example, Cuisinart and Le Creuset cast iron pans have bright, vibrant colors. Brands from the 1800s include Griswold/Erie, Wagner, and Lodge while Le Creuset and Krampouz started in the mid-1900s. Check online to see the trademark characteristics of these skillet brands.

vintage lodge cast iron markings
Start with the Brand

Some cast-iron pans were deliberately unmarked because they were sold directly to stores. So a pan intended for Woolworths wouldn’t have a Lodge or Wagner label on it. But if you pre-checked the characteristic of the brand, you can tell who made it, even without their ‘signature’.

Tip #2: Go to Google

Another useful trick is to use ‘Google Images’ and study marked cast iron pans. You can memorize their distinctive features. That way, you can recognize those hints and tell-tale features even when they don’t have a distinguishable brand name stamped above them.

And if the pan has even the slightest marking on it, you can look that up. It may be a fragment of a brand name like ‘&’ or ‘5’ and that could possibly help you spot a Birmingham Stove & Range. If you have a smartphone, take a clear photo of your pan and upload it to Google Images.

cast iron skillet markings
use ‘Google Images’ and study marked cast iron pans

If you post the saved photo directly in the ‘images search bar’, your search engine will pull up similar images and that could give you vital clues about your pan. If it’s a photo on a website like eBay, the image search might show you the source of the photo leading to further identification.

Tip #3: Review Old Logos

Modern-day Lodge pans have the egg-logo which consists of an egg sitting inside a skillet. The bowl of the skillet is the ‘o’ on Lodge. Older Lodge pans might just have the word ‘Lodge’ written on them, or maybe a number. Similarly, Griswold pans were initially marked ‘Erie’.

This was because the company was formed in Erie, Pennsylvania, but the logo later changed to Griswold and later Wagner Ware. So check out antique sites of just Google ‘vintage logos’ so you know what to look for. With enough research, you can identify the antique pan at a glance.

how old is my cast iron skillet
Review Old Logos

Sometimes, the markings go beyond the logo. For example, Lodge pans were marked with 8 (for 10-inch pans) while Wagners were marked with 3, S, or H. Lodge pans are also sometimes with letters. These markings may be inside the bowl of the pan, somewhere on the handle, or both.

We have a complete guide about Griswold cast iron pan if you are wanting something more specific.

Tip #4: Check for Provenance

If you’re insistent on where your pan was made, look for an origin marker. It may be embossed, recessed, or carved onto the pan. After 1960, American-made pans had to stamp ‘Made in USA’ in clear letters. Before the 60s, you didn’t have to indicate the source country of your pan.

So if your pan has embossed letters and numbers, it was probably cast later. The bottom of the pan will often have other details too. It may be marked SK for the skillet, G for griddle, or DO for Dutch oven. These letters are common on vintage Lodge cast iron pieces.

Other brands (like Wagner) will sometimes use letters instead, like H. Pans are also sometimes marked with model numbers like 8, 10, or 90. The numbers might match the gas numbers on your cooker, or they might be a code to show you the diameter of your cast iron pan.

how can i tell how old my cast iron skillet is
Check for Provenance

Tip #5: Look at the Bottom

While cast iron pans haven’t changed much over the centuries, cooktops have. In the past, we cooked on stone hearths or log fires. Then we moved to charcoal grills, electric coils, and finally induction plates. Pan designs have adjusted to keep up, so your pan’s cooking surface is a hint. Some pans (e.g. Lodge pans) have recessed heating rings on their outer edges.

These were intended to snugly fit your electric heating filament. Other pans have extruded heat rings (e.g. Griswold pans), or they might have three or four projecting nodes or notches. These nodes or notches enable your pan to sit on gas grills or electric heating plates without slipping off. Lodge pans commonly used between one and three heating notches at the bottom.

how to tell how old a cast iron skillet is
Look at the Bottom

Newer pans may have concave bottoms for heat distribution. The numbers at the bottom could be a hint too. We’ll go over that in detail later, but if it’s a 3, 5, or 7 (with S), it’s probably an economy skillet from Birmingham Stove & Range (BSR) or Lodge. If it has a 3 or 4-digit code with a three-hole-handle, whether the numbers are slanted or straight, it could be a Griswold.

Tip #6: Inspect the Spout

One of the distinguishing markers of a pan is the sides. This includes the depth (frying pans are shallower than skillets) and the angle (sauté pans have straight sides while frying pans have flared sides). But some saucepans have pour spouts. In older pans, the pour spouts were bigger.

This is because the tools for making spouts weren’t as advances as today, so the dips were more defined. Also, older pans had two pour spouts while newer ones might have one. Contemporary cast iron pans might also have a helper handle and non-stick coatings, which are both newer.

identifying cast iron
Inspect the Spout

While you’re at it, check the inner surface of the pan. Wagners often have spiral grooves tooled onto the inner base while Griswolds are flat. Lodges are sometimes rough with pebbly textures. If your cast iron pan has a dimpled or hammered finish, it’s a much younger model. On the other hand, if your pan has two short handles and a dimpled lid, it could be Birmingham.

Tip #7: Look Closer at the Handle

We’ve already mentioned modern cast iron pans may have an extra mini-handle. Also, these handles may be riveted onto the bowl of the pan, and are generally made of stainless steel. Older cast iron skillets have integrated handles that are part of the bowl with no screws or rivets. They also have a smooth finish, unlike modern cast iron which may be grooved for silicone grips.

cast iron identification marks
Look Closer at the Handle

Wagner pans often have a little v-shaped ledge between the bowl and the handle. This ledge is a dead give-away because it’s identical on marked and unmarked pans. Wagners and Griswolds have a triangular-shaped wedge on the rear side of the handle while others are rounded. The wedge nestles in your palm, unlike other brands whose ergonomic curves are comfier.

Birmingham Stove & Range pans have extruding heat rings and triangular handles too, but they don’t have the flattened ledge between the bowl and the handle. Their handle hoops also have a distinctly dipped section towards the center of the hole. You don’t see that on Wagners. That said, Griswolds and Wagners are similar, especially after the two manufacturers merged.

Tip #8: Get information from books

Lots of modern writers like to research and write non-fiction historical tomes. But brands do it too. It’s part of their history. Two such volumes include The Book of Wagner & Griswold, Martin, Lodge, Vollrath, Excelsior. It’s sometimes called The Red Book from 2001.

A more recent sample is The Book of Griswold & Wagner, Favorite, Wapak, Sidney Hollow Ware whose 5th Edition came out in 2013. It’s better known as the Blue Book, and these two books show clear references of cast iron pans. Study them carefully before you shop, and carry copies in your car while you’re out hunting for skillets. You can even buy digital versions of the book.

Tip #9: Look into the Numbers

lodge cast iron identification
Look into the Numbers

Almost all pans have a letter or number at the bottom. Every number has its own significance. It may refer to the outer or inner diameter (for flared pans), the year and place of manufacture, or the pan model. Wagners have their number (and letter) written in the handle of the pan, not just the bowl. The handle markings are repeated at the front and back of the handle.

Meanwhile, Griswold pans sometimes have italicized 4-digit codes on the back of the pan. These are likely to be part of the Iron Mountain Collection. The shape of the number helps too. Lodges from 1900 to 1930 often have embossed numbers while other brands are recessed. But if it has no letters or numbers, it might have a gate mark. This is a distinctive, sometimes raised slash.

This mark runs across the outer bottom of your pan. Gate marks won’t tell you the brand of your pan, but they’ll identify it as an antique. Gate marked pans are almost guaranteed pre-1890. If the pan has an underlined, hyphenated, or sideways number, it could be a Vollrath pan. If the number sits inside a diamond-shape, it’s probably a Chicago Hardware Foundry Favorite (CHF).

Tip #10: Hunt for Ghosts

lodge cast iron markings
Hunt for Ghosts

We’ve mentioned unmarked pans were often manufactured on behalf of big-name department stores. These stores would re-brand the pans in the same way Walmart does today. But other companies took a different approach. They’d buy trademarked pans, scrape off the original markings, and remarket them under the Wapak brand name. These ‘knock-offs’ are prized.

Not just for their original quality, but for their collectors’ value. So if you find a cast iron skillet with rough file marks, see if you can identify the ghost of a logo beneath. Sometimes, the ghosts were leftover because a counterfeiter mimicked an original brand mold. And while these fakes aren’t a brand in themselves, they speak to a specific point in time, and that adds value.

Fakers used these molds to make cheaper pans and resell at the original price-point, and these fake pans are collectibles too. The most commonly ghosted brands are Griswold and Wagner, which were later acquired by the same company. So if it’s a specter, it’s probably one of these. If you want to know the exact age, check the Wapak logo – it has different versions for given years.

Find the Magic Mark!

So how will you identify an unmarked cast iron skillet?

  • Use your favorite search engine to memorize old brands and logos.
  • The image feature is useful both for studying silhouettes and uploading live pans.
  • Look at the numbers on the pan for clues. Check their shape, size, and position.
  • Inspect the texture, and markings on the outer and inner surface.
  • Assess the shape and decorative detail on your cast iron skillet handles.
  • Check if there are ghost markings to identify Wapak counterfeits.

Do you have a cast-iron skillet in your pan collections? Show us a photo in the comments!

34 thoughts on “10 Tips to Identify an Unmarked Antique Cast Iron Skillet”

  1. I have an unmarked cast iron pan from my grandmother that I’m trying to date. It has what looks like an “&” symbol on the bottom, an “8” on the top of handle, and no other markings.

    According to this video, that would indicate it’s older than 1960 (since no country of origin is stamped). It does have a heat ring that is solid (not notched), it does not have a gate mark, the bottom of the handle does not have a ridge, nor are there lines on the top of the handle (like the pans of Asian origination), the pan is fairly heavy with a very smooth cooking surface.

    Both the “&” and “8” are raised, not etched or stamped in the pan.

    Any thoughts as to who manufactured this pan, and when?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. my skillet is heavy for its size,no markings on top, the bottom has heat ring with three notches , the number 3 opposite the handle and a H on handle side. on the rim opposite the handle in appears to have been attached to mold but not ground smooth. i was told it is a unmarked Griswold. it does not match there standard for identification. some company had to had made it. who when where is the question. robert

    Reply
    • Notches in the heat ring often indicate that it’s a Lodge item. They began adding notches (starting with one) in the 30’s I believe and the went to three notches sometime around 1960 or so. You can find the exact timeline on the internet.

      Reply
    • I have a very old cast iron cooking pot with 3 legs which look hammered. No name on bottom. Raised flying duck or goose in oblong emblem on bottom opposite the handle facing away from handle. There is a gate mark across the bottom. Bold 9 INCH raised right of handle. Handle is long and curved downward with irregular opening toward the end of handle. Sides are slanted outward. Looking for some who can identify age and maker.

      Reply
    • I have a skillet with a c inside a diamond on the bottom and under the handle it looks to have a 7 on the under side. It also has a domed lid. What would be the approximate year and value. I believe it could be a Chicago foundry make. Thank you

      Reply
  3. My Aunt gave me a unmarked cast iron skillet. I have done some research and believe it is an un marked Wagner, but I can’t find a photo of one just like it. It has the number 10 on the top of the handle. The bottom is smooth and imprinted with 11 3/4 INCH SKILLET. There is a B under the 11 3/4 closer to the edge of the bottom of the pan. There is also a B on the underside of the handle. Can you give me any information on this skillet?

    Reply
  4. I have a flat pan with a gate mark, bottom ring and raised 7 T D on it. Any ideas on the age, type? It is lighter than my others.

    Reply
  5. I have an arching Wagner Ware (they share the W) Sidney -0-, a little further down it states square skillet, and near the handle on the bottom 1218B. These are all stamped into the pan. The handle has a place for your thumb on top. Can you help me identify it?

    Reply
  6. I have a cast iron skillet that’s been around for at least 40 years (maybe more). It has a heat ring and an 8 inside a diamond on the bottom even with the handle. The diamond is about 1 inch high and 3/4 inch wide. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Chicago Hardware Foundry, the number inside of the diamond is theirs. They also made some higher quality hammered pieces that are nice. 😁

      Reply
  7. I have a cast iron skillet 10″ with a line on the handle and the initials BF on the handle and on the bottom. nothing else. no pour, with an up turned hand bar
    any ideas?

    Reply
  8. Hi my mother gave me an iron skillet that has a 8 on top of handle and on the smooth bottom it has 10 1/2 inch skillet stamped on bottom and then a M underneath the words. Then the same M on backside of handle. I just turned 50 and she said she had it in 1960. Just want to know the history of this skillet. My Aunt just got my great Aunt’s Wagner from the 1890’s series.

    Reply
  9. Hello,
    My skillet was given to me by my now 93 year old cousin. Her Mother used it as well as GrandMother. It is lighter in weight than the newer one and well seasoned. It does have spiral markings on the inside. (We suspect it’s from somewhere in the 1800’s

    After reading your suggestions, I used a magnifyied glass to try to see under the seasoning. So far I found the word Skillet and it appears to have a 10.5 before that. I’ll be most happy to send you a photo.

    Thank-you for your time,
    phyllis

    Reply
  10. I am perplexed with this Spider Skillet. I can not find one comparable anywhere. This pan is gate marked and has a 16 (horizontal) on the handle. It’s very big. Any information would be wonderful. I do have photos.

    Reply
  11. I have a 6 1/2 in. Skillet that seems to be a stainless cast iron just. Looking at it. No. 3 on top of handle no marking on bottom but it has the triangular at the. Base of the handle. regular oval hole in handle. And it cooks great. Two pouring spouts on pan.

    Reply
  12. From Chuck Amberg, Travelers Rest, S.C. I was given an oval shaped, very shallow skillet 10″ X 8″, with no markings. It appears to be unused. The slightly curved handle has a teardrop hole with both sides beveled down to the hole. Am curious who made it. have never seen this shape before. Also am wondering what special use it is made for. thanks

    Reply
  13. I found a cast iron skillet on antique alley in Indiana it has no raised markings whatsoever… I was going to attach a picture but don’t see an option to do so! It has what appears to be a 59 and maybe a 6 just slightly askew from the handle when flipped over. The bottom appears to be uneven. It has 2 pour spouts and the handle is short. I’d be happy to send a pic via email if it helps!

    Thanks

    Reply
  14. I have a 10-inch skillet that doesn’t have a heat ring and it is stamped with what looks like Falwan. I have been unable to locate this name in any article that I have read. Unfortunately I am unable to add a picture.

    Reply
  15. I have my grandmothers cast iron skillet with no markings on bottoms of pan. The only marking is an 8 on the handle. The handle has an opening.. it has a spout on each side. Do you have any ideas about this one. I have googles everything and can’t find anything with no bottom marking and only a number on the handle. Thank you

    Reply
  16. I was wondering if you could please help me I have a dutch oven that was my mother’s I’m 63 years old it has just a number 8 on the lid of it I would like to know if you could tell me how old it is and what the value of it is I can’t find nothing on the bottom I just know that when I was a kid every two weeks we had homemade potato donuts in it it’s a fantastic piece I just want to know some history of it

    Reply
  17. I have a few items we just inherited from our grandmother. I am currently in the process of restoring 4 items. 2 cast iron heavy top lids, 1 deep skillet, and 1 griddle. The griddle is a horizontal logo lodge, but I am unable to tell the brand of the other 3. I am under the impression that they are from the 1930s given this is when great grandma and grandpa were married and these were wedding gifts.

    Reply
  18. Trying to identity the brand of this Dutch oven. It has the # 25 and a logo with the letter C upon the letter A. Both are raised inscriptions.

    Reply
  19. So happy to see this website. Trying to identity the brand of my dutch oven. On the lid there is a # 25 and a logo with the letter C upon a letter A. Both are raised inscriptions. There are 3 raised rings spiralling around the lid. The # 25 is also on the bottom of the pot and there is a heat ring on the bottom as well. Was hoping to send a picture but I cannot find the option to include a picture here.

    Reply
  20. Trying to find out who made this…it’s a 21 mini breadstick pan the only markings are No. 11 and on the bottom there is a 1 in 2 different places so not sure if that means 11 or not …not able to add picture

    Reply

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