If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Cast iron pans
Anna Mente / Shutterstock.com

Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Griswold cast iron cookware

Every thrift store has one — that weird section of cast-off cookie sheets, random lids and miscellaneous kitchenware that’s too big to put on a shelf. That weird section is where I sometimes find a treasure — rusty, crusty, cast iron cookware by Griswold.

Founded in 1865 in Erie, Pennsylvania, as the Selden-Griswold Manufacturing Co., the company made hinges, thimbles and other household items. By the 1870s, manufacturing had shifted to cast iron pots, skillets and waffle irons.

Over the decades, Griswold developed a reputation for producing some of the highest-quality cast iron products in the world. To meet demand, Dutch ovens, roasters, tea kettles and a broader range of pots and pans were added to the product line.

Facing more competition and growing financial pressure, the company was sold to an investment group in the 1940s. The brand changed hands several times after that and was briefly owned by another iconic maker of cast iron cookware — Wagner. In the 1950s, the original Griswold factory in Erie was shuttered.

Why buy it?

With a winning combination of great materials and simple design, Griswold is the epitome of practicality and durability. That’s part of the reason it’s still highly prized by collectors and cooks. Imagine buying a skillet or Dutch oven and knowing it will last not only for years, but for generations.

The resale market for Griswold is just as durable; year after year, buyers are willing to pay up for authentic, early pieces. An extremely rare Griswold No. 13 skillet recently sold for $2,750 on eBay, and a No. 1 Vienna roll bread pan sold for $1,259.

If you’re interested in reselling Griswold pieces for profit, some of the more common pieces of Griswold may still be worth your time. In 2020, I found a No. 9 Griswold skillet for $3.99 and flipped it for $155.

Pro tip: Griswold pieces typically include a number on the top of the handle or the underside. The numbers are size indicators (though the dimensions of pieces with the same number may sometimes vary).

Mark on Griswold cast iron cookware
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

What to look for

Griswold is well-marked, and the many iterations of the logo make dating fairly simple. You’ll find the mark incised on the underside of each piece.

The most common version features a cross or plus sign inside a double circle. The name “Griswold” appears on the horizontal bar of the cross in either large block letters or italics.

The Griswold logo can often be obscured by rust or grease build-up. In the secondhand market, many pieces are ignored simply because the mark isn’t visible. That’s good news for eagle-eyed bargain hunters.

Reproduction alert: The 1980s saw a spike in Griswold knockoffs from China. Though sometimes tough to spot, avoid any Griswold with poor casting quality, a rough cooking surface, or a logo that’s “blurry” or not well-defined.

Whether you’re shopping for personal use or to resell, look for pieces that:

  • Set flat with no wobbling
  • Aren’t pitted (pitting is a form of corrosion that creates small cavities in metal)
  • Feature a heat ring: Preferred by collectors, heat rings elevate pans and skillets so food cooks more evenly.

Pro tip: Though not recommended for most antiques, deep-cleaning cast iron cookware can increase its value. This video demonstrates the reconditioning process step by step. To simply remove light surface rust, try the method outlined in “11 Secret Uses for Everyday Items That Save Money.”

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