The George Washington Trivet

Close-up of the
Older GW Trivet, with a sprue mark on reverse
Brass, original casting with open handle
George Washington Trivet, JZH reproduction, circa 1948

According to Kelly & Ellwood in their 1990 book Trivets & Stands, the first George Washington Trivet was designed and cast in brass for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. George Washington was an appropriate subject, considering that the Exposition was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence!

In a few minute’s Internet Search I easily located several of these GW trivets. Some were obvious reproductions; others appeared to be older castings. So … if the design has remained essentially the same over the years, how would someone be able to differentiate a newer reproduction from an earlier casting?

Signature The original George Washington trivet had no signature on the reverse. Recent reproductions from JZH (1948), Darilyte and Virginia Metalcrafters (1950s-1960s) were signed with the company name; the Virginia Metalcrafters trivet also bears the company logo.

Casting Mark The oldest trivets will have either a sprue, wedge or poorly filed gate mark; see my Article, Trivets of Cast Metal. You probably will not be able to detect the gate mark(s) on a recent casting because they are so well filed.

Leg Length Modern reproduction trivets tend to have legs that are less than 1 inch in length; many may be only a half an inch. That’s because these trivets were meant for decorative wall display. Earlier castings will have longer legs because that lifted the trivet farther above the surface it was designed to protect.

Shape of Legs Modern reproduction trivets have legs that are short, straight and round on cross-section. Older trivets have legs that may taper or that are square, triangular, half or quarter round on cross-section.

Evidence of Wear Look at the top surface and the bottoms of the legs; on an older trivet some wear is to be expected. The legs on antique trivets often bend inward; this is seen more commonly on brass trivets but also occurs with cast iron.

Variations of Handle The original design featured a handle that was open in the center. Subsequent castings featured either an open or a solid handle.

Backcoping Backcoping refers to a routing out of sections of the trivet reverse in order to decrease both the amount of metal needed and the weight of the final casting. In the original casting, the area behind the bust of Washington is backcoped. In contrast, most modern reproductions are completely flat on the reverse.

The Pigtail! Modern reproduction designs often do not include the pigtail of the wig George is wearing; older castings will always include it.

And what about value? At one time the George Washington trivet design was considered scarce, but since the advent of the Internet many have been brought to Auction and they are now relatively easy to obtain.

* $25-$45: Signed, reproduction trivets
* $45-$85: Older, vintage or antique, unsigned versions in brass or iron
* $85- $185: The very nicest older specimens in cast iron or brass with a prominent casting mark, long legs, nice detail and no damage
* > $200: The highest bidding would be for an original, circa 1876 George Washington Trivet specimen in brass, with open handle, 1⅜” legs and and showing signs on the reverse suggesting its origins via wax casting. I would estimate that the bidding would start at around $200 and end at $350 to $500. Two or more passionate collectors, bidding against each other, could cause the ending price to be even higher. I believe the brass trivet pictured here to be an original casting. It has a sprue mark on the reverse and the legs are bent slightly inward from age.

Now that I’ve said all that, a very nice older specimen of the George Washington trivet, cast iron with a closed handle and sprue mark on the reverse, was offered at auction by Early American through Live Auctioneers and sold for $1000 in May 2007!

As they say, value is ultimately in the eye (and pocketbook) of the beholder.

 Lynn Rosack is a Worthologist who specializes in trivets and kitchenalia

No Comments

  1. kim says:

    I got the trivet from my mother inlaw it has on the back j.z.h 1948 then on the handle geo.washington what does this mean.

  2. Lynn Rosack says:

    Hi Kim,

    From 1944 to 1958 the Union Manufacturing Company of Boyertown, PA created a line of trivets, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each trivet was signed with the year of casting and JZH, which stood for John Zimmerman Harner- the owner and manager of the company. Each trivet also had an Alphabet Letter .. if you look closely you should also see the letter “S”.

    John Harner created this series in order to perpetuate some of his favorite original antique trivet designs. As you can see from this article, in 1948 your JZH “S” Alphabet Trivet reproduced the George Washington design created for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.

    The JZH 1948 “S” trivet is fairly common, with a current value of $26 – $50.

    JZH Alphabet Trivets are still reasonable in price and fun to collect. Since you already have one, why not begin to collect the others? A good place to look is on eBay … Search under the term “JZH Trivet”. A complete listing, with photos, of the JZH Alphabet Series appears in my newest Trivet book, just released by Collector Books: “The Expanded A-Z Guide To Collecting Trivets.”

  3. Lisa says:

    I recently purchased a box of iron trivets at an estate auction. The box contained about 10 different trivets. The only one with any markings is of George Washington. It is marked with a VMC and a number, 9-17. I was wondering what you could tell me about this particular piece.

    Thanks,
    Lisa Howell
    West Virginia

    • Lynn Rosack says:

      Hi Lisa,

      VMC stands for Virginia Metalcrafters and 9-17 was the company stock number for this design. Your VM trivet was cast in the 1950s-1970s and is a reproduction of the original George Washington trivet discussed in this article. As noted above, the current value of your VM trivet would be $25-$45.

      You might be interested in this website dedicated to preserving the history of Virginia Metalcrafters, which closed in December of 2006.
      http://www.virginiametalcrafters.com/

  4. Myrna says:

    I own a Geo.W, cast iron trivet and it measures 9″L x 4 1/4″W. There are no mfg. markings. Legs are 1″ high tapered. It looks exactly like the fourth one pictured (last far right). There is no back coping and it is filed down on the sides. Because of the correct leg length in older trivets; it baffles me as to whether it is a repro or original. I would like to know the year this particular trivet was made and if it is a repro. Thank you.

    • Lynn Rosack says:

      Hello Myrna,

      Your George Washington Trivet is most likely a reproduction made between 1930 and 1980. Here are the indications:

      (1) Your trivet measures 9 x 4 1/4 x 1″. The typical measurement of an antique version is 9 1/2 x 4 3/8 x 1 1/2″. Note that whenever an original is used as a pattern, the resulting trivet is always smaller due to shrinkage of the metal during cooling.

      (2) Legs of 1″ or less are typical of reproduction trivets.

      (3) There was backcoping to the original design; the reverse of your trivet is flat.

      (4) Filing along the sides may indicate the shaping of a roughly cast trivet rather than filing of a gate (casting) mark. This is not typical of antique versions of the George Washington Trivet which were very finely cast.

      (5) Finally, antique metalware has a very distinctive appearance. The final authentication of an antique trivet depends on whether the casting looks & feels “right” to an experienced collector.

      I hope this has been of some help …
      Lynn Rosack

      • Myrna says:

        Thank you very much for the information and yes, I can see what you are saying when I studied my trivet closer. Maybe I’ll come into an authentic one sometime. That would be cool.

  5. Mimi Petersen says:

    Well thanks for the great info. We just moved and I was emptying out another box…sigh. Anyway there they were the trivets I have been carting around for over 40 years. I hold onto them as my mom was fond of them. But was thinking I would toss them in the donation box. But then I noticed the JZH and just love the history! Now I will go retrieve the other one with no markings…….it looks dang old. Glad I took the time and thanks again!