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