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Buyer’s Guide to Vintage Appliances

Antique stoves and refrigerators add the perfect touch to a period kitchen. By Nancy E. Berry | Photos by Linda Svendsen, from the book Bungalow Kitchens

    This 1915 wood-burning Wedgewood stove is still in use at the Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, California.

    This 1915 wood-burning Wedgewood stove is still in use at the Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, California.

    One of the best ways to create old-time kitchen ambience is to introduce antique appliances—in particular, a cookstove and a refrigerator. Loyal cooks swear by a refurbished cooking range’s ability to kick out BTUs to rival today’s commercial stoves, while many old-appliance enthusiasts claim their 1930s refrigerators have never had to be serviced. Whether the early 20th-century make you’re looking for is a Wedgewood, Hotpoint, Chambers, Quick Meal, or a GE Monitor Top, do your homework before buying. Here are some tips from old-appliance pros on purchasing these antique conveniences.

    “Buying an old appliance is like buying a used car—you’ve got to kick the tires,” says Mike Arnold, owner of Twentieth Century Appliance Restorations in Troy, New York, who’s been in the restoration business for more than 40 years. “I started my company when these items weren’t considered antiques yet,” he says. “Your best bet is to look for a stove or refrigerator from the 1930s to the mid- 50s. These appliances will most likely have all the bells and whistles you’re looking for today solid construction, good oven regulation, and built-in safety features and little extras such as clocks, lights, additional ovens, or food warmers.”

    Testing 1, 2, 3

    This Magic Chef range has teardrop oven handles.

    This Magic Chef range has teardrop oven handles.

    First check to see if the cooking stove or refrigerator has all its parts, Arnold says. There were literally thousands of stove brand names by the early 1900s. Every foundry made a stove, and any department store could put its name on that stove. The number of companies making refrigerators went from 20 in 1910 to 200 by 1925. So if a refrigerator part is missing or broken, it can be hard to locate.

    It is also important to hook up the appliance to make sure it works. “Unless you’re buying from a reputable dealer, don’t take the seller’s word for it,” Arnold says. Often a stove just needs a quick fix; dirt can be the biggest “gremlin,” he says, and the simple task of cleaning and lubricating an old gas valve can bring the stove back to new. If an oven is not heating accurately, sometimes the thermostat just needs to be adjusted. Another common problem is rodent infestation, in which case the insulation would need to be replaced.

    Home on the Range

    Enclosed coal- and wood-burning cast-iron cooking ranges were in use in many homes by the late 1800s women no longer had to cook meals in an open hearth. The first gas ranges were introduced around 1880 in cities where illuminating gas was available, but they weren’t insulated and lacked oven thermostats. Stoves were insulated by the 1920s and by the 1930s many safety and cooking amenities had been incorporated. The earliest 20th-century stoves were made of cast iron with nickel-plated trim and exposed valve piping, while later models were constructed of porcelain-enameled steel.

    The O'Keefe and Merritt stove has a glass window behind its burners. An angled mirror inside lets the cook view the oven's interior without opening the door.

    The O'Keefe and Merritt stove has a glass window behind its burners. An angled mirror inside lets the cook view the oven's interior without opening the door.

    Jack Santoro, editor of The Old Road Home, a magazine devoted to antique appliances, has been in the business of refurbishing old stoves for 35 years. “I’ve seen a real shift in my clientele—maybe the old timers have died off,” he deadpans, “but we are getting calls from 25-year-olds looking for antique stoves to add to their kitchens.” He says some of the most popular but hard-to-find stoves are the larger ones—60″ wide with six to eight burners and rotisserie spits, such as the O’Keefe and Merritt Estate or the Magic Chef 6300 series. Another trend he sees is the popularity of small 30″ stoves originally made for apartments—”1940s and ’50s ranges are popular, too,” he adds. He also advises buying from a reputable dealer, and looking for a stove that works, is well-insulated, restored to meet today’s codes, and has working heat controls. “People can get stuck with a lemon if they’re not careful—you need to make sure all safety systems are in place.” He advises against purchasing early (pre-1910) stoves because of their inefficiency—and they also rarely pass inspection.

    Santoro believes vintage stoves are easier to repair because they are put together with screws, rather than riveted together like newer models, thus they are easier to take apart. In the past many of the working stove parts were universal, and they can be fairly easy to replace. Some early models can also be adjusted to go from natural gas to propane. By the 1950s ranges had all types of enticing features, including meters for roasts that would play “Tenderly.” (Santoro even remembers a dryer that would play “How Dry Am I” when the cycle was complete!)

    Santoro sells several how-to books on repairing stoves, and finds that many of the magazines readers are willing to fix their own antique stoves. “There are a few things they can’t do on their own, like replating nickel and porcelain or rebuilding thermostats,” he says. Santoro recommends staying away from ranges made in 1946 and 1947. He finds these are usually constructed of scrap metals because most virgin steel had gone to the war effort. The best finds are unused stock (inventory never sold by a company), he adds. He also reminds us that a stove in good condition can be pricey—upwards of $3,500.

    Cool News

    Iceboxes were typically made of oak and lined with zinc. When gas and electric refrigerators became more readily available for the average homeowner in the 1920s, the ice industry nearly collapsed.

    Iceboxes were typically made of oak and lined with zinc. When gas and electric refrigerators became more readily available for the average homeowner in the 1920s, the ice industry nearly collapsed.

    Introduced to the domestic kitchen in the 1910s, refrigerators operating on electricity or gas-powered compressors were regular features in kitchens by the 1930s. The first indoor refrigerator to keep perishables cool was an unpowered “icebox,” which appeared in homes around the 1880s. These classy cabinets were often oak or ash and lined with either zinc, tin, or porcelain and had wire racks or porcelain shelves. Insulated with cork and tar, corrugated cardboard, or fiberboard, they were a revolutionary answer to the issue of preventing spoilage.

    By 1925 self-cooling refrigerators, introduced to only the wealthiest households in 1910, had become less expensive for the average homeowner to purchase. Early mechanical refrigerators resembled the cabinetry of their precursor—stalwart chests with nickel strap hinges. Later models from the 1920s were porcelain over steel. “The design of appliances really follows the car industry. Cabinets became more streamlined and more stylish with cabriole legs, while colors were white with mint green or gray trim,” says Arnold. In the 1940s, some manufacturers tried marbleized finishes in porcelain enamel. Also in the ’40s, legs started to disappear and were gone altogether by the ’50s.

    The Monitor Top is by far the most popular vintage refrigerator. Its compressor rests on top of its storage cabinet.

    The Monitor Top is by far the most popular vintage refrigerator. Its compressor rests on top of its storage cabinet.

    The problems Arnold sees most often with old refrigerators are broken handles, missing shelves, or door gaskets. Today the most popular model by far is the GE Monitor Top, introduced in 1927. Its compressor, which rests on its white porcelain cabinet, was said to be reminiscent of the gun turret of the famous Civil War battleship, the Monitor. Arnold believes Monitor Tops are more energy efficient than today’s models, and, he adds, they are almost bulletproof. He advises having the seller plug in the fridge 24 hours before you go to look at it and make sure they have frozen ice cubes in the freezer.

    Arnold advises staying away from antique refrigerators made after the mid- 1950s. Finishes went from porcelain to plastic, cords went from cloth to rubber, and tubing went from copper to aluminum. “By then compressor styles changed to high speed. The ‘frost free’ feature also ate up a lot of the electricity. Old refrigerators use 4/5 less electricity than the later ’50s and ’60s models,” he adds. One thing that did happen in the 1950s was the introduction of color green, sunshine yellow, pink, and robin’s egg blue became popular.

    Both Santoro and Arnold cook on antique stoves. Arnold has a 1950s electric range and a 1928 Frigidaire refrigerator. “It’s a gray and white cabinet up on legs with handsome chrome hardware,” he says proudly. Santoro cooks on a six-burner OKeefe and Merritt that he swears by. When asked if they would be willing to trade in their antiques for a new commercial range, both said, “Not a chance.”

    Published in: Old-House Journal OHJ March/April 2005


    Mike October 7, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Have 1934 Magic Chef in excellent shape . Can send pictures . Email. Value ?

    K. Harrision October 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Where can I sell a working 1970s avocado green combination wall oven and broiler unit?

    Kim October 10, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I have a 1937 General Electric Triple Thrift refrigerator to sell

    Marie November 6, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I have a 1950′s version (I think) Magic Chef for sale. In good condition. Located in the Trenton, Ontario area.

    Shaun November 13, 2014 at 4:45 am

    I have a 1963 G.E. white double wall oven in very good working and cosmetic condition (all original). I am trying to sell and would like a ballpark value if someone knows and/or wants to purchase. Located in North Dallas, TX.

    Francine Donato November 17, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I need oven door hinges for a 1937(-ish) Magic Chef. Please email me at with any leads.

    shanna November 19, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I have a pre 1900′s O’Keefe & Merritt and I am the 2nd owner. I am curious what these go for, cause they are hard to find. Mine is in great condition and when I bought it from the 1st owner they were still using it.

    Please fill me in on the stats.

    thank you!~

    Liddi Pate December 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    We have a 1930 magic chef natural gas stove. We want to put it in our kitchen do those stoves have to be pipped out like a wood stove?

    marilyn richards December 27, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    does anyone know a company in Oregon that buys Republic Steel Kitchen cabinets from the late 40′s…have a complete kitchen set

    Suzanne January 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Would anyone know where I could find a 1930s Magic Chef free-leg gas range in Oregon? thanks

    Judy January 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Vintage yellow Philco automatic refrigerator, 1950′s model. It does not work but serves well as a storage unit in a garage, laundry room , etc.

    Need to sell as part of spring cleaning project. Located in Las Vegas. Any one with interest or ideas about price for such an item? If desired, I’ll send photos. It needs a new home!

    James Daugherty January 26, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve got a whole kitchen set from the 20s antique rca floor model radio, vintage TV, wash machine, one of the first ge fridges that ran on electric please call me at 3122860313 have pictures and can deliver

    Audra January 29, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Is there a way to tell the approximate age of my Magic Chef oven?

    Marcie stratakis February 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Hello. I have an old Miller gas stove. I cannot find any information on that particular brand. Would you know where I can look. I have had it for a while and want to get it restored. Thank you. Marcie

    Herb Foerster February 17, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    Does anyone know where I can sell old appliance manuals and literature from the early 1950′s – late 1980′s? I have over 100 binders filled with different manuals for washers, dryers, refrigerators, stoves, etc as well as small appliances.

    V.Bud Ortgies February 21, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    1939 Idaho Queen heating stove
    nickled,,NEW condition,, never
    had a fire in stove,,,unused.

    R Jones March 12, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    I am looking for a working o’keefe wall oven with broiler to replace mine. Email with info and sell price. Las Vegas area.

    george March 18, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I have a mint condition 1930 lfc & universal eleictric stove it’s a stand up it has a wooden handle with medal on it

    ctrilk April 13, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Have 1949 GE fridge. Immaculate. Runs perfectly. Must sell.

    Martha April 19, 2015 at 11:35 am

    We have an appliance we are trying to identify it looks like maybe some type of linen press. If anyone thinks they could help I’ll email you a pic

    Joelene June 10, 2015 at 12:27 am

    I have a pink 30″ Preway gas cook stove. Not sure the age but I think in the 50-60′s. Would e-bay be the best way to get rid of it?

    Roberta Hemphill June 12, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I have a Quick Meal mint condition wood stove I want to sell. I don’t know where to begin!

    Christine Sobolik July 1, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    I have a GE In wall pink refrigerator im thinking its from the 1950s…its in a house we are remodeling…an old rectory house…its in beautiful condition and also pink metal and blue metal cabinets in awesome condition as well..does anyone know what they could be worth?

    Cathy August 8, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    What is a Norge gas stove from the 50′s worth today? It is in immaculate condition.

    Brenda August 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I have what looks like an Art Deco Frigidaire Refrigerator. Can anyone tell me the year it was built? Also. what price range do these usually sell for? Here is the link if you’d like to see pictures:


    Michele October 20, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I am looking for a restored vintage wood ice box to use as our main fridge. We are redoing a 1911 house. I have seen them on The Vintage Fridge website out of the UK but have not had much other luck. Any suggestions?

    Karen Smith December 4, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    We are looking at a Hotpoint 42″ Range that is in need of an element and a selector for the top burner. The model #107RC442D. Can I get parts for this unit anywhere?

    amy December 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I have a 1920 Hotpoint automatic electric oven. It is in absolutely gorgeous shape. I am located in queen anne. I have lots of pics, just email or text me if your interested and i will send them to you..its a beautiful antique piece.

    bruce December 20, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I have a magic chef wood/gas burning kitchen stove. #2966-04 serial#1397 in great shape. Was in use up to about 20 yrs. ago. With this info can you tell me when it was made and what it may be worth.

    Lynne Robinson January 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Any chance of finding a manual for a 1932 Sear’s gas stove??

    Chelsea January 6, 2016 at 11:47 am

    I have an old stove and fridge in my basement of the house we just bought and I was wondering the years and what they are worth. I can send you pictures.

    Tony Ross January 10, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    I have a GE Monitot Top refrigerator. How do I tell the age? The numbers on the top are 4853296. Still works great and has never been in the shop.

    Valery Staskey January 18, 2016 at 10:41 am

    I’m looking for a Tappan timer & visiguide for my late 1940′s stove. It flew off the truck on the move. I’m heart-broken!

    Rose March 2, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I just bought an old Norris fridge-only. I was told it was to old dairy products and has the old cloth cord. I am curious how much these are worth, it has a picture of the dairy cow on the front and it is a free standing one latch fridge.

    Thank You,


    Colleen sorenson March 13, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    I have a 1950′s working freezer Sears Coldspot upright. It has been running all these years with no problems EVER. Anyone know what it’s worth?

    Trudi March 14, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    We have a 1954 Norge refrigerator. Still has the tags on the back. It works and doesn’t surge power and want to sell it. It is in decent condition. How would we decide what to ask for it were we to sell it?

    Carrie March 18, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    I have a norge double sided refrigerator/freezer that works its from 1954. Can’t find one like it anywhere also has the name borg warner on it. Wondering the value and best place to sell. Located in Knoxville, TN

    Glenn April 1, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I have an old 1958 Frigidaire by GM fridge. It is in excellent shape. all shelves etc are there. It runs good, keeps things cold like it should. it has been in a vacation home since new. So very little actual time running. Any ideas of value? And what’s the best way to sell it? I’m in West Texas / New Mexico area.

    Wanda April 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

    I have a Harvest Gold General Electric stove and refrigerator which works very good. Best offer We are located in West Chester, Ohio

    Tina May 9, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    We have a very old General Electric Blue fridge. We have been using it at our camp for the past 14 years. We are looking to sell it. I don’t know where to begin? Any advice would be great!

    Tina May 9, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    I was mistaken… Its a General Motors fridge!

    Brittany Haynes June 1, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Hi , i have a 1949′s GE. Vintage Refrigerator.

    Darrin King June 3, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Tappan Visualite electric wall oven & broiler
    Harvest(?) yellow/ cream
    Model no. EOKLV-31
    Part no. 03-226-58
    DATE. 5-16-58
    Works fine!
    Would look great for a retro look or an authentic remodel for an older home.
    Such a great look! Hard to find!!

    Cindy Anderson June 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    We have a 1947 Crosley Electric Range with Soup well. Works great and looks good too. Needs minor paint on handles and clock does not work. Located in Oregon

    Traci June 28, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    We have a 1927 GE Electric Hotpoint with all the parts including burner covers, oven racks and even the drip tray. In working order. Need to sell right away. Please email me at we would like 1400$ or best offer. Would consider 1000$ if you pay shipping. We are located in kennewick, was.
    Thanks- Traci

    Melanie Wilkinson June 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    I have a GE 3 door refrigerator with compressor on top hinges & handles are still on frame with the doors very nice & heavy piece

    ALICIA July 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    I have a 1940′s era COLDSPOT vintage refrigerator. It works great and keeps drinks icy-cold. Robins egg blue in color and decorated with a host of bumper stickers from all the places it’s been. How can I determine a value for sale in Houston, Texas. Many Thanks!

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