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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Kitchens & Baths » Kitchen Furnishings & Appliances » Buyer’s Guide to Vintage Appliances

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

    { 99 comments… read them below or add one }

    Margarett Alcocer January 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I have a 1952 O’Keefe & Merritt stove which has been in my family since 1952.
    The stove is in good condition. Many of my family asked that I kiss it good-by because of the wonderful memories connected to this stove. Time to move on. Please e-mail or call 503.665.4513 or 503.890.6780 if interested.

    kELLY fINAN January 31, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I BELIEVE I HAVE A WEDGEWOOD OEN WAS WONDERING IF I SENT YOU SOME PICTURES YOU COULD EITHER DENY OR CONFIRM? LOOK FOWARD TO HEARING FROM YOU. (831)236-7347 OR (831)655-4824

    Ron Wagner February 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Have inherited a 50′s (?) working Crosley Shelvador Model 1417 Refrigerator;

    Any help in estimating its’ worth and trying to sell it? Chicago area, South suburbs. Thanks

    Colleen February 9, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I believe I have one of these 1927 or so refrigerators. Has been neglected and left outside for decades, but only shows some rust. Thoughts on how I can restore and if once restored I can use it outdoors (decorative, not in working order)? Thanks!

    Amart February 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I have heard metal shelves from old refrigerators would poison meat. Is this true?

    Susanne Whyte February 21, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Does anyone have a 1960′s Frigidaire electric 30″ range for sale? I’m looking for one in excellent condition for my newly remodeled kitchen. I live in NE Washington state north of Spokane.

    Linda March 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    I have a stainless steel wall oven removed from my grandmother’s kitchen (circa 1950′s) whenrecently remodeling. I am wondering if it is valuable and if there is an interest it?

    Everett Cook March 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I purchased an antique stove and would like to get a little history about it. It is from the “Detroit Vapor Stove Company”. No. 1014R Serial No. 1

    Can anyone provide history regarding this stove or do you know where I can go to get its history?

    Thank you very much for your assistance.

    dave April 2, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I recently acquired a stove and I am trying to figure out the brand name or anything about it. It has a 3 coil range with a deep fryer in the fourth spot. It has the letters, “AB” as the logo and has A fluorescent light that sticks out of the top. Any idea on the brand? I’ve looked all over the saying and could not find a name or company anywhere. I can send you a photo or two if you would like

    sheila April 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

    hi,my name is sheila and i have one refrigerator from your company(Leonard) it is near 100 years old ,blue one,i wanna to sell it . I am wondering if it is valuable and if there is an interest it?
    i am intrested to see your antique exhibation in USA.

    Jen McKinney April 14, 2013 at 9:27 am

    We have. a 1946 “Estate ” brand stove for sale. Clock , timer, ovens, broiler and center griddle all work. Clean. White. Have original owners manual as well. Also another stove identical …. That we have used for years … For parts !
    Can you help with the value and pr finding a potential buyer?
    Thanx Jen
    Columbus , IN

    Charlotte Mee April 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Want to sell my combo gas/K1 white kitchen stove. I live in Maine. Contact me at the above email address. I believe the stove is from the 1930-40′s era. Thank you.

    Colleen Farley April 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I am looking for a 36″ gas white stove vintage in good condition to use in my kitchen. I do like the O’keefe & Merrit one but would consider another. I live outside Phila., Pa. Does anyone have one to sell or know where I could find. Thank You !!

    kathleen May 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    There is a stove (not hooked up) in our basement since we moved in to this house. It is a model 1733 Rs serial # 1521 from the Detroit vapor stove Co. The house was built in early 19 20′s
    It is missing two knobs. Any idea where to find replacements?
    It would be great to see someone who enjoys vintage stoves use it again. Are there any sites where people go who are looking for vintage stoves?
    I live in Shaker heights Ohio.

    Tammie June 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    We have a lovely classic 1950′s O’Keefe & Merritt 36″ gas stove (white with chrome) for sale. Everything works. It’s a four burner with griddle, oven, broiler and warming oven below. We live in Vancouver, BC Canada. If anyone is interested, please let me know.

    Stacy June 23, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I have an 1915 Real Apollo made by Apollo & Canopy Ranges. I am trying to find more information on the stove. Can anyone help with some good websites?

    Al Gold June 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I received my grandparents stove that we cooked on and heated the house in the early 50′s. Not sure how long they owned it but has been part of the family for years. It was been in storage for at least 40 years. It is a Quick Meal Stove, American Stove Co, St. Lewis, MI model 200-01 serial number 129. Does anyone know when this stove was built? Still has all the parts and in decent shape.

    Thanks

    Evelyn Kallies July 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I would like to sell my mother’s 1952 O’keefe & Merritt Cook Stove. She passed away in 2001 and it has been stored since then. The stove was bought new and is in good condition and very clean. It has the vanishing shelf, Kool-Kontrol panel and Grillevator Broiler and in the middle of the burners it has the grill to make pancakes or tortillas. Also the original O’keefe & Merritt Cook Book comes with it. Cash only. Would like $1000.00 or best offer. Call 210-649-2535 or 210-416-3697.

    Deborah August 1, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Where can I buy parts for the inside of an antique wooden icr box, like metal/wire shelves to hold winw and thing to hold block of ice; actually, what goes inside of it; we bough ours without any inside parts. Can I see what it should look like inside? We want to use it as a wine cooler.
    Thank you
    Deborah

    Margie August 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Could you tell me anything about the second stove that you have pictured?

    Mandy Korb September 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    I have a Quick Meal Wood cook stove and am unsure what it is worth. Wondering if you can maybe help me figure this out as I would like to sell it.

    marina September 30, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I have a Frigidaire pre 1920′s icebox cabinet, I was wondering how much it would be worth and would a museum buy it?
    It is pretty good condition for its age and extremely heavy.

    I would be grateful for any advice

    Thank you

    Diana Linden October 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    When I purchased my 1939 cottage home in historic Santa Ana California it came with a 1920 creme-colored with black trim Wedgewood stove. It works beautifully, but my new husband, who loves to cook, wanted a larger oven.

    Is there a resource book or website that you can recommend that will help me establish an asking price for this stove. I would like to sell it. If you would like a photo I can send to you.

    Thanks
    DL
    Santa Ana Ca.

    Myra Mills October 11, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I have an antique gas, White Star stove, by the Detroit Vapor Stove Company for sale. Model 1016L series 1. The stove was patented 3/19/1912 with other patents 9/25/1923. The stove has 4 burners, Oven ,broiler. please call 502-964-0673. located in Louisville, KY

    Johanne Spencer October 16, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Hi Tammie, we are looking for a stove like that for our cabin. Please send me pictures and price. My cabin is in Alberta.
    Thanks Johanne Spencer

    Cherie November 11, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Have you ever seen a six burner, double oven electric Thermador? I just purchased one this weekend, but I’m having a hard time finding any information online about this one. Would appreciate any information or resources regarding this stove. :-)

    Old House Journal admin November 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Hi Cherie: You might have some luck on the Thermador website. Here’s a page with all of their product manuals: http://www.thermador.com/Trade/specifications-guides

    kourtney December 18, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I want to sale my O’Keefe and Merritt range stove. not for sure what model it is. please contact me at my email.

    Holly Cole December 22, 2013 at 2:09 am

    I have my mothers 1947 Fridgedaire four burner stove.
    It just recently stopped working and local repair tells me there is no way to get parts for it. It is actually in excellent condition and really hate to get rid og it. Can you help?

    Colleen Farley May 13, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    I posted a note in 2013 that I was looking for a 36″ gas white vintage stove for my kitchen in good working condition. Still looking, does anyone have one for sale ? I live outside of Philadelphia Pa.
    Please contact me at this email.
    Thank You,
    Colleen Farley

    Kathy Johnston May 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Hi, I live in Mpls. Mn. and looking for a white 36 inch stove in good condition. If you have one please contact me at 6612-729-8263

    Elaine June 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    To Colleen Farley, if you are still looking have a 1930 gas stove for sale.

    Dominick verdic June 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I have an O’Keefe and Merritt 6 burner twin oven twin broiler white gas stove with original salt and pepper shakers in great shape. Contact me via email if interested. I am in New Jersey.

    MARIE RUSSO July 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I have a 1951 G E stove in excellent condition never used would you be interested in? If not can you can you direct to a site that buys reto items. i can send pictures if intrested.

    Colleen Farley July 8, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Elaine,Dominick & Marie,
    I am still looking for a vintage gas stove can you please give me contact info.
    7/8/14.
    Thank You.

    Scott Hatchew July 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

    TO KATHY JOHNSTON or anyone looking for a 36″ electric range:
    I have a circa 1958 Kenmore 36″ electric range in mint condition. I’m in Michigan. If interested, email shatchew@yahoo.com. Pictures can be emailed.

    Jane Derington July 9, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I have a NORGE GAS STOVE from, my guess, mid 50′s It is for sale, however, I am at a doctor office right now, so can’t supply details.
    It works like a gem, everyday, never a problem in the 20plus yrs we’ve owned it. We live in Berkley Michigan (see Royal Oak on a map!) My husband got a brand new one from a friend, and is of the (mistaken) belief we should use it. Anyone with interest, pls email me, I’ll have info on it soon – not sure how to tell exact age ??

    Connie Szczepanski July 9, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I have a beautiful 1926 Roper Antique gas oven with 3 ovens and 6 burners
    and a bun warmer. We built a log home in 1980 and I purchased it from the original owner in my home town, it is very nice, I used it to make a statement in my kitchen and it sure did, I used it to decorate for the holidays and that is it because it was too nice to use. If you are interested in pictures you can email me and I will send them. Best Offer..
    connieszczepanski@hotmail.com

    Tess Consoli July 16, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I have a 1960′s Florence stove- oven and broiler, 5 burners- pics can be emailed. In working order but oven door needs repair. Trying to sell it- any takers or tips?
    Thank you!

    KC July 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    We have a 1951? white General Electric refrigerator (purchased new by my 86 yr old parents and never had a service call) needs to be sold and picked up from 48642 zip code. My nephew got a small shock from it 2 yrs ago, so it is no longer plugged in, but parents are downsizing and moving to assisted living, so it needs to go. Can you believe, never had a service call and worked all those years? Thanks. Please email questions or requests for photos (will be there in 2 weeks) to pinetoe@hotmail.com. Thanks.

    james Brannaman August 3, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Hello, I’m searching for a Leonard Hi-Oven Range in any condition. If you happen to know the whereabouts of one. I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks in advance!

    James

    Connie Szczepanski August 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    I have a 1926 Roper gas oven 6 burner, 3 oven, bun warmer oven for sale NICE condition please contact me via email for pictures.

    James T. Sailors August 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    For sale: 1976 GE double oven, over and under, range, with automatic temperature
    surface control, clock and timer, White, photos on request, in use. 12-385-2465

    Sue Lee August 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I recently purchased a 1949 Frigidaire electric range. Model # RM 45-5420246 Serial # SN92C4975 One of the knobs for the stove top eyes is broken. I am looking for a replacement. If anyone knows where I could get one please email me jslee@charter.net

    Antique Stove . I believe it was made between 1930 and 194o August 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    There is an emblem on the door marked CS. Pictures will be sent upon request. I live in California.

    Antique Stove . I believe it was made between 1930 and 194o August 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Richard A Holmes

    Cheryl September 4, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I have an old GE wood/electric combo I am trying to find info on. Serial # 05062034
    Cat No: OM 11 05 D 20 116/260 W=9000 (not sure what this means?)
    Help please.

    Joyce September 16, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Have a Wincroft gas stove circa 1920′s, working condition and presentable. It is a 4 burner apartment size. Trying to find what is worth. Thanks

    Kate OHara September 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Hello, just bought a small gas stove with oven in a cream yellow color. It says Prosperity is the brand. Great condition, but in the process of cleaning. Does anyone know the value or story behind this stove? Thanks..

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