Grady and Jean Britt live in Raleigh, North Carolina, in a beautiful art-filled home surrounded by woods and backing up to Umstead state park. It is a very peaceful setting. Grady and Jean are both retired. Grady worked for years for IBM as a systems engineer, and Jean as a grade-school teacher. They each have two adult children, and between them they have 9 grandchildren.
Linda and I went to visit Grady and Jean in September 2018 to see Grady’s vintage and antique cast iron collection. He is a calm soul, and it is easy and enjoyable to spend time with him. Grady is a collector of Lodge cast iron, though he has iron by other manufacturers – notably Griswold – as well. He has been collecting since 1993. It all began with a family member’s old cast iron waffle iron; it piqued his interest. He began looking for a waffle iron for himself, and before you know it, he was collecting. At one point, he went to a bookstore and found a book about old cast iron cookware. In the back of the book was contact information for some of the people whose pieces were photographed in the book. Dr. Joe Noto of North Carolina was one of them. At the time, “Dr. Joe” was the President of the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association (“GCICA”), a national club for cast iron collectors. Grady called Dr. Joe. He learned that GCICA had an annual convention, and that he had just missed one in Charlotte, North Carolina. The next one was to be held in Erie, Pennsylvania, original home of the Griswold Manufacturing Company.
In 1997 Grady went to the GCICA convention in Erie. He enjoyed meeting with and learning from others who had the same interest in the old iron. He has attended many of the annual conventions since, both with GCICA and the Wagner and Griswold Society (“WAGS”) – the other national cast iron collector’s club. Grady is actively involved in both groups. He has given a “table talk” about Lodge to the GCICA group, and he organized the 2015 WAGS convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
As part of the 2015 WAGS convention, the group had the opportunity to tour the Lodge plant in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Lodge does not offer tours of their foundry to the public except during the annual national cornbread festival, yet Grady has toured the foundry three times. He has also had the opportunity to meet with two of Lodge founder Joseph Lodge’s great grandchildren: Bob Kellerman, Lodge CEO Emeritus, and Carolyn King Kellermann Millhiser. Ms. Millhiser lives in the home that Joseph Lodge built at the corner of Magnolia and Third in South Pittsburg. Grady has had the privilege of visiting with Ms. Millhiser at the home, and viewing her collection.
Grady’s collection focuses on Lodge because because he “just love[s] their stuff.” He is a Southerner and he likes it that Lodge is a Southern company. He also appreciates that Lodge is reasonably-priced. A very small snippet of Grady’s collection is contained in a photo gallery at the end of this post.
I asked Grady what his favorite piece was of all of his iron, but he couldn’t narrow it down to just one. When I asked him what his three favorites were, however, he named them: the Lodge Acorn pan, Griswold loaf pan with lid, and toy Griswold waffle iron with base.
Grady had set out a variety of pieces in his kitchen for us to see. A Blacklock piece of Grady’s was pictured in the January/February 2018 edition of Southern Cast Iron magazine. Grady showed it to us, explaining that it was the cover to a teakettle. Grady had an old teakettle with another Blacklock cover attached. As the teakettle is not marked, Grady would not say with certainty that it was a Blacklock, but he was comfortable in his own mind that it likely was, as the cover fit the teakettle so well.
After we toured and photographed some of the iron on the main level of the house, we moved outdoors to Grady’s shed. Grady told us that Jean wouldn’t recognize the inside of the shed when she saw it, as Grady had been organizing in preparation for our visit. That was true; Jean was surprised when she came out and saw the neatly-organized shed.
Grady enjoys talking iron – after 5 hours of showing us his collection, he seemed disappointed as we readied to leave. As I was trying to graciously sidle out the door (to eat lunch at a fun BBQ place that Grady and Jean recommended, and where I had my first-ever hushpuppy), Grady said, “OH!” and hurried into another room and retrieved three beautiful old unmarked cast iron dogs, which he believes were likely made by Lodge during the 30’s when Lodge made novelty items to keep the foundry afloat.
Although Linda and I were exhausted, we had the impression that Grady could have continued for hours; showing us pieces and discussing their variations and pointing out unique characteristics. Grady surely loves his iron.
Through our conversations with Grady and John Clough, as well as our special Lodge foundry tour, I learned more about Lodge cast iron in a week than I had known in my almost-10 years of involvement in vintage cast iron cookware. What an amazing whirlwind of a week!
A small selection from the cast iron collection of Grady Britt