I received a letter via the “Contact Mary” form on the website from Steve L. of La Pine, Oregon. Steve told me that he had purchased two Griswold silver pups for $50 each at an estate sale in Portland, Oregon. He was pretty excited about his find, telling me that he was sure he had “found the Holy Grail.” I was sorry to have to tell him that I thought what he had was the infamous “Silver Pup.” I asked him to send me pictures.
Here is what he sent:
Yep, Steve purchased the infamous “Silver Pup,” all right.
I’d heard whispers about the “Silver Pup” scandal since I started hanging around cast iron forums, pages, and people. For a long time, all I knew was that a person very-well-known in the cast iron world, who is now deceased, was somehow involved in the story. Since I wan’t able to pin down specific rock-solid reference material to my satisfaction and the person is deceased hence can’t clear up any misinformation, I don’t want to name him. We’ll call him “Mr. Big.”
In 1937 and 1951, Griswold manufactured sweet 1-5/8″ tall cast iron pups as promotional items. I have seen a newspaper photograph of Griswold employees in the Erie Bicentennial parade in 1951, handing out the pups to people. Per a Griswold catalogue of the day, the pups were made with black iron, chrome, aluminum, enameled and Japanned finishes. I personally have a lovely Griswold black iron pup that I purchased from pup collector Doris Mosier packed away here somewhere.1
Hank Grycko (now deceased), of Clackamas Oregon, got the idea of making what is known as a “Griswold fantasy piece,” that is to say a product that may look like a Griswold product but is not, and is not offered as so. A “Griswold reproduction piece,” on the other hand, is a product that looks like it might be Griswold but it is not; and is offered as an authentic Griswold-made piece. Reproductions/fantasy pieces are more common than a new collector might imagine; it is always a sad day when a person purchases a piece and is very excited about their find, only to later learn that the piece is a reproduction or fantasy piece. This has twice happened to me: once with a “Griswold” number 2 skillet, and a second time with a “Griswold” 5-tier Dutch oven stand. 2 Of course the danger with a “Griswold fantasy piece” is that even if a piece begins as a “fantasy piece” – as with Hank Grycko’s silver pups, it may end up down the line being re-sold as an actual Griswold, as with Steve’s silver pup purchases.
Mr. Grycko produced silver and gold-coated pups, and advertised them for sale. The “.999 fine pure” silver pups were sold for $250. The “Silver .999 fine pure with 24 karat Gold Plate” were sold for $295. In his ad, Mr. Grycko was quite clear that his pups were not made with the intent to dupe buyers into believing that the pieces were manufactured by Griswold, though the pups carried the name “Griswold.” For at least his first production run, the pups had the markings .999 silver, 14 kt or 18 kt, depending on the finish. On later runs, he also cast his initials “HG” into the base of the pup.
A midwest auction house held a cast iron auction in 1994. People consigned pieces to the sale, including Mr. Big. In part, Mr. Big consigned two silver “Griswold” pups to the auction. In consigning the pups, Mr. Big is alleged to have told the auction house a story about how he obtained the pups. The story goes something like this (there are different variations of the story – if you know the ACTUAL truth of the story and can point me to a reference, I’d be most grateful): Mr. Big somehow acquired a lunch box of a deceased Griswold employee. Inside the lunchbox were two or three of these silver pups with the Griswold markings. Somehow the impression was given that the employee or employees made these silver pups on a break and smuggled them out of the plant.
The auction house had no reason to question the information they were given about the pups. The pups were promoted at the auction as authentic Griswold pieces. And of course they would be very special pieces indeed, as employees supposedly made them “off the clock” and smuggled them out of the plant.
One person who was present at the auction, to whom I personally spoke, has a recollection that Mr. Big was present at the auction, and verified the story to the crowd.
At auction, each pup individually sold for $1,175.
Somehow, it rather quickly became known that the pups were not authentic Griswold pieces; they instead were the pups made by Mr. Grycko. The auction house refunded the money to the buyers. I am not privy to what happened with the commission money that presumably was paid by the auction house to Mr. Big.
Steve Stephens, an avid collector, was at the time writing a newsletter for the cast iron collecting community called “Cast Iron Cookware News.” Upon learning of the sale of two of his silver pups at auction, Mr. Grycko sent Mr. Stephens the attached document, so that Mr. Stephens could include it in his next newsletter.
I conveyed to Steve L. from La Pine that his pups were two of the Grycko pups and not pups manufactured by Griswold. Steve asked whether they had any collectible or other value. I don’t know of anyone who collects these Grycko pups, and the value – at least to me – would be just the value of the silver. I don’t know whether the pups are solid silver, or whether they are covered with a finish of silver while the interior is a different material. That, of course, would greatly affect the value. If they were melted down, then at least two of the Grycko pups would be taken out of circulation and future potential purchasers would not be misled into thinking they had a “Holy Grail” authentic Griswold piece. To my way of thinking, that would be a good thing.
- For those of you with inquiring minds who need to know, I paid $275 for my perfect pup in (I believe) 2014.
- When I was pretty inexperienced I bought a pan represented as a Griswold large block logo EPU #2 skillet for several hundred dollars. Upon receipt, it was clear it was a reproduction. In fact, upon closer examination of the (eBay) photos, I should have seen that it did not have the hallmark Griswold quality. The second time happened about 4 or 5 years ago when an experienced collector about 3 states away from me sold me a “Griswold” Dutch oven stand with 5 levels. I was terribly excited to have the stand; I had never before had one. I showed some cast iron collecting friends photos of my new piece once I got it home, and was immediately told it was a reproduction/fantasy piece. Closer examination showed it had been hand-made. There was no Griswold pattern number on the stand, and the “Griswold” marking at the top of the stand was apparently cut from a skillet. The tag on the rack was for a Griswold Tite-Top Dutch Oven, and not a rack. I felt pretty stupid to have thought it was authentic. When I called the seller, he claimed the rack was authentic Griswold. I asked how he knew, and he told me he had shown it to that same “Mr. Big,” who had told him it “looked good.” I made the return to the seller.