**Note: this post is not “done,” and will be updated as additional information is known. I know the cast iron collecting community is keenly interested in this pan, however, so have chosen to post now so that the photos may be seen and part of the story told. If you have additions or corrections to the article that you wish to point out, please contact me. I am striving to be completely accurate.**
Back in 2001, a man named Jerome “Jerry” Cooper sent a photograph of a pan from his cast iron collection to David Smith. Mr. Smith is very well-known and respected in the cast iron collecting community. He co-authored two reference books about vintage and antique cast iron,1 and from 1992 to 2003 he wrote and mailed out a bi-monthly cast iron collecting newsletter to subscribers called “Kettles ‘n Cookware.”
The photograph that Jerry Cooper sent to David Smith was of a Griswold small logo number 10 cast iron skillet with a grooved handle. This particular pan is a unicorn in the cast iron collecting world – there are no definitive reports of which I am aware that an authentic one has been located. Some years back, Larry O’Neil, a long-time cast iron collector and long-serving member of the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association’s (GCICA) reproduction committee, had the opportunity to examine a purported grooved handle number 10 Griswold cast iron skillet. It turned out to be an altered pan. By some method of machining, someone had created a groove in the handle.
David Smith published the photograph of Jerry Cooper’s pan in the May/June 2001 edition of Kettles ‘n Cookware, stating that the photo was “proof positive that this piece does exist.” 2
Fast-forward 17 years. A Griswold small logo cast iron skillet with a grooved handle, carrying the same markings as the one published in Kettles ‘n Cookware, popped up on eBay. The seller clearly did not recognize the rarity of an authentic Griswold grooved handle no. 10 cast iron skillet; he had started the auction at .99 with no reserve.
My attention was drawn to the auction the day it was to end because I was reading Facebook chatter in several different groups about the listing. I looked at the auction and was excited to see that a grooved handle no. 10 had been found. I wanted to write the story of this pan.
Some of the conversation on Facebook suggested that the handle of the pan might have been machined; i.e. that it may not be a “true” grooved handle no. 10 Griswold small logo pan. I imagine that all in the cast iron collecting community were hoping it was an authentic grooved handle number 10, but questions about authenticity were raised in conversations on the Facebook pages.
The auction ended on November 12, 2018 with a winning bid of $2,716.66. I reached out to the seller, Jerome “Shane” Cooper. It turns out that Shane is the son of Jerry Cooper – the man who had sent the photo in to David Smith. The pan that was auctioned off on November 12, 2018 was the same pan that had been pictured in Kettles ‘n Cookware in 2001!
Shane told me about his dad. Jerry Cooper lived and worked overseas as a teacher/guidance counselor for DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents Schools) on military bases for more than 30 years. He and Shane’s mother Anna raised their two sons (Shane is the oldest) on Sembach Air Base in Germany. In the mid-1990s, Jerry retired and moved back to the United States, settling in Blanchard, Idaho.
Once Jerry retired, he began expanding his collection of vintage and antique cast iron. He traveled around the Pacific Northwest looking for old iron, making trips to flea markets and antique stores hoping to find inexpensive pieces to add to his collection. While he was proud of his collection and enjoyed the hobby, his collection was not one of high-priced pieces. While there were times that Jerry wanted to buy some higher-priced items, he told Shane that he would and could not spend the family’s money on his personal hobby. The Cooper family was one of modest means.
In 2005, Jerry sold his house in Idaho and relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado, to land that Shane and his wife Rachel Herrera had purchased together with her family. Over the next three years, Shane built two houses on the land – one for his wife and newborn son Ben, and one for Jerry. Jerry was a part of Shane’s family’s daily life at “Ohana,” their 65-acre Rocky Mountain homestead. Sadly, Jerry suffered a massive stroke in May 2016 at age 79, and passed away just two months later.
The Cooper family placed a very high value on education. Shane told me with some pride that when he graduated from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida, he did so without the student loan debt that cripples so many young people coming out of college or graduate school. The Cooper family had set aside what extra money they had into college funds for their two sons.
When Jerry died, Shane inherited his cast iron collection. Shane places the same value on education as did his father. He decided to sell off what pieces the family did not use for cooking to help fund Ben’s college education, as his father did for him.
It was with this in mind that Shane began listing pieces from his father’s cast iron collection on eBay. Shane is an experienced Internet seller; his full-time business “Secret Compass” sells limited-edition collectibles online. The company was started by Shane in 2003, in a bedroom in his house. The business has grown and prospered. It now represents 60-70 manufacturers from the limited edition collectibles world, and ships to more than 100 countries worldwide.
Because of Shane’s experience with selling on the Internet, he is aware that not every online buyer is ethical. Shane has experienced numerous occasions where buyers claimed damage after breaking things themselves, buyers switching damaged merchandise with the merchandise that had been shipped to them, and buyers demanding a refund but returning something other than what was sold to them. Because of these experiences, Shane was offering pieces from his father’s collections as “final sale” on eBay – no returns accepted.
Shane decided to let the market set the value of his father’s cast iron collection by auctioning each piece off to the highest bidder. He did not realize the potential value of his father’s number 10 small logo Griswold pan with a grooved handle. He started the 5-day auction at .99 with no reserve.
After the auction ended on eBay, the sale did not go through because concerns had been raised about the authenticity of the skillet. Because of Shane’s previous negative experiences with the shipping of high value items, and given the madness of the bids and queries surrounding what appeared to be an extremely rare piece of cast iron, Shane was not willing to accept a return of the pan under any circumstances. The transaction was cancelled.
When I talked to Shane after the auction ended, I learned that he was aware of the debate on Facebook over the authenticity of the pan. Considering the doubts raised, Shane wanted to get the question settled before moving forward. If Shane could get authentication of the pan, then he would present that authentication when he re-listed the pan on eBay. If it turned out to have a machined handle, he would re-list it on eBay as such.
Shane reached out to many people trying to find out how the question of authenticity could be settled. Shane felt that some of the comments on Facebook – which had been shared with him (by a person unknown to me) via screenshots – impugned both his integrity and the integrity of his deceased father. He wanted the question about authenticity settled once and for all.
I told Shane about the two national cast iron collecting clubs – the Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association (GCICA) and the Wagner and Griswold Society (WAGS).3 I suggested to Shane that having the two groups examine the skillet in person might be one way to go about getting the authenticity settled. In my view, having the skillet at the annual conventions of both groups, where it could be examined by the membership, would probably be the most likely way to obtain consensus as to authenticity. Shane preferred to get the matter resolved in a more timely fashion. I told Shane that I would reach out to both groups on the issue.
On November 14, 2018 I sent a group email to Chuck Rogers – President of WAGS, Scott McCarter – President of GCICA, Sonny McCarter – chair of the GCICA reproductions committee, Shane, and Larry O’Neil. Larry has been a long-serving member of the GCICA reproductions committee, and I know that he is very experienced at determining authenticity of Griswold pieces.
“I know you are all aware of the eBay listing for the grooved handle no. 10 small logo skillet that ended the other day. I had reached out to the seller, and it turns out that the sale has fallen through. He is aware that the pan may be the unicorn that people have been searching for forever; he also knows that there has been discussion on Facebook about its authenticity. I have also told him it probably has to be seen in person to make any kind of educated opinion about authenticity.Jerry Shane Cooper (he goes by “Shane”) is the son of the original owner of the pan. Shane is liquidating his father Jerry’s estate. He is trying to raise money for his son’s college fund, and when he relists the pan on eBay (I talked to him about a Simmons auction or going to a convention auction, but he prefers the worldwide audience of eBay) he would like to be able to say that the pan has been examined and is authentic.I told Shane about the two national collector’s groups – Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association and Wagner and Griswold Association and explained that both groups have reproduction committees. I suggested to Shane that this is the route I would probably take if I was trying to get as rock-solid of an authenticity “stamp of approval” as possible on a piece for which authenticity is questioned, since both groups have such very experienced and knowledgeable collectors.Shane, Sonny McCarter is the chair of the GCICA reproduction committee, and Larry is a long-serving member of the GCICA reproduction committee. Chuck is the president of WAGS – the chair of their reproduction committee (Larry Foxx) does not have the internet. I am sure that Chuck will take the steps necessary to get the information to the WAGS reproduction committee as well.Shane’s father Jerry is the same person who wrote in to Dave Smith for the May/June 2001 Kettles n’ Cookware newsletter about the pan. The pan in Shane’s possession is the same pan – it is on the back page of that edition.Could you please help Shane with how authenticity can be determined on his father’s pretty pan?Thank you. I have copied Shane on this email so that you can all confab with Shane about a process.”
Greg Stahl did provide a report about the authenticity of the pan based upon the information and research he had obtained. You can find the full text of Greg’s report and findings on the WAGS forum, here. The report’s conclusion is: “Based on all the data that I have collected with the help of others, I find this skillet to be 100% real, and likely the only one known to date, a real #10 Griswold grooved handle skillet and first shown to the collecting world in 2001!”
I was very excited to read Greg’s report and conclusion. I wanted to photograph and write about this unicorn skillet and its story. I wanted to see the pan for myself. Shane agreed to allow me to visit him and the pan in Fort Collins, Colorado, examine the pan, and write a story about the pan.
I don’t claim to be an expert in determining authenticity of Griswold pieces, but I’m not exactly a tadpole. I’ve handled thousands of Griswold pieces and seen many reproductions. When I personally have a question about authenticity of a Griswold piece, Larry O’Neil is my first stop. I talked to Larry before going out to Fort Collins to visit Shane and the pan. Larry had spent time with his Griswold small logo pans (of which he has many – Larry and Marg O’Neil’s collection of vintage cast iron numbers in the thousands) examining them. Larry discussed with me certain things about the handle of the pan that he felt would help to determine its authenticity.
I flew out to Denver on November 27 and met with Shane and the pan on November 28 at Shane’s shop/warehouse in Fort Collins. Shane was most gracious and helped as I took many photographs and measurements. I knew what Larry O’Neil wanted to see about the pan, and so I FaceTimed with Larry at one point and tried to get him the information he sought. Ultimately, I could not get the precise information conveyed to Larry over FaceTime; Larry said that he needed to see the pan in person before making a final determination about authenticity. He thought it likely authentic, but couldn’t be sure until he personally examined the pan. Shane told me that he was willing to either fly out to see Larry with the pan or send the pan to Larry so that Larry could examine it. Larry’s encounter with the pan will likely be after the new year, however, as Shane is of course very busy with his retail business during the holiday season.
When I got home on November 29, I uploaded two photos to both the WAGS and GCICA Facebook groups that showed the underside of the handle of a known Griswold no. 8 grooved handle small logo skillet alongside the underside of Shane’s number 10 handle. Using a jeweler’s loupe, I had personally seen (and shown Shane) a small cluster of scratches on the underside of the handle of the number 10. 4 The scratches had caused me some pause – I felt that either the handle had been scratched or some machine made the scratches. Of course, I have zero expertise in machining, so I didn’t know. I just knew there was this small cluster of scratches.
Farold Hoover – a cast iron collector by hobby and machinist by trade – had talked to me before my trip about the possibility of him having the ability to examine the pan to determine whether it had been machined, Upon seeing the photos on Facebook that I had uploaded, Farold reached out to me again and said that based upon the photos posted, he thought the pan had not been machined, and he would likely be able to authenticate the pan – i.e. say that the handle had not been machined – if he viewed more photographs. I provided Farold with my original high-resolution photographs for his examination.
Farold has 33 years of experience in tool design and engineering. He owns his own small tooling shop – you can see his website here. Upon review of the photographs, Farold concluded that he was “99.9 percent certain” that the handle on the number 10 had not been altered or machined.5
TO BE CONTINUED….
Below is a gallery of some of the photographs of the pan that I took on November 27. Because I know that the cast iron collecting community is very interested in examining this pan up close, I chose to refrain from watermarking many of the shots, including macro shots. These photos are not the original resolution; I did reduce the size somewhat. If you need to review the original resolution photographs for whatever reason, please contact me. If you wish to share or copy the photos, please ask me before you do so. I am happy to share my photos of this exciting find with the cast iron collecting community, but especially given the time and money I have invested into this little project, I do want to retain the rights and have proper credit if the photos are used. I have marked the metadata of the photos with my copyright. Thanks for your courtesy.
- Smith and Wafford, The book of Griswold and Wagner(5thed. 2011); Smith and Wafford, The Book of Wagner and Griswold(2001).
- D. Smith, Kettles ‘n Cookware newsletter, May/June 2001 (p. 34). All editions of Mr. Smith’s Kettles n’ Cookware newsletter are available to dues-paying Wagner and Griswold Society (WAGS) members on the forum of the WAGS website. The newsletters are a great resource for the collector.
- I am a dues-paying member of both WAGS and GCICA. Being a member is a great benefit for folks interested in collecting cast iron. It allows access to all areas of the forums of both groups, which contain mountains of research. It also puts you into contact with other people who are interested in vintage and antique cast iron cookware. Attending annual conventions is a great way to learn from and with others who have the same interest.
- The area where the cluster is located is circled in red on the last photo in the gallery below.
- Farold has agreed to write up a summary of his findings, and I will add that information here once I have it. I wanted to get the photos up for the collecting community as soon as possible, so am posting this little ditty before it is quite “done.”