The “Griswold” silver pup scandal of 1994 caused an uproar in the cast iron collecting community.
Steve’s Purchase of Two Silver Pups at an Estate Sale in 2018
Steve L. of La Pine Oregon recently contacted me. He told me that he had purchased two Griswold silver pups for $50 each at an estate sale in Portland, Oregon. He was excited about his find, saying that he was sure he had “found the Holy Grail.”
I was sad to tell him that I thought what he had was the infamous “Griswold” silver pup. I asked him to send me pictures.
Steve sent these photos:
Yep, Steve purchased the infamous “Griswold” silver pup, all right.
I’d heard whispers about the “Griswold” 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. For purposes of this story, we’ll call him “Mr. Big.”
Griswold Advertising Pups
In 1937 and 1951, Griswold manufactured sweet 1-5/8″ tall cast iron pups as promotional items. 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 and the Fantasy Griswold Pups
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 learn that the piece is a reproduction or fantasy piece.
Mr. Grycko produced fantasy Griswold 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.
Mr. Grycko was quite clear in his ad for the pups that his pups were not made with the intent to dupe buyers. He did not represent that the pups were manufactured by Griswold, though the pups carried the name “Griswold.”
For at least the first production run, Mr. Grycko’s 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.
Lessons I’ve Learned about Fakes and Fantasy Pieces
I have twice been fooled: once with a “Griswold” number 2 skillet, and a second time with a “Griswold” 5-tier Dutch oven stand.
When I was new to vintage and antique cast iron, I bought a pan represented to be a Griswold large block logo EPU no. 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 several states away from me sold me a “Griswold” Dutch oven stand with 5 levels. I was very excited to have the stand; it was my first 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 the stand 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. [/note] 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. Big and the 1994 Auction Sale
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.
Mr. Big’s story goes something like this: 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. 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.
Mr. Big was present at the auction, and verified the story to the crowd and to individuals at the auction.
Each pup individually sold at the auction for $1,175.
Upon learning that the pups were fantasy pieces
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 newsletter.
The moral of the story
I told Steve L. from La Pine that his pups were two of the Grycko pups and not pups manufactured by Griswold. Steve asked me whether the pups had any collectible or other value.
I don’t know of anyone who collects the 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.
Update: Steve informed me on December 14, 2018 that he brought the two pups to a metal dealer, who tested the pups. They were silver with a gold wash. The dealer told Steve he would purchase the pups from him and melt them down. Steve agreed.
Happily, the dealer paid Steve more than Steve had paid to originally purchase the pups from the estate. And so, two more of the infamous silver pups have been taken out of circulation. A good resolution!
- For those of you with inquiring minds who need to know, I paid $275 for my perfect pup in (I believe) 2014. Prices have gone down since I bought my pretty pup.