Collecting Vintage Hammered Aluminum Pieces From the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s
Hand Wrought Aluminum 1940s Tray
Entertaining in Style
Wander back in your memory to your mother's home, your grandmother's home or an older neighbor's home, and chances are you can remember seeing some hammered or colored aluminum kitchen or gift ware serving pieces. Maybe you are remembering those bright colored drink tumbler glasses or the pitcher that went with the glasses, or bright colored popcorn bowls or a cake keeper, or a fancy candy dish or a sandwich serving tray. The shapes and styles and patterns found on these items are beautiful. Many brides received these items for gifts. Remember that in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s when these items were used, most women were expected to be proficient at entertaining. My mother and her family were lower middle class, but when Mom or my aunts entertained, it was most stylish. Once a month, it was Mom's card club, sometimes it was a birthday celebration, sometimes it was the church ladies, or a coffee for neighbors. For example, a luncheon would be served on card tables that were covered with embroidered cloths, and cloth napkins. An informal lunch could be served on Mom's set of Fiestaware dishes, but many of her serving pieces were hammered aluminum. I remember an aluminum salad serving bowl, an aluminum candy dish for pastel mints or nuts, and a cake keeper with a cover that had an aluminum acorn for a handle. By the time my Mom passed, many of these pieces were scratched from so much use and she had tossed them, but I kept her collection of the various trays. Until recently, I didn't know much about them, but I've enjoyed researching how all the beautiful aluminum items came to be so popular.
The best source of information on aluminum collectibles came from Dannie Woodard who is an Aluminist. Dannie Woodard wrote the book, Hand Hammered Aluminum, Hand Wrought Collectibles which has a wealth of information, and much of my information for this Hub can be found on her website and in her book. Dannie credits the Wendell August Forge as perhaps starting the craze for aluminum items. Back in the 1920s, the Wendell August Forge created some decorative aluminum panels for the Alcoa Aluminum Company elevators. Next the Forge was asked to create some decorative items for the Alcoa company executives. Aluminum was cheaper to use than silver, light weight, and the items never needed polishing. Hundreds of designs and shapes were possible.
A sheet of aluminum was cut, dies were used to create the designs, pieces were hand hammered or hand wrought and then shaped. Various artists created patterns. The most popular themes were found in nature such as: flowers, fruits, leaves, nuts, acorns, vegetables, bamboo, cacti and vines. Although other designs include shell patterns, birds and even sporting scenes. Eventually, many pieces were mass produced by machine, so the most valuable pieces to collect are those with the name of the company, their hallmark, and sometimes a number, and the term hand hammered or hand wrought indented into the back of the aluminum piece. Some of the best known companies are: Continental (best known for their chrysanthemum patterns) *hallmark is a Minuteman figure, Rodney Kent, Everlast, and Buenilum. Trays, coasters, serving dishes, ice buckets, silent butlers (table crumers or ash trays), napkin holders, toast tongs, ice tongs, sugar cube tongs are still relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Many other items including aluminum purses were produced but are more expensive and harder to find.
The downside of aluminum was that the pieces tended to dent or scratch with heavy use. Metals were scarce during World War Two and housewives wanted a more modern look in their housewares, so by the mid 1950s, the aluminum craze was mostly over. One word of caution should you want to collect, is that pieces should never be placed into the dishwasher because today's detergents can stain the aluminum finish. Also, most collectors do not polish their pieces as gritty silver polishes or salt pastes rub off the finish. Pieces can be washed safely in tepid water and a few drops of a mild dish washing liquid.
As the old saying goes, everything old recycles and becomes "new" again. Hand wrought aluminum is still being produced by individual artists around the world many who use vintage dies for their designs, and companies such as Mauvil M'Pure Hammered kitchen and cooking items are being produced in France. The items have been updated to maintain their vintage appeal on the outside, but inside many items are made of copper for durabllity.