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    Auction Finds

    Reader asks about old black cast iron wash pot

    Friday at Auction Finds is readers’ questions day. I try to guide readers to resources to help them determine the value of their items. I’m not able to appraise their treasures, but I can do some preliminary research to get them started. So, these are market values based on prices I find on the web, not appraisal for insurance purposes that I suggest for items that have been determined to be of great value.

    Today’s question is about an old black cast iron wash pot.


    My husband and I found this article and was wondering if I could get some information about these pots. We have a few of these and was wondering about how old they are and if they are worth anything.


    A rusty old wash pot that has been painted and taken over by weeds.


    The reader had come across a blog post I wrote three years ago about a black pot sold at auction that reminded me of my grandmother’s old black pot. When I was a child growing up in Georgia, she filled that cast iron pot with water, put soap powder in it and lit a fire under it to boil her white clothes as bright as the clouds in the sky.

    Since then, I’ve seen several of the pots at auction, the most recent a small one. When I first researched them I found references to them in several articles on the internet. Not only were they used for washing clothes, but also to boil water on hog-killing days and to render fat from hog skin to make cracklins.

    I had never tried to determine what they were worth or if they were worth anything. I suspected that they were not valuable because there’s no functional or urgent need for them anymore. Besides, for women, they conjure up memories of drudgery.

    Their best use these days is as planters. I didn’t buy the big one at auction, but I was tempted to bid on the small one – only if I could have gotten it for 5 or 10 bucks to hold some low-growing phlox.

    A big black pot ready to be auctioned.

    A big black pot ready to be auctioned.

    The reader didn’t mention if there were any markings on her pots. A manufacturer’s name would make it easier to search for each of them or any other items made by the maker. Without a marking, it’s very difficult to determine age or time period. The reader also did not send photos.

    So I checked both the web and eBay to find out how to determine age, and whether these pots were selling and how much someone was willing to pay for them.

    One site advised looking on the bottom of the pot for the sprue (a circular marking on pots before the mid-1700s) and gate (a marking from mid-1700s to late 1800s). Pots made after 1875 have a smooth underside. The reader should check her pot for markings, and research them on the web, in a guide book if one is available or through the Cast Iron Collector forum.


    Children stand in front of two very large pots and a very small one. The setting was described as a “wash place” at a plantation in Alabama. The scene was photographed in 1934 by Alex Bush, who apparently took pictures of southern locales as part of the government’s jobs program to get people working during the Depression. Photo is in the Library of Congress.

    The best answers I found was a conversation on the Cast Iron Collector forum from last October. A man wanted to know the value and age of a pot with no manufacturer’s name. The replies apparently came from collectors, one of whom mentioned that it was hard to determine age on an unmarked pot. He mentioned that sprue and gate markings were also used on reproductions.

    Another noted that the pot was not likely worth much, because most people would only want it for decoration. He suggested trying to sell it on eBay, although the shipping would be costly. Another suggested selling it on craigslist, also as a decorator piece, and if lucky, it may pull in $75 to $100. Most cast iron collectors, he said, weren’t likely to pay a lot for an item with no marking.

    The man sold the pot a month later on craigslist for $100. I always urge caution when selling on craigslist; if you get a buyer, meet him or her in a very public place.

    On eBay, the highest sold price I found for a cast iron wash pot with markings was $190, while another with markings sold for $99. Almost a dozen were listed under “Completed Listings” for the last month, and about half were sold, with the lowest at $89.


    This pot, which was sold at auction, looks more like a cooking pot.


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