Discontinued Collectibles Guide

Toasters & Toasting Forks

The idea of toasting bread is almost as old as bread itself and that is probably older than civilisation. The reasons for toasting have varied over the millennia. In ancient civilisations it was common practice to heat bread over the only known heat source other than the sun, an open fire, as a means of preventing the growth of mould.

Toasting bread in this way was certainly well known to the ancient Egyptians. We know this because the much travelled Romans recorded having seen it there and adopted the practice themselves. The practice spread wherever the Romans went and in AD 43/44 it came with them to Britain.

Down the centuries bread making techniques improved and people found that toasting bread actually created a different food to add variety to their otherwise rather plain diet. It was certainly more palatable than bread several days old!

Toasting methods advanced too, with the realization that glowing coals or wood made better toast than a fire with lots of flames. Toasting forks of various kinds were created so that a person could sit or kneel in front of a glowing fire holding a slice of bread at more than arm’s length close to the heat. Some incorporated a hinged device to provide a better hold on the bread. Some were made from just a length of wire bent double, shaped near the end and sharpened to create two prongs. Those were cheap but effective for the common folk. Others were of more elaborate and decorative design.

All those old toasting forks, whatever the design, rank as kitchen collectibles today. Other devices were developed to cope with the new coal or wood burning stoves introduced towards the end of the 19th Century. Typical was the tin and wire pyramid shaped gadget that held the bread inside and was heated on the stove.

The widespread use of coal gas, initially for lighting, in the 19th Century led to large quantities of coke being produced at the gas works as a by-product of making gas from coal. This became very popular, among the working classes in particular, as fuel to make the expensive coal go further. I can remember as a boy going to the local "gas house" to fill bags with coke which was given away free to anyone who wanted small quantities. Coke burns with lots of glowing heat and little flame, ideal for toasting bread.

However, electricity had come on the scene by then and inventors everywhere were seeking new uses for it. Toasting bread might not have seemed the most obvious application for this new wonder source of energy but toast was obviously important to Victorian and Edwardian engineers. Many of them put a lot of effort into trying to make an electric toaster.

They all failed due to the lack of a material for a heating element that would glow red hot without instantly burning out like an overloaded fuse. The breakthrough came in 1905 when an American engineer, Albert Marsh, produced an alloy of chromium and nickel which had quite high electrical resistance and was easy to form into strips or wire. He called it Nichrome and it enabled him to make a crude electric toaster that worked.

Before the year was out inventors across the country were making their own toasters using Mr Marsh’s new alloy. The Westinghouse Company brought out a different type, a toaster stove, using elements of the same material. In this the bread was placed on a wire tray directly over the heating element which was mounted on a raised base. There was no means of controlling the heat and the operator had to turn the bread by hand.

In 1910 another company destined to become a household name not only in the USA but worldwide, General Electric, was granted the first ever patent for an electric toaster. Theirs used an element consisting of nickel wires woven through sheets of mica. The single element was exposed and still there was no heat control and the bread was turned by hand.

Any of these early appliances that still exist outside of museums would, of course be highly collectable today. In their day the vast majority of sales would have been to commercial catering establishments. That was partly due to the need for trained operatives. In unskilled hands they were probably lethal! Also even in America electricity in the home was far from universal. Even where domestic supply was provided it was not usually available during daylight hours.

However the American public loves labour saving devices and soon public demand led to much improved domestic electricity services. Generating companies quickly introduced 24 hour supply. Britain and Europe were not far behind although the First World War interrupted developments on the domestic front. Advances continued across the Atlantic however and in 1919 in Minnesota, one Charles Strite, patented the first automatic pop-up toaster. Marketed under the brand name of "Toastmaster" it was hand- made but by 1925 the design had been modified and mass-production began. Any of these early Toastmasters would be highly collectible now.

Toaster designs continued to advance with micro-chips enhancing their capabilities enormously after the 1950s and it is still advancing today. This continuous advancement turns discontinued electric toasters and their non-electric predecessors into present day collectibles.

The following is a list of live auctions for "Kitchenware Toasters " currently listed on eBay. Hover the mouse cursor over the current price for details of postage and packaging. If you would like to see more information on a particular piece and maybe even bid on it, simply click on the item description to be magically whisked away to the wonderful world that is eBay. Alternatively you may use the search box to look for a specific piece for your collection.

Please also check out the Kitchenware Toasters Books, Related Dealers and Useful Resources listed at the end of this page.

Useful Resources

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