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Plugging in to Vintage Electric Appliances

Toasters, Mixers and Blenders -- Oh My!

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Sunbeam MixMaster

Vintage Sunbeam MixMaster

-Pamela Wiggins
My 79 year-old mother still uses an electric iron from the 1940s. Not because it’s hip and trendy to stock a home with vintage appliances, but because it still works. She bought that really heavy iron back in the 1940s after World War II was over and she’s been using it ever since.

Here lately that old iron doesn’t get much of a workout, with clothing made of permanently pressed fabrics being her preference. But there was a time when she drug that iron out regularly to press her family’s clothes. It’s really amazing that it still gets hot, but it does, and the braided fabric cord isn’t even fraying yet.

Nowadays, it really is fashionable to find kitchens and laundry rooms filled with vintage electrics. The small appliances of yesteryear were made of metal, heavier than today’s plastic versions, and they have an appealing vintage look to them. And considering that many older appliances are still working after all these years, including Mom’s iron, maybe newer isn’t always better.

One of the best aspects of hunting down old appliances, however, is the bargain price still found on many of them. I still see old Sunbeam “Mixmaster” stand mixers in common colors at garage sales and estate sales selling in the $15-50 range. You can find them in antique shops too, but those will generally be priced higher.

Speaking of electric mixers, if you happen to be interested in them as collectibles there’s a group online called “We Actually Collect Electric Mixers," WACEM for short (See "Elsewhere on the Web" box above for link). It might sound a little strange, but it’s really a useful resource to find out more about unusual mixing devices you might run across or to obtain accessories for a mixer you’re trying to refurbish.

What else can you find for a vintage themed kitchen? Just about everything we use today like toasters, blenders, electric skillets and waffle irons. If you look hard enough you’ll even find old electrics that match your own decorating scheme.

If you’re trying to recreate the 1950s kitchen, for example, a vintage red and white Knapp electric blender might work well for you. Or how about a pink electric stand mixer? Just keep in mind that out-of-the-ordinary colors like these will likely be more expensive than a plain white model, especially at an antique show or vintage specialty shop.

For those with a penchant for the unusual, you can even find a vintage necktie iron if you look around for a while. Of course, most modern men I know don’t want to even think about wearing neckties much less ironing them. Still, these curiosities from yesteryear can make interesting conversation pieces in the right setting.

If you’re actually planning to use vintage appliances in your kitchen instead of just displaying them, keep in mind that they do have their limitations.

While they’re generally heavier and were made for the long haul, old appliances do tend to warm up rather slowly. In other words, it might take a lot longer to fix that batch of waffles with an old iron than a new one. And crushing ice for margaritas might not be an option in your old blender.

You’ll also find older electrics to be less energy efficient than newer ones and perhaps not quite as safe. It’s wise to keep old appliances unplugged when they aren’t in use and don’t try plugging too many of them into one plug outlet to avoid an electrical overload.

All in all though, vintage kitchen appliances can be fun to own. They take us back to the kitchens of our mothers and grandmothers and the love we found there, but what about the future?

I can’t help but wonder if folks will be stocking their kitchens with “vintage” George Foreman grills and Presto pizza ovens 50 years from now. I hope I’m around to find out!

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