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Collectible Aluminum Hammers Out a Niche


Rodney Kent Basket

Rodney Kent Hammered Aluminum Basket with Tulip Motif

Pamela Wiggins

Quick Facts About Collectible Aluminum

- Most hammered aluminum pieces made their way into homes from the 1930s through the 1950s as wedding gifts. Colorful anodized aluminum wares were popular with homemakers through the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

- Popular names to look for on collectible hammered aluminum pieces are Arthur Armour, Continental Silver Company, Everlast, Buenilum, Rodney Kent and Pamer-Smith.

- The most valuable pieces of hammered aluminum are signed by the maker, and many have elaborate patterns stamped into the metal. Unusual shapes and vessels are also of interest to collectors.

- Hammered aluminum hasn’t been widely reproduced, however, Southern Living at Home catalogs have featured several “Vintage Collection” reproductions of late including a butter dish, creamer and sugar set and a sweetener packet caddy.

- New phosphate-free automatic dishwasher detergents will apparently stain hammered aluminum black, according to an About.com user. See note below under "To Clean or Not to Clean" for more information.

Memories of Vintage Aluminum

Some of my favorite childhood memories were made at my grandparent’s lake house. All the fishing, bicycling down dirt roads and treks to the neighborhood swimming pool were about as much fun as a kid could stand, but the furnishings in the house hold a spot in my memory as well.

By the time I was old enough to remember all the goings on down at the lake house, which was in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, anodized aluminum wasn’t really popular with stylish homemakers anymore. The bright colors of the tumblers and pitchers made in the 1950s and early 1960s clashed with the earthy tones coming into home decorating fashion at that time.

Lucky for me, that’s how a set of drinking vessels I couldn’t resist made their way to the lake house. The red tumbler was my favorite. I loved the way the cool metal felt in my hand on a hot summer day.

Collecting Vintage Aluminum Today

These days anodized aluminum is very popular with collectors. Pieces that sold for a quarter or less 20 years ago at garage sales and flea markets can sell for $5-10 apiece in the right setting now. Colored aluminum pitchers, serving trays and larger bowls can bring even more when found in excellent condition.

Unfortunately, anodized aluminum tended to dent and scratch very easily. If you’ve been thinking about picking up a few pieces, remember to look for things in excellent condition and pay accordingly for less than perfect items.

Collectors seeking other types of aluminum wares can still find some great bargains, but not as good as 5-10 years ago when what collectors refer to as “hammered” aluminum could be purchased for a song.

Was It Really Hand Hammered?

Most of the really expensive pieces in this field were indeed hand hammered, but the majority of the items sitting in antique malls now were machine made with a dimpled surface to give them a hand finished look.

Items available in hammered aluminum range from ice buckets to coaster sets and bookends to ashtrays. In fact, most of these aluminum wares made their way into homes as wedding gifts from the 1930s through the 1950s.

At one point there were several hundred companies producing this type of giftware. Most of them didn’t make it through the World War II era when all types of metal were scarce, according to Garage Sale & Flea Market Annual (Collector Books).

What’s Valuable to Hammered Aluminum Collectors

Names collectors tend to look for in this area are Arthur Armour, the Continental Silver Company, Everlast, Buenilum, Rodney Kent and Pamer-Smith. Some collectors focus on the wares of just one of these companies, while others prefer a certain pattern.

Some of the most popular pieces feature lifelike chrysanthemums, like those made by the Continental Silver Company, and the tulips decorating the surface of some Rodney Kent wares. The detail is amazing and many collectors recognize this craftsmanship while appreciating the affordable prices.

In fact, you can still pick up oodles of aluminum on eBay for $25 or less per piece, although a nicely crafted ice bucket with stand can top out at more than $200.

To Clean or Not to Clean

A point of contention among collectors comes with deciding whether or not to clean hammered pieces. They often have a rather dull patina, which isn’t entirely unattractive. However, they can be cleaned and polished to a silver like shine without too much effort. Many aluminum aficionados swear by mag wheel polish sold in auto parts stores for achieving this shiny effect.

It’s really up to the individual owner whether they want to take the time to clean a piece, since these aren’t highly valued antiques where removing the original patina will greatly affect the value. However, once that nice patina is gone, it will take quite some time for it to build back up so make sure you really want a piece to glisten before cleaning it.

Note: While she had placed it in the dishwasher many times before, an About.com user reported that a new (as of July 1, 2010) version of phosphate-free automatic dishwasher detergent stained her hammered aluminum tray black. The makers of "Cascade said that the Dawn hand dish-washing detergent, although phosphate-free, doesn’t do the same," according the source. Keep this in mind when using and cleaning your hammered aluminum wares.

Books About Collectible Aluminum

To learn more about collecting aluminum, look up Hammered Aluminum, Hand Wrought Collectibles by Dannie Woodard or Collectible Aluminum, An Identification and Value Guide by Everett Grist, both published by Collector Books.

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