|New Facebook group, founded April 21, 2014: BSR Users Group: Birmingham Stove and Range|
If you've begun looking for vintage, antique American cast iron cookware for your kitchen, it's practically a guarantee that you'll hear about Griswold and Wagner, brands considered to be the "gold standard" of cast iron cookware. But when you go looking for these pans on eBay and in antique malls, you'll soon find they are almost always overpriced and expensive. Because of their popularity, Griswold and Wagner pans can be difficult to find.
However, in your search for cast iron pots and pans, you will be much more likely to find something like…this.
"What is this? Is it made in the USA? Is it worth anything? Should I get this?"
To answer this last question: YES!
This is a cast iron pan from Birmingham Stove & Range, and this is one of the great secrets of cast iron cooking. There are many brands of antique, vintage cast iron that perform just as well as Griswold and Wagner; but because these brands aren't as "famous" they can often be found for far, far less in price. Among the most popular of that kind are the "unmarked" cast iron pans – ones that don't have the manufacturer stamp on the bottom. Many people across the country, and around the world, have one or more of these "unmarked" pans. They have no idea who made these pans, but they work wonders in the kitchen and are treasures to have, even if they are not "valuable antiques." The most common of these "unmarked" pans are from Lodge Manufacturing – the same Lodge that makes the cast iron pans you see in Wal-Mart today – Wagner, and Birmingham Stove & Range (abbreviated here as BS&R). Folks love these pans, because they can often be found for pennies…and when cleaned up, they perform like champions.
The Atlanta Stove Works company was founded in 1889 (originally named Georgia Stove Company) to produce cast iron stoves. Initially, their business boomed to the point where in 1902, a separate foundry was built in Birmingham, Alabama especially for the production of hollow ware and cast iron cookware to supplement their stoves. This separate foundry was named Birmingham Stove & Range.
In addition to stoves, Atlanta Stove Works also produced a barbecue grill stand named the Cue Cart, which is legendary among barbecue afficionadoes. Even today, the Cue Cart is seen as the standard to which barbecue grills are compared. (More about the Cue Cart: www.barbecuen.com/faqs/cuecart.htm#axzz2lsc4emvB )
In 1957, the original Atlanta Stove Works foundry closed, leaving Birmingham Stove & Range as the sole producer of cast iron for this company. There was still a lot of competition at the time, both from neighboring foundries such as Lodge Manufacturing, and also from the new influx of foreign cast iron from Asia.
The 1960s saw BS&R integrating automated manufacturing processes into their production. This removed a lot of the hand-finished procedures from the production of its cast iron – and the result was a cast iron pan that was still good quality, but it no longer had the "smooth as glass" feel of previous BS&R pans.
Along with production of everyday cast iron skillets, BS&R is credited with the introduction of the popular corn bread skillet, a cast iron pan with eight separate wedges meant for making individual pieces of corn bread. The corn bread skillet was introduced in 1967, and its sales immediately skyrocketed, resulting in banner years for BS&R in 1967 and 1968.
During the 1970s, increased pressure from competition resulted in Birmingham Stove & Range redesigning its cookware, changing the size of its pans especially so they would be compatible with other accessories from outside the company, such as glass lids.
In 1976, for the United States' 200th anniversary, BS&R produced a limited series of cast iron pans with wooden handles, named the "Lady Bess" series.
For a while, the energy crisis of the 1970s appeared to be a boon to Atlanta Stove Works, their parent company, as manufacturing of wood-burning stoves increased dramatically between 1974 and 1980. However, the market for wood burning stoves crashed as oil-based energy prices returned to regular levels, resulting in hard times for Atlanta Stove Works. In 1986, Atlanta Stove Works, along with Birmingham Stove & Range, was sold to Martin Industries. As the company was restructured, its wood-fired stove and cast iron production facility in Birmingham was shut down. The company entered into a temporary agreement with Lodge Manufacturing to produce their cast iron, which lasted for two years; though in 1989, Birmingham Stove & Range declared bankruptcy and folded completely in 1991. As part of its debt settlement with Lodge, the patents and designs for its cookware were acquired by Lodge, who integrated them into the design of their own cookware; especially the Sportsman grill and the cornbread pan. These products continue to be produced by Lodge through the present day, and they are consistent sellers, especially the Sportsman grill (or hibachi).
As an aside, in the 1980s, the re-structured Atlanta Stove Works was involved with the development of modern-day carbon monoxide alarms. One of the first producers of carbon monoxide alarms, Quantum Group Inc., described in its company history:
In 1996, the former site of Birmingham Stove & Range was purchased by a recycling company called KMAC Services, who completely renovated the old foundry site.
Martin Industries Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2002.
Birmingham Stove & Range never put an identifying logo or manufacturer mark on their cast iron pans. However, there are several unique traits to these pans that allow them to be easily identified.
BS&R cast iron pans are very heavy, and they have a weight and a heft similar to modern-day cast iron pans from Lodge. However, unlike Lodge, the cooking surface of a BS&R pan is very smooth. The manufacturer milled down the surface of the pan and gave it a smooth surface, far more smooth than the surface found on any modern day cast iron pan produced today. This adds to the appeal of these older vintage pans.
The heavy weight of a BS&R pan differs from the lighter weight of the more famous Griswold and Wagner pans. However, the weight and thickness of a BS&R pan gives it an advantage over lighter, thinner pans: it is far more resistant to damage and warping. I've found quite a few older Wagner pans, and even some Griswolds, with warped surfaces that caused them to spin when placed on a flat surface. Birmingham Stove & Range pans almost never warp (though I've found at least one). Likewise, they are incredibly durable and resistant to scratches, dents, and chips. As with any cast iron pan, their greatest enemy was rust. If you take the effort to clean up a BS&R pan and restore it to working condition, it will look nearly new, even as good as the day it was manufactured. Many of the BS&R pans found at flea markets and junkyards are decades old, often dating back to the 1930s.
The Birmingham foundry used a size numbering system to match the stoves produced by Atlanta Stove Works. These size numbers were somewhat larger than the sizes used by most other manufacturers. With most vintage cast iron pans, the most common size available is the "number 8," which corresponds to a cast iron pan or pot with a diameter of slightly greater than ten inches (not including the length of the handle). This approximates to a No. 7 size in a BS&R pan, which is stamped on the Century series as 10 1/8 inches. The number 8 pan is a full half inch greater in diameter, or 10 5/8 inches.
|Size Number||Red Mountain|
|Century 1970s and Lady Bess|
|NO. 3||6 5/8 IN.||6 6/7 IN|
|NO. 5||8 1/8 IN.||.|
|NO. 6||9 3/8 IN.||.|
|NO. 7||10 1/8 IN.||.|
|NO. 8||10 5/8 IN.||10 1/4 IN|
|NO. 8B||.||10 5/8 IN|
|NO. 9||11 1/2 IN.||.|
|NO. 10||12 7/16 IN.||12 7/16 IN|
|NO. 12||13 11/16 IN.||13 1/8 IN|
|NO. 14||15 IN.||.|
One unique trait common to all Birmingham Stove & Range pans was the design of the handle. All of their pans had handles with a scooped hole on the underside for hanging the pan, shaped in the style seen here. The hole is teardrop shaped. There is a ridge or edge along the underside of the handle from the handle to the hole. This was a simple style that instantly identified any pan as being from BS&R.
All cast iron skillets from Birmingham Stove & Range, up until the 1970s, were made with a heat ring: a circular ridge on the underside of the pan. BS&R pans in particular had a very thick and distinctive heat ring. Also, as stated previously, each of these pans have the teardrop-shaped scoop on the underside of the handle.
The first series of cast iron pans produced by Birmingham Stove & Range had very few markings on the underside. As noted above, they had a prominent heat ring, and the distinctive teardrop-shaped hanging hole on the underside of the handle. However, as this photo shows, the only identification stamps used were a large number and a letter, such as the ones on the pans shown above: 3 W and 5 . (5 plus a dot). The number indicates the size of the pan – in this case, the number 5 indicates it is a size 5 pan. The letter W on the left photo is a mold marker, and it could be lettered A through Z. (Some molds used two letters for identification instead of just one, as seen in the 8 K G example above. That pan is a size 8, with the mold marker KG.) This indicated exactly which iron mold was used to cast the pan, and it assisted with easy identification if pans began showing flaws as the molds wore out or cracked from use. Some pans had a dot after the size number, instead of a pattern letter, as shown in the photo on the right.
This is a "number 8" size pan of the "Century" series, with a diameter of 10 5/8 inches. It's slightly larger than the "number 8" sized pans from other manufacturers, such as Lodge or Griswold. Be sure to note the following:
If the pan has a MADE IN USA stamp on the underside, this indicates it was made after the year 1960. If the MADE IN USA stamp is absent, the pan is older and was cast before 1960.
This original label shows that BS&R added a sticker to each of their pans, even though they did not include their own name on the pan itself. Click on the picture for a larger image of the label.
Birmingham Stove & Range can be credited as the first company to produce the popular cornbread pan, a cast iron pan with eight wedges for individual pieces of cornbread. (This pan can also be used to bake cookies, brownies, and many other delightful foods.) Lodge produced its own imitation of the cornbread skillet shortly after the original was introduced by BS&R; though they added a hole in the center of the pan. When BS&R's designs were acquired by Lodge in the late 1980s, the design and ownership of the cornbread skillet was passed on to Lodge. This pan is sold today as the Lodge wedge pan.
The story of the cornbread skillet, according to retired Birmingham Stove & Range President Saunders Jones, went: "Billy Washburn was the guy in charge of the production line [Foundry Foreman], and his wife wanted that cornbread skillet for a long time but no one ever listened. Finally, one day they decided to indulge him and the thing took off! They couldn't make enough of them!" Mrs. Washburn wanted a "cornbread skillet" that would cook cornbread with a crust on all sides of each piece, so her husband used his position as one of the Foundry's Foremen and made a handmade pattern. He experimented with it in 1967, and it became their best seller.
The cornbread skillet was initially produced with a PAT. PENDING ("patent pending") mark, and not a MADE IN USA mark. This was done in an attempt to prevent other companies from producing their own imitation versions of this pan; though the attempt was unsuccessful. 1967 to 1968 were record-setting years for BS&R, largely due to the sales of this skillet. The popularity of the cornbread skillet soon enticed rival Lodge Manufacturing to produce their own sectioned "wedge pan" in imitation of the cornbread skillet, which was introduced "only three to four months" (Saunders) after BS&R began producing the cornbread skillet. The Lodge skillet had a hole in the middle, which made it lighter than the BS&R pan. When BS&R saw their skillet being imitated, they removed the PAT. PENDING mark and replaced it with the standard MADE IN USA mark, in 1968. (This indicates that if you discover a cornbread skillet with the PAT. PENDING mark, you'll know it was manufactured in the year 1967.)
The original label produced with the first series of corn bread skillets.. Click on the picture for a larger image of the label.
BS&R completely redesigned their cookware in the 1970s, due to increasing financial trouble. The size of their pans was changed in order to be compatible with other accessories from outside the company, such as glass lids. This photo of a 1970s BS&R dutch oven shows a "number 8" (NO 8) sized pan measuring 10 1/4 inches, as opposed to the 10 5/8 inch size of the earlier pans. The mold marker stamp was returned to the pan (BC70). These more modern BS&R pans are harder to find than the older vintage pans.
This is a 1970s-era original label from Atlanta Stove Works, using the same model cast iron pan; only with a different brand label ("ATLANTA") on the label. Click on the picture for a larger image of the label.
Former BS&R marketing manager Hugh Rushing writes, "The Lady Bess line was introduced to celebrate the [United States] bicentennial. Retailers were interested in glass lids, so the patterns and resulting diameter of the pans in that line were designed to fit standard available glass covers. Lady Bess also had wooden handles on the skillets and sauce pans. They were originally packaged as sets in a wooden crate. All very Early American. Later those patterns were used to make Con Brio, a short line with white porcelain handles which were sold mainly on the West Coast. This was also the first cast iron with a nonstick finish."
Birmingham Stove & Range lids differ from most other cast iron lids. While other lids have ridges to allow condensation to collect and drip onto the food as it cooks, BS&R lids have "dimples" or indentations on the underside of the lid.
The handle on top of the lid was intentionally designed with one end larger than the other.
Birmingham Stove & Range produced many cast iron corn stick baking pans. Like their skillets, these pans did not have the manufacturer name, only a size number and mold identifier. Fortunately, as with their skillets, BS&R cornstick pans have a unique handle design that make them easy to spot. The handle is rectangular shaped, with an indentation; this is different from all other vintage corn stick pans. Also, note that the corn rows are set in opposite directions, instead of all in one direction.
The size number of 7 on this corn stick pan is the number of corn sticks imprinted into the pan. The letter A is a mold marker.
The Sportsman Grill started out as the Birmingham Stove & Range Sad Iron Heater, used with coal or wood. (A number of antique elongated cast iron "griddles" in antique stores are actually sad iron heaters.) A BS&R salesman from Louisiana had the idea of selling these sad iron heaters as fish fryers; and BS&R redesigned the heater, calling it the Sportsman Grill. The earliest of these BS&R Grills still had the four-legged design of the sad iron heater, though they quickly converted to a more stable three-legged design for outdoor use on uneven ground.
The original patent on this grill was issued to Atlanta Stove Works in 1941:  Former BS&R marketing executive Hugh Rushing confirmed this in a Facebook posting on July 21, 2014: "I found an Atlanta Stove Works catalog from 1941 which features the Sportsman grill with shallow fish fryer. I had previously opined that it might not have been produced until after WWII, but apparently it was in the line in 1941."
Here's a later model of the Sportsman Grill. On the Cast Iron Cooking group, James Goodman compared this with the one above, and he wrote:
Another later model grill, this one stamped with BS&R's parent company of Atlanta Stove Works. This grill is in excellent condition, and there's a possibility it could have been produced by Lodge, during the period after 1986 when BS&R contracted with Lodge to produce its cast iron pieces.
When Birmingham Stove & Range closed completely in 1991, the design for the Sportsman grill was passed on to Lodge Manufacturing in order to settle BSR&'s debt to Lodge. Lodge continued to produce the grill under its own brand, and the Lodge "hibachi" sportsman's grill continues to be a popular and regularly selling product today. Lodge made minor modifications to the design of the grill, but it is still essentially the same design produced by BS&R in its later days.
The Birmingham Stove & Range Sportsman's grill is a rare item, especially the first generation with four legs instead of three. The oval frying pan, originally made and marketed as a fish fryer accessory for the grill, is highly sought after by cast iron enthusiasts.
In 1971, Birmingham Stove & Range expanded its Sportsman series to include the model 3060 deep fryer. The Sportsman fish fryer fryer was re-designed with a new, sleek look, similar to their model 3060 deep fish fryer.
When Lodge Manufacturing produced cast iron for Birmingham Stove & Range between 1986 and 1989, the model 3052 frying pan was simplified somewhat. Lodge gave the fryer a rounded handle similar to their own handle design, with rounded handles; but the handles had a more rounded underside than the BS&R pan, without the angled ridge seen on the bottom of the BS&R pan. Also, the Lodge handle was wider than the thin handle of the BS&R design, and with a flat top.
The Birmingham Stove & Range Sportsman model 3060 deep fish fryer pot was introduced by Birmingham Stove & Range in 1971. It was produced with its own dual-use lid, marked with the number 3093. The handles were rounded instead of angled; all of the 3060 dish fryers had rounded handles.
The lid was produced as BS&R model 3093, with this number printed on the lid. The lid had the same shape as the Sportsman fish fryer, except that the underside had grill ridges, so this could be used as a flat griddle on one side and a grill on the other side. The handle was set at a downward angle, so it would remain separate from the handle of the deep fryer itself. It could be lifted off of the pot without any difficulty. The original patent on this piece was issued to Atlanta Stove Works: 
When Lodge Manfacturing produced cast iron for BS&R in the 1980s, they also produced their version of the 3060 fish fryer. Unlike the Lodge versions of other pans, their deep fish fryer was practically identical to the BS&R model, with almost no change at all nh the design. Because of this, many people (and antique vendors) assume the 3060 deep fryer was only made by Lodge.
The Lodge version of the model 3060 is nearly identical to the one cast by BS&R. However, one subtle difference exists, and this is enough to determine the difference between the Lodge model (from the 1980s) and the BS&R model (from the 1970s):
Lodge did continue to produce the model 3093 iron lid to the fish fryer, with the same handle design, griddle top, and grill bottom. In addition, Lodge produced its own line of "Sportsman" cast iron pans in the 1980s, and they included the deep fish fryer with this line. These "Sportsman" pans had a very attractive design on the lid, instead of a flat griddle. As with the other "Sportsman" pans from Lodge, these lids had a design of a fish, a duck, and a dog. The attractive design of these pans has made all of them into collector's items on their own, and the sheer size of the 3060 deep fryer has made it especially desirable as a collector. It wasn't cost effective to produce three separate molds of the model 3093 lid for all three designs, so the Lodge "Sportsman" deep fryer always had a lid with the image of a duck.
Truthfully, not much. Because there isn't a manufacturer logo or stamp on these pans, they are largely unknown to modern day users and collectors. This is an important reason why cast iron pans from Birmingham Stove & Range are largely forgotten except by historians. These "unmarked" pans are unknown to the general public, and these pans can found at yard sales, flea markets, junk dealers, and places all over the country, often for pennies. I've bought more than one rust-coated BS&R pan for two dollars or even less, because the person selling it had no idea what it was (other than "a rusty old frying pan"). BS&R cast iron pans are widely available and not especially difficult to find, often at throwaway prices.
(On the other hand, the Sportsman's grill is a collector's item and can sell for hundreds of dollars in good condition! The Sportsman's grill has the Birmingham Stove & Range name on it, as opposed to their "unmarked" skillets.)
However, if you are looking for one of these pans to use in your kitchen – then that's the good news! It means that you are likely to find a BS&R cast iron pan somewhere, without a lot of effort. You'll only have to pay a very low cost for the pan…if you don't actually get it for free by finding it in a junk pile somewhere. (This actually happens frequently to people all across the United States.) The pan may be dirty, rusty, and encrusted with grit or even decades of old seasoning – it's not likely to be in brand new condition. But, that should not stop you from acquiring a BS&R pan if you find it in this manner. These pans are almost indestructible! It will not require a lot of effort to restore this cast iron pan into a condition as good as new. And when the pan is restored, you'll have a kitchen treasure that cooks like a champion!
Some very unusual cast iron pans from Birmingham Stove and Range have been discovered by members of the Cast Iron Cooking group.
From Glen Moody, posted to the Cast Iron Cooking group on November 23, 2013:
From Rich Bails, posted to the Cast Iron Cooking group on November 23, 2013 – a tiny Red Mountain:
This is a BS&R deep skillet or chicken fryer, and it doesn't have a heat ring in the manner of regular BS&R cast iron skillets. It still has the markings that identify it as a Century series pan, with the abbreviated NO. 8 for the size:
Some information from Cast Iron Collector: "You'll occasionally see on the bottom of some pieces what appears to be the head of a screw. This is not a repair of a defect, but rather a quality control measure some foundries used after the advent of automation. If a pattern became suspect of causing defective pieces, it would be marked so the pans made from it could be easily identified. A simple method of marking involved driving a screw into the pattern. A curiosity at most, and collectible value is not affected."
Posted to the Cast Iron Cooking group on February 19, 2014 by Chris St. John: "And finally what appears to be another Red Mountain series, marked 5 Bx, and another marked 8Y. But notice that the marks are obviously scrawled by hand, rather than printed like the other Red Mountain."
Posted to BSR Users Group: Birmingham Stove and Range on May 23, 2014 by Milton O'Dell. Saunders Jones replied: "The Jones family (Saunders II and family) moved to Birmingham to run the Foundry and the Birmingham operation in August of 1959. I don't remember a special skillet (I was six!?) but special skillets were easily made all the time for all sorts of occasions. These were hand molded patterns, so it was just a matter of adding in the right letters on the pattern. My father doesn't remember any specific skillet for the event, but like I said, people were making all kinds for all kinds of occasions. He sends his regards. He still has a great memory. What a treasure!!"
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