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QUESTION:  

 love a good cup of coffee, so it’s only natural that I would buy an antique coffee mill. This isn’t one of those small wooden ones, but a hefty one that I bought at a local flea market. It’s heavy and in fairly good condition, but does show signs of years of use. Can you tell me more about these larger coffee mills—who made them and when?

Thanks so much,
Len

 

_______________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee, and how it’s ground makes all the difference. Unlike today, stores in the 19th and early 20th centuries sold only coffee as beans, freshly ground in the store. Originally, all general stores had some sort of coffee grinder sitting on the counter. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, always sold its coffee as beans which could be custom ground according to the customer’s preference.

The Enterprise Manufacturing Company, founded by John Gulick Baker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1864 near Independence Hall, was one of the leading makers of both large and small coffee grinders. The company quickly grew to a huge operation producing everything from barn-door bolts to seven-foot-high, motorized coffee mills weighing almost 500 pounds. The firm also manufactured juicers, tobacco cutters, and Mrs. Potts sad irons, as well as cast iron banks. In 1876, the company received the Centennial Medal for their outstanding contributions to the American public.

General store owners used the Enterprise Model No. 12-1/2 coffee mill for grinding larger amounts of coffee. Manufactured between 1886 and 1898, it stood 42 inches high, had 25-inch diameter wheels and weighed about 140 pounds. It’s main components were of cast iron. Such mills became status symbols for those general store owners who could afford them.

While many of these larger coffee mills sported bright red or green paint, some had other decorations in the form of decals. True to Victorian style, many had gold painted details added to dress them up and give them a more deluxe appearance. Some of these mills also had elaborate flower motifs adorning the wheels to make them attractive for women shoppers.

In the 19th century, coffee grinders made to be used in the home ranged from box-type grinders designed to grind coffee from one-to-four servings to wall-mounted grinders, some of which could hold a pound or more of beans at a time.

Box grinders usually had brass bowls mounted on top of a hardwood or cast-iron box. The crank perforated the bottom of the bowl and would be turned to grind the beans into a drawer below. Not all box grinders were square, but finding a round one, especially in cast iron, can be a challenge for a collector.

In England, Kenrick & Sons was a major maker of box coffee grinders—the oval brass nameplate on the front of Kenrick box grinders makes them easy to identify. Imperial, Favorite, and None-Such were important U.S. brands. And in France, Peugeot Frères made metal and cast-iron box grinders with wooden handles.

The most collectible type of coffee grinder is the wall mounted variety made of cast iron. Some were brass, with clear glass hopper for beans on top, a big crank handle on the side, and a wooden drawer at the base to collect the ground coffee. The Arcade Manufacturing Company of Illinois made a wall-mounted grinder called The Crystal, named for its glass beans hopper and glass grounds cup.

But the Enterprise Manufacturing of Philadelphia made heavy-duty grinders for grocers, retailers, and wholesalers. While many of these wall or table-mounted machines had side crank handles, its largest grinders had handles that attached to flywheels. Some grinders had one wheel, others two.

The most ornate examples of Enterprise grinders from the late 19th and early 20th centuries had eagle finials atop urn-shaped hoppers and a pair of flywheels, all of which would be mounted on a waist-high, decorative cast-iron stand.

Mounting a coffee grinder firmly in place was important enough that even small box grinders had tabs on their bases so the grinder could be secured to a surface. People held Turkish style coffee grinders in their hands. Usually made of brass or enameled metal, these slender, cylindrical grinders often featured detailed engraved designs on their sides. Unlike box or grocery grinders, Turkish mills produced a fine grind, producing a dense, full-bodied coffee, today known as espresso, suited to what many considered an after-dinner beverage.

 

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