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Argyle Chair
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Waffling Around


I recently purchased an old electric waffle iron at a garage sale. Are these things collectible and can I still use it?



Mmmmmmm. Just the mention of waffles reminds any people of the smell of them baking on a cold Sunday morning, then smothered in butter and warm maple syrup, and perhaps topped with strawberries and whipped cream.

Depending on the age of an electric waffle iron, it has the potential to be collectible. Small appliances like this are just coming into their own as collectibles. However, for those who plan to use a waffle iron, they should have the appliance checked out and the wire replaced with a higher-voltage cord by a certified appliance repair dealer. Once that’s done and the waffle iron cleaned up, it will be ready to make delicious old-time waffles.

Before the waffle iron became electrified, the making of waffles had an interesting history. Traditional waffle irons consisted of two hinged metal plates, molded to create a honeycomb pattern, attached to two long handles which the maker held over a wood fire to bake the batter poured between them, one side at a time. Knowing when to turn the iron took skill learned by trial and error since these early waffle irons had no temperature controls.

History of the Waffle Iron
Some historians believe the waffle dates back to ancient Greece, when Athenians baked obelios—flat cakes held between two metal plates—over hot coals. The word waffle evolved from wafer, one of the only foods early Catholics could eat during fasting periods because they contained no milk, eggs, or animal fats. Monks were the only ones making these wafers until the late 12th century, when lay bakeries began making a tastier version which they called “waffres,” which meant flat, honeycomb cakes.

Eventually, waffle iron makers molded the plates with religious symbols and the familiar honeycomb pattern, which originally meant to represent interlocking crosses. In 1270, a guild to train the street vendors who sold waffles came into existence.

Peasants soon began making their own flour and water waffles, although some started adding eggs and honey to make them lighter and sweeter. Even Geoffrey Chaucer mentions waffles in his Canterbury Tales: "He sent her sweetened wine and well-spiced ale/ And waffles piping hot out of the fire."

Waffles became a staple of the Dutch diet by the 1620s and early immigrants brought them to New Amsterdam, eventually to become New York.

In the 18th century, slaves who were cooks were responsible for making waffles. African-Americans became highly skilled at making them, and the first cookbook ever written by an African-American, published in 1881,contains a waffle recipe. And slaves also made waffles for themselves. Waffles were expensive and time-consuming to make, but the slaves combined them with leftover chicken to make an exotic dish that came to be a special-occasion meal in African American families.

But the waffle wouldn’t achieve nationwide appeal until Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790s as a souvenir. He had his cook make and serve them at the White House, which helped popularize "waffle parties."

It wasn’t until 1869 that Cornelius Swarthout patented the first waffle iron in the U.S. What made his waffle iron unique was that he joined the cast iron plates by a hinge that swiveled in a cast-iron collar.

Soon after the invention of electricity in the late 1860s came the electric waffle iron. Lucas D. Sneeringer of New Oxford, Pennsylvania, designed the first electric heating elements that used a built-in thermostat to prevent overheating, a common problem with early versions. With his revolutionary design and General Electric funding, the first electric waffle iron rolled off the assembly line on July 26, 1911.

Most modern waffle irons are self-contained tabletop electrical appliances, heated by an electric heating element controlled by an internal thermostat. Many have a light that goes off when the iron is at the set temperature. Most modern waffle irons are coated with a non-stick coating to prevent the waffles from sticking to them.

In 1918 housewives were clamoring for one of those newfangled electric waffle irons advertised by Landers, Fray and Clark. By the 1930, manufacturers introduced round chrome and steel irons, newly stylized with an Art Deco flair and imaginative porcelain tile inserts or Bakelite handles. The late 1940s and early 1950s brought cooks the option of square waffles and the reversible grid, which converted from waffle iron to sandwich grill.

While the first electric waffle iron did the job—the process of making waffles this way is a relatively simple one—it didn’t look very pretty. So designers set about making the exterior of the waffle iron more attractive. Other innovations, like an iron that could cook two waffles at the same time, soon followed. Charles M. Cole invented the first twin waffle iron in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1939 when Karl Ratliff designed the "Twin-O-Matic" for the New York World's fair that it really caught on with the public.

By the time the 1939 New York World’s Fair rolled around, Art Deco design had influenced everything from dishes to utensils and small appliances. Some waffle irons, like the Hotpoint waffle iron by Edison General Electric, became works of art in themselves. Some resembled flying saucers, having lost their legs and taking on a lower, sleeker look. One of these was General Electric’s Diana, designed by August Propernick. Toastmaster and Sunbeam soon got in on the act and began producing their own electric waffle irons.

While there is no set standard of classification for waffle shapes or thicknesses, models that fall within the most common shapes and thicknesses are often labeled as "traditional" or "classic". Models that make thicker and/or larger pocketed waffles are often labeled as "Belgian" waffle makers. In 1964 Maurice Vermersch introduces the Brussels waffle recipe at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

Later waffle irons lost their legs and stands and became lower and sleeker, some resembling flying saucers. A favorite Art Deco design is GE's Diana, designed by industrial designer August Propernick and produced for 12 years. Other models include a long-popular Toastmaster Model 2D2 automatic chrome-plated waffle iron manufactured from 1939 to 1959, selling for $195, and the Sunbeam CG Waffle Iron from the mid-1950s, featuring removable cooking grids for waffles and optional flat grilling plates, for $135.

One of the best things about collecting old electric waffle irons is that many still work perfectly. Electric appliances from the 1930s to the 1960s were designed to last, and lots of them are almost as good as new. All that heavy chrome cleans up beautifully and the stylized shapes make a desirable "retro"statement in today's kitchen. Names like General Electric, Westinghouse, and Hotpoint(by GE). Of course, any frayed or questionable wiring should be replaced before use.

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