Antique Cook Stoves: Wood & Propane Varieties of the Past

Updated May 24, 2022
Cast Iron Range cook stove

Antique cook stoves were once considered the heart of the historic home. As the stove warmed the kitchen, the aromas of freshly baking bread, simmering stew, and roasting meat filled the room, and for many decades, they were the most advanced cooking technology available. While contemporary kitchen gadgets with their bluetooth compatibility and touch screen displays are a far cry from the cast iron stoves of the past, they can easily be replaced by the workhorse cook stoves of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Different Types of Antique Cook Stoves

Home appliances like stoves have gone through quite an evolution in the past few hundred years since they've been largely available in the home, and the antique cook stoves resulted in a distinctive aesthetic for the period they were popular in. Yet, not every home was equipped with the same kind of stove, and the ones that can serve you best might not serve your neighbor as well. Thus, you should get an idea of which stoves are out there and which call to you.

Antique Cast Iron Stoves

1920s wood burning stove

Although there were experimentation and developments being made in the area of wood cook stoves in the 18th century, they really didn't come into fashion for use in American homes until the mid-19th century. Made from heavy cast iron, some were left in classic country simplicity, while others were ornately detailed and nickel plated in true Victorian style. Many of the wood-burning stoves could also use coal as a fuel source, making them versatile and central fixtures of the historic homestead.

Some of the most popular brands that manufactured cook stoves include:

  • Chattanooga Stove Company
  • Michigan Stove Company
  • Grander Stove Company
  • Wehrle Stove Factory
  • Glenwood Stove Company
  • Rock Island Stove Company
  • Northwestern Stove Works

Antique Propane Stoves

In the early 20th century, antique propane cook stoves grew in popularity. Fueled by liquid propane gas, the stoves, which were known as ranges, were more sleekly designed than the earlier wood burning cook stoves. The lines of the gas stoves were also much cleaner and straighter than their rustic predecessors.

Both culture and lifestyles were changing during this period; focus was shifting away from the home and towards the workplace. Propane stoves aligned with these new sentiments as they allowed homeowners more free time since they didn't have to spend as much time regulating temperature and watching over the things they were cooking.

Antique Combination Cook Stoves

Antique Chambers Stove 1930s Martha Washington Model

During the first quarter of the 20th century, stove manufacturers such as Richardson & Bonyton offered homeowners a unique combination of ways to fuel their stoves with either gas or wood. Styles of the combination stoves included:

  • Classic country
  • Victorian
  • Retro design

The Art of Cooking on an Antique Cook Stove

When you think back to the time when your grandparents or great-grandparents cooked on a wood fueled stove, you realize that using the stove was in itself an art. The cook had to know when wood had to be added and when the fire needed to be stoked. Thus, if you're thinking about actually using an antique cook stove, then you should know about a few differences between the way you use them and the way you operate a modern stove/oven.

Ovens and Burners

Many antique wood cook stoves were made with two ovens. The larger oven was used for cooking casseroles, roasts, or meals in a Dutch oven, and the smaller of the two ovens was used for baking bread and cakes.

Typically, the stoves had at least two burners on top, but they could have up to six. Unlike today, it was common practice to designate individual burners for a specific job. For example, one burner would only be used to boil, while another would only be used to simmer.

Some of the antique stoves were equipped with a mechanism that slid out and allowed the amount of heat that reached the burner to be adjusted by the cook. In this way, the cook was able to control the burner's heat, producing a simmer, slow boil, or full boil.

Antique Cook Stoves Heat Up the Auction Circuit

Antique Franklin Wood Stove

Antique cook stoves, like many other appliances, can be a costly addition to your home. The most expensive antique cook stoves are on the larger size and have been professionally restored. Thanks to the sprucing up that a restoration does for these stoves, their average values are between $1,000-$5,000. Smaller stoves, such as ones with a single cabinet, will usually sell for under $1,000, even if they've been restored.

These antique cook stoves that've recently come to auction show just how varied the values can be for these historic appliances:

Important Things to Know Before Buying an Antique Cook Stove

1920s housewife cooking at stove

Imagine that you're overjoyed because you got an insane deal on one of these antique cook stoves, and you're counting down the days until you can outfit it into your little cottage. Joke's on you when it arrives, and you have no one to help you move it out of the middle of your yard, and there's no one to call because you haven't planned for this arrival to be an entire process. To avoid this becoming your fate, there are a few things you should know about antique cook stoves before ordering one:

  • They're dramatically heavy - Antique cook stoves are tremendously heavy, upwards of 500 pounds thanks to them being cast iron stoves. Thus, if you have any inclination to purchase one of these stoves, then you should make sure to have a small army with you to move it in and install it.
  • They're fire hazards - Don't let the cottage core veneer of social media make you forget that antique cook stoves (and any wood-burning stoves in general) are fire hazards. You can very easily set things on fire because of how hot the stoves can get. Make sure you've planned out where you're going to put it and have the right accommodations in place before installing it.
  • They're costly to keep up - These rare stoves often require parts that aren't easy for laypeople to get. So, if you're thinking about getting an antique cook stove, you might want to consider finding one that's already been restored or having it restored before putting it to work in your house.
  • They're not a heating system replacement - Unlike what you may have been lead to believe, antique cook stoves don't have the power to heat an entire home (mostly because of efficiency reason and the size of modern houses), so don't expect to use your stoves as a replacement for your heating system in the winter months.

Antique Cook Stove Restoration

While there's a moderate number of usable antique cook stoves on the market, there are far more that aren't because of how much repair they need. Thankfully, there are so many craftsmen with the knowledge and skills to restore them to their original, magnificent beauty. Emery Pineo, owner of The Stove Hospital, has been restoring antique cook stoves for more than 30 years. Mr. Pineo, known as the stove whisperer, carefully disassembles, cleans and rebuilds each stove by hand, bringing it back to the condition that it was when it was first made.

Additional places to get your antique cook stoves restored include:

Antique Appliances That Are Piping Hot

Whether you read the famous books or just watched the series, chances are high that you're someone who'd love to get their own Little House on the Prairie moment. Armed with prairie core aesthetics and an antique cook stove, you can bring your homesteading dreams to life.

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Antique Cook Stoves: Wood & Propane Varieties of the Past