John Clough and his spouse KT (Katherine), as well as cats Oreo and Wewe, live in a neat rambler in Chester Virginia, about 15 miles outside of Richmond. Linda and I traveled to visit John and view his cast iron collection in September, 2018.
John is a painter by trade and cast-iron collector by choice. John has been collecting vintage and antique cast iron for only about four or five years, but he has a large and significant collection – particularly of Lodge and Loth.1 John’s primary interest is Lodge; he learns everything he can about the business, history, and production. As John says, “I want to know everything about what I collect.”
When John moved into his home about 10 years ago, he found two cast iron skillets had been left in the oven. One was a Griswold small logo number 7; the second was a Birmingham Stove & Range (“BSR”) Century Series number 10. John researched the history of the skillets, and it ignited a small spark of interest. That spark grew as he watched a particular cast iron cooking show with a friend; he decided to start a collection.
John and I joked about how for some of us, a “small spark” of interest becomes a full-blown obsession. For John, that was indeed the case. That is how he does most things. He doesn’t do things halfway; he moves full-bore ahead. Before he started to purchase iron, he began doing research and learning about the different manufacturers and the iron.
John made a deliberate choice to focus on Lodge when he began collecting. He figured that old Lodge pieces were more readily available than some other manufacturers such as Griswold, and at least back then were more reasonably priced. John also appreciates that with Lodge, he’ll never be “done.” “I’ll never finish it in my life.” Lodge is the longest-running American cast-iron foundry – Joseph Lodge founded the company back in 1896 – and they are still in production. John respects that Lodge is and always has been run by family members, who are dedicated to protecting the Lodge name, reputation, and product.
John is very committed to his hobby. He spends about 5 hours a day on the Internet and studies everything he can find about Lodge. He examines the old pieces, looking for variations and factual explanations for the variations. He questions commonly-held beliefs in his search for provable facts. John is inquisitive. He doesn’t take things at face value – he researches, investigates, and challenges statements presented as fact before he accepts them as so.
John has found through experience that while certain things may be presented as fact, it may not be the case. As he says, “the iron won’t lie to you.” For example, John once located a sealed box of new old stock Lodge skillets marked with the date of 1984. Given what he had read about Lodge production timeframes, John expected to find inside a set of skillets marked with the Lodge “large logo,” which Lodge began producing in 1974. Instead, he found skillets marked with the prefix “SK” (“skillet”), markings that John had previously believed were phased out in 1974.
Given his research, John has concluded the timeline for the Lodge “SK,” “large logo” and small “drop circle” logos is as follows:
- “SK” or other lettering prefix (such as “DO” for Dutch oven) 1965 – 1992.
- “Large logo” egg in skillet begins 1974, ends 1992.
- “Small logo” “drop circle” egg in skillet introduced in 1992.
Of course, John has sets of the no-notch, one-notch, and three-notch heat ring unmarked Lodge cast iron skillets. I asked John about the timeline for those skillets. The standard given timeframes are:
- “No notch” 1910 – 1930
- “Single notch” 1930 – 1940
- “Three notch” 1940 – 1992 with some variations throughout that timeframe.
John believes that there was overlap in production between the no-notch and single-notch skillets, and has been studying to either prove or disprove that theory. He enjoys the challenge, and likes to take the position of “devil’s advocate” with other cast iron enthusiasts. For example, to John it doesn’t make sense that Lodge would keep the business afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930s by making novelty items such as gnomes and doorstops, as has been posited. As he says, “If you can’t afford to put food on the table, why would you buy a doorstop?” He also holds the opinion that when Cahill Iron Works 2 went out of business in 1922, Lodge either purchased their patterns or hired their pattern makers, as Lodge’s production significantly ramped up after that time.
The Lodge “arc logo” pans are presently believed to have been produced 1910 – 1940, in both single and no-notch variations. John is on the hunt for proof of the timeframe; he is of the opinion that arc logo production started later than presently believed.
John would like to see Lodge start up a collector’s club, where others who share the same passion for Lodge iron can connect and share information with each other and with the company. John appreciates other collectors who are interested in the iron and the history; not just people who want to know, “How much is this worth?” John told me about the “collector’s tent” that Lodge sponsored in 2017 for the first time at the annual cornbread festival in South Pittsburg. He’d like to see that concept expanded and formalized into a Lodge-sanctioned collector’s club.
John is well-connected within the vintage cast iron collecting community. He is always on the hunt for unusual pieces, whether Lodge, Loth, or other. John finds his iron from a number of different sources. He makes trades, and also watches eBay and other online sources. He has “pickers” who keep an eye out for him and notify him when they find pieces he may find of interest. On a recent occasion when I spoke with John, he showed me photos of a skillet that a picker had found for him. John was excited about the find, and quickly told the picker to buy the pan.
John even has a friend who lives in Japan who purchases and ships Lodge products to him from Japan. I had not known that Lodge exported goods to Japan. According to John, there is a large market for Lodge products in Japan, and Lodge exports certain items to Japan that you cannot find and purchase in the United States. It was very interesting to see some of these products that John has acquired!
John’s advice to new collectors? Listen and learn. Focus on one manufacturer and learn all you can about the pieces. Don’t willy-nilly start buying everything you find. If you need a particular piece, wait for it. John believes in karma – if you are meant to have it, it will come to you.
John is an administrator on three cast-iron-related Facebook groups: Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association (“GCICA”), Lodge and BSR Cast Iron, and Cast Iron Cookware Identification. He is very generous about sharing his extensive knowledge about Lodge with others in these groups. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned collector or new to the hobby; John will help. John’s willingness to share is illustrated by his response to me when I first contacted him, out of the blue. He said, “I am a Lodge collector. How can I help?”
If you have questions about vintage and antique Lodge cast iron cookware, you can reach out to John on the GCICA Facebook page. He’s the one with a cartoon-type character as a profile picture.The character is a longer-haired painter wearing a bandana and wielding a paint roller extension pole as a guitar. John wouldn’t let me take his photo on our visit – he doesn’t want to be that “out there” in the public – but I’ll tell you this: he resembles his profile picture. And when I opened a small silicone Lodge container that John has, it was filled with guitar picks.
Selected pieces from the collection of John Clough
*all product information and identification provided by John Clough.
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