Griswold Cookware

Collectors and collections, History and Stories

Griswold, Lodge, Wagner, Favorite, Wapak, and More!

Griswold Cookware

Collectors and Collections,
History and Stories

Griswold, Lodge, Wagner, Favorite, Wapak, and More!

Larry and Marg O’Neil and their Magnificent Cast Iron Collection

Larry and Marg O’Neil with 11 pineapple upside-down cakes (Larry’s specialty) made in number 9 vintage cast iron skillets for a benefit.

Larry and Marg O’Neil have what some believe to be the largest collection of vintage and antique cast iron cookware in the United States. I tease them by calling them the rock stars of the cast iron collecting world.

In addition to the article that Josh Miller – then Editor of Southern Cast Iron and now Senior Food Editor at Southern Living – and I wrote about their collection (here) after our first visit, Marg and Larry and their collection have been featured in “Collector’s Island” and on the Lodge Cast Iron website.

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An aisle on the mezzanine of the O’Neil cast iron museum.

Larry started the O’Neil cast iron collecting journey some years back. His mother and grandmother had cooked in cast iron, and Larry asked his mother if he could have the skillet hanging on the kitchen wall. His mother said “no,” as Larry’s sister had already asked for it. Undeterred, Larry set out to get his own. He purchased a Griswold and a Wagner skillet for $8 at a thrift store. This small purchase ignited a spark in Larry that turned into a flame and then a blazing inferno.

The O’Neils estimate that they have about 15,000 pieces of vintage and antique cast iron. They keep the collection in several locations, including their private cast iron museum – a large multi-level pole barn on their farm property just outside of Tacoma, Washington.

The Abbreviated O’Neil Story

Marg and Larry met in grade school and were high school sweethearts. They were married on March 2, 1957, when Marg was 19 and Larry 21.

Marg and Larry on their wedding day.
o'neil cast iron museum collect collection larry marg collector antique vintage largest biggest mosttacoma wa
Larry and Marg in the museum beneath the “Big O’s” banner. Larry was (and is) known as “Big O” in the grocery business. At one time Larry was President of the Washington State Grocer’s Association. He also served on the Public Affairs Committee for the Food Marketing Institute.

They have two adult sons – Jerry (Stephanie) and Mark (Melissa), 5 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.

Marg is opinionated and outspoken – the word “spitfire” comes to mind.1 Larry is more reserved and studied, though he is a man of action. As Larry puts it, Marg prefers that he make the major decisions in their relationship. Once the decision is made, however, Marg ensures that implementation of the decision does not fail.

Marg and Larry have always been hard workers. Early in their marriage, Larry worked as the head truck mechanic for St. Regis (now Champion) Paper Company. When Marg became restless after having children, however, she says “Larry bought me a store.” Marg then ran the store while Larry worked at St. Regis.

In 1965 Larry quit St. Regis and devoted his time to their grocery store. That one store turned into a chain of 5 grocery stores and 38 years of hard work in the grocery business. As Larry told me, “we didn’t know anything [about the grocery business], but we knew how to work.”

As an example, Larry learned how to cut meat when they realized that one of their stores was losing money on meat cutting. He built that skill and eventually, that store became the largest wild game processor in Western Washington State. Marg recalls their young boys standing on milk crates alongside Larry and helping to cut meat, while Marg wrapped and boned.

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French roll pans awaiting cleaning and sorting in one of the outbuildings on the O’Neil farmland outside of Tacoma. Larry looks for differences, however slight, in each piece. If a piece is identical to one they already have, the O’Neils sell it. Otherwise, it is kept for their collection.

I have two stories that to me encapsulate the essence of Marg and Larry.

The first story involves some misguided young soul who threw some coins at Marg when she wouldn’t sell him a beer at one of their grocery stores without proper identification. Larry stepped in, and the young man hit Larry. Larry punched the man in the face, breaking his nose. Meanwhile, Marg jumped on the back of the young man’s friend and pulled his hair. Police were called. When Larry was called to testify at trial, Marg sat in the galley animatedly nodding her head “yes” or “no” when she agreed or disagreed with Larry’s testimony. She was twice chastised by the judge for her head nods. If you’ve met Marg and Larry, you can completely envision this scenario; Marg is irrepressible.

My second favorite story is from the day I first met Marg and Larry. I tried to buy a piece of iron from them at a swap meet. Larry was very sweet and smiling as he showed me the piece and told me its history. We were settling on a price when Marg walked behind Larry, heard what he was about to sell it to me for, said “No,” and kept walking. Larry apparently wasn’t charging me enough.

Marg and Larry are true life partners. You rarely see one without the other. They make each other’s interests their own. They stay very busy despite their retirement from the grocery business. They own properties that are leased to businesses and are also engaged in various philanthropic and community activities. They are Life Members of both Ducks Unlimited and the Eatonville & Gig Harbor Gun Club. Additionally, as Larry put it to me, they “raise a few cows and clean cast iron.” Why yes…yes, they do.

The O’Neil Iron Cast Iron Collection and Museum

The O’Neil collection of vintage and antique cast iron (and cast aluminum) is on display in, on, and around their beautiful Tacoma Washington home as well as in their private cast iron museum on their farmland just outside of Tacoma. While they say it’s around 15,000 pieces, I’d wager that it’s far more than that.

Larry and Marg O'Neil of Tacoma WA with vintage Lodge commemorative and advertising cast iron skillets to the side.
Larry and Marg O’Neil in front of a wall of vintage Lodge cast iron commemorative and advertising skillets at their home in Tacoma, Washington.
A piece of iron in the O’Neil front garden.

Marg originally said Larry couldn’t bring the iron into the house. Then she said he had to confine it to the basement of the home. Well, it slowly crept its way upstairs and iron pieces are now weaved into the decor throughout the home – inside and out. They even have a towel stand in a bathroom that is crafted from a Griswold double burner.

As their iron collection continued to grow, they started to bring iron to their farmland. The iron soon began to fill the buildings on their farmland.

The O’Neil farm property hosts a house and several outbuildings. One of the outbuildings is a gigantic 4500 square foot multi-level pole barn called the museum. The museum is chock-full of cast iron pieces from many manufacturers.2

Larry’s aim has been to learn about and collect one of each and every piece and variation of vintage and antique cast iron cookware; both those manufactured by large well-known foundries and those old pieces for which the maker is unknown. While Larry’s favorite manufacturer of old iron is Griswold, he is also keenly interested in antique cast iron pieces from unknown manufacturers. He is more interested in the iron itself than in the “name” on the piece. Larry appreciates the craftsmanship in the old iron. He is intrigued by unusual pieces and looks for small differences or variations.

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Josh Miller standing on the main floor of the O’Neil cast iron museum.

Each piece in the O’Neil collection is different from the rest. For example, the O’Neils have a number of Griswold Santa molds. While at first blush the Santa molds appear the same, on close inspection each has a difference, however slight. As Larry explained it to me, Griswold used a wood pattern for their Santa mold. As the wood pattern dried and aged, it began to crack. Those cracks account for the line seen on the bag of some of the authentic Santas. The line on the bag became longer as the wood aged.3

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Some of the O’Neil Santa molds. Each is different from the other.

Larry and Marg learn all they can about each piece through research, hard work, and conversations with other collectors. They both agree that they have learned the most from other cast iron collectors in the two national collecting groups, the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association and the Wagner and Griswold Society. They have also studied the reference books written by David C. Smith and Chuck Wafford (commonly called the “Blue” and “Red” books), as well as the Griswold Muffin Pan book written by Jon B. Haussler.

Larry also has a very large collection of cast iron paper ephemera for many different companies, including catalogs, advertising, orders, price sheets, and much more. These old papers are a great source of information. I have spent days looking through their boxes of ephemera, but haven’t begun to absorb all that they have.

Some of the Special Pieces at the O’Neil Home

In addition to the many small pieces that the O’Neils display in their kitchen and dining area, iron is scattered in other areas of the home – both inside and out. The O’Neil’s basement is filled with thousands of pieces of rare and unusual iron and aluminum by different manufacturers. Larry has carefully arranged them into different sections. There are three rooms piled full of stacks of iron and aluminum – on the floor and shelves, and hanging from the walls and rafters.

I made seven videos of the iron and aluminum collection contained at the O’Neil home in Tacoma, Washington. You can view them on my youtube video channel, here. In the meantime, here is a little slideshow of some of the special pieces at the O’Neil home for your viewing pleasure.

**Note – most of the photos were taken by, and are provided courtesy of, Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography.

O'Neil kitchen. Cast iron pans on wall clockwise L to R: Favorite corn pone pan, Stag's Head cake pan, Favorite Piqua Ware double corn bread pan, ERIE clock (on adjacent wall), and Griswold "ERIE" Spider skillet. Griswold electric single waffle iron. One of only 3 known. According to the story, a Griswold employee's wife wanted a single waffle maker, so three were made. Lids and knobs are attached to the bottom and serve as feet for the waffle maker. Griswold burglar alarm. You'll have to get Larry to tell you the story! O'Neil kitchen. Griswold Quaker ware. Griswold loaf pan and lid. Prototype for Wagner Magnalite sauce pan which was never put into production. The handle was too heavy and caused the pan to tip. Grouping of mortars and pestles. Griswold skillet stand. Set of Wagner oval roasters. Quaker ware - a favorite of Marg's. Bundt pan pattern. Unusual gem pan. Griswold pattern - prototype for a small logo no. 13? Wagner-made aluminum prison plate and cup. Small Crescent stove with toy pieces on cooktop. O'Neil dining room. Pretty skillet sets in the O'Neil basement. Set of Griswold chromed cast iron skillets. Brand-new with label. Griswold Scotch bowl pattern. Divided aluminum pan. Griswold employee 20-year commemorative pin. Just a few of the many enameled pieces at the O'Neil home. Rare Wagner fondue pot. Beautiful red enameled pieces. The enameled pieces are some of Marg's favorites. Set of Griswold skillets. Set of Favorite Piqua Ware skillets with label. One of a triplicate set of aluminum sauce pans. Unusual Griswold no. 14 large block logo EPU skillet. Griswold milk box. "Dixie" cast iron pieces. Toy waffle irons. Griswold cake molds. A wall of Wagners. Marg showing me her favorite "users" - a number 4 Griswold skillet and a single-hole handle Wagner shallow skillet. Marg and Josh admiring some of the enameled pieces in the basement of the O'Neil home. Griswold "Mother and Daughter Set" with original box and backboard. Lunchbox with succulents in the O'Neil garden. Favorite Stove & Range heater. Griswold Classic no. 40 heater. Shelves in the O'Neil basement with pretty enamel pieces; ashtrays hanging on wall. Griswold pieces on the wall in the O'Neil home. Skillets on a rack on the floor of the O'Neil basement. Griswold lids. More skillets in the O'Neil home. Larry showing us an old catalog. Wagner calculator. Larry showing us an unusual vegetable cleaner, and telling us its history. Favorite toy waffle iron. Wagner Ware pocket knife and pencil. Rare Griswold nursery sauce pan with alcohol burner and original box. Rare Griswold chromed iron (front) and cast aluminum (rear) cowboy hat ash trays. Toy Griswold aluminum pieces and many pups by different makers. Each is different from all the other. Large oval roaster with trivet. Griswold skillet with removable section divider. Quaker Ware saucepan on display in Marg and Larry’s kitchen. Linda showing off one of the O'Neils' "Naughty Nellies." Made by different manufacturers.  Tiny commemorative Griswold waffle iron with March 1888 calendar contained inside paddles. Tiny Enterprise sad irons. The handles are removable. Very delicate and rare. A variety of mailboxes on a wall at the O'Neil home. Rare Griswold cast iron "indestructible" mailbox. New old stock aluminum Griswold skillets with wood handles.

A Teeny-Tiny Bit of the Cast Iron Museum

o'neil cast iron museum collect collection larry marg collector antique vintage largest biggest most tacoma wa
Panoramic view of the O’Neil cast iron museum. Photo by S.Lamb Photography, all rights reserved.

There are at least three buildings on the O’Neil farmland that house cast iron. One building has pieces of iron that Larry is in the process of sorting and also has some iron and stoves (and more!) on display. Another building has pieces that the O’Neils are selling. The third building is the mother lode – the cast iron museum.

o'neil cast iron museum collect collection larry marg collector antique vintage largest biggest most cascade stove tacoma wa
Larry’s Grandmother’s Cascade stove.

The pieces in the museum are carefully arranged and sorted. In general, different areas of the museum showcase pieces by one manufacturer, or a certain type of piece. The O’Neil collection includes pieces by many different manufacturers including Griswold, Wagner, Martin, King Stove, Atlanta Stove Works, Favorite, Favorite Piqua Ware, Lodge, Mi-Pet, Ozark, Marietta, Sperry, Filley, Charter Oak, Mt. Penn., Barstow (a favorite of Marg and Larry’s), Findlay, McClary, old gate marked pieces, and more. There are “oddball” pieces from unknown makers, and many pieces from established foundries. Each piece in the museum is different from all of the others – each has a variation, however slight.

I made four videos of the O’Neil cast iron museum. It is impossible to take it all in at once; it’s that overwhelming. You can see the videos on my youtube video channel, here.

Feast your eyes on just a few photos from the museum.

**Note: Most of the photos were taken by, and are provided courtesy of, Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography.

Sign at the entrance of the O'Neil farmland. Shot from the mezzanine of the O'Neil cast iron museum. Vintage and antique cast iron pans awaiting sorting. One of the O'Neil grocery carts put into service holding cast iron pans. Griswold retail sales display. Tobacco cutters Framed advertisement in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Antique gate-marked skillets in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Sad irons and heater in the O'Neil museum. Two patterns hanging in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Mt. Rainier on the horizon from the O'Neil farmland. Small skillets hanging in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Collection of vintage electric waffle irons in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Old gate-marked skillet in one of the O'Neil farm outbuildings. Row of waffle irons in the O'Neil museum. This is the one family piece that Larry has: his grandmother's Cascade stove. Part of the section of Lodge pieces in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Sad irons and burners in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Wapak and Favorite cookware pieces. Photo from a Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Ass'n chapter meet held at the museum. Wood box holding Griswold retail sales display. Larry O'Neil in his museum. Small toy skillets hanging in the O'Neil cast iron museum; sad irons on the shelf. An aisle on the mezzanine of the O'Neil cast iron museum. Antique and Vintage Lodge Cast Iron Teakettle and Dutch Ovens on Stand with Waffle Irons in Background O'Neil farmland. Vintage Lodge teakettle top. Small antique Quick Meal oven in one of the O'Neil outbuildings. Antique and Vintage Cast Iron Small Skillet and Pup Patterns in the O'Neil cast iron museum. Vintage Aluminum Coffee Pots and Percolators in the O'Neil Cast Iron Museum Wall of Antique and Vintage Cast Iron Trivets and Sad Iron Trivets in the O'Neil Cast Iron Museum Josh Miller, Larry & Marg O'Neil

I am very fortunate to have met Larry and Marg, spent time with them and shared their stories, and viewed their collection. They are one of a kind, as is their collection.

From the collection of Larry and Marg O’Neil.
  1. It is a point of pride for Marg that she has been placed in Facebook “jail” on more than one occasion.
  2. Larry and Marg are glad to give tours of the museum by advance appointment. You can request an appointment by emailing Larry at
  3. You can see photos of both authentic and reproduction Griswold Santas, as well as the “line” on the bag to which I refer, here.

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