If you purchase an old cast iron skillet or dutch oven, you really should have it stripped back to bare iron and re-seasoned. I’m going to explain why.
First of all, it brings back the original beauty of the item, and allows you to find any makers marks. As long as the process is done correctly can actually enhance the value. Do it wrong, and you can destroy the value – monetarily and historical. Secondly, you’ll find out if the pan has been used for anything other than cooking.
Many of these old pieces were made and used during a time when people didn’t know lead and other chemicals were dangerous. So giving that seasoned 100 year old pan a scrub in soap and water won’t tell you lies underneath.
It’s buyer beware, strip that iron.
One good example is this old gate marked, steel handled sauce pot. It looked ok, good layer of seasoning. This was used for cooking but after the lye bath and electrolysis, lead started to appear while I was scrubbing it. It’s all over the bottom and the sides, so at some point early in it’s life, someone used it as a crucible for melting lead. To my knowledge, there is no way of cleaning this to remove all the lead so it’s not a usable pot. Very disappointing.
Another piece is a Griswold 701 skillet, put through the lye bath and electrolysis, good scrubbing with stainless steel wool and still won’t come clean. There are markings up the sides of the skillet – and on the cooking surface. The marks on the sides are akin to legs in a glass of wine, it’s black, and I don’t know what it is – so it’s another pan that cannot be used. No sense in chancing it, one can only assume that something other than food was cooked in this pan.
If you have any suspicious pieces, send some pics, it’s good for people to see old iron that’s probably not safe to use. firstname.lastname@example.org