This post is a bit different than the others, in that the rabbit hole down which I found myself plunging took me much deeper than usual. It also came to a completely different conclusion than expected—or than is even commonly thought.
If you are a cast iron collector or enthusiast, however invested in the hobby, please read this post to the end. It addresses pitfalls and traps that are true of any research endeavor, but specific to cast iron in this case. In short, this is a post about pervasive misconceptions and assumptions, and the incredibly tall order that is un-ringing a bell in the age of the Internet.
Krone Kast collectors or enthusiasts, or just generally people who have a piece of Krone Kast and want to know what you’ve got, pay particularly close attention.
If you know me well, or if you barely know me at all but have read to the end of this sentence, you know that I am in love with Germany. It started as just looking at a school that seemed amazing, then German was the only language available that fit my schedule. Then it blossomed into…well…sorting out a move there.
So naturally, as a lover of cast iron cookware, I started screaming when I read that Krone Kast was apparently a brand made in the very early 20th century (1906-1924), in Germany. I was thrilled and had to get some of it. More than that, I had to find out how many different pieces were produced. And then get all of them.
For the first several months of my hunt, nothing was turning up. I would search for sales and auctions apparently just too late, as items would come up that had been sold just days prior. Comments on Facebook posts offering them would go without response.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, I received a direct message from someone who saw one of my comments. “Hi! Are you still looking for a Krone Kast skillet?” I was! And not only that, I had missed this sale by hours earlier the same week. He hadn’t seen one like this. He didn’t quite want it, but wanted to have a look before posting it for sale.
And he was right. This was an odd one. Not the usual skillet I would see popping up now and again. This one has no pour lips, and was a bit smaller in diameter than the others I had seen.
It also had a handle that was COMPLETELY different from what else I had seen. And apparently a rim along the perimeter of the top, which made me think this was 1/2 of what’s called a combo cooker. Two (or more) pieces that can be used on their own or combined for more versatility.
Truth be told, I didn’t quite like this design as much as what I had seen. It was also HEAVY. Not the heaviest, but not the lightest. Certainly much heavier than any other early 20th century piece I had come across. The casting was also…different than I expected. Not poor, but not up to the quality I had expected from a German master craftsman.
But with the unmistakable Krone Kast logo on the bottom, it fit my criteria and several days later it showed up. And the real research began.
I quickly found another piece, identical to mine except it was 3” deep. I couldn’t find any for sale, but a ruler is a ruler. I then logged in my brain that what I had was the lid portion of a combo cooker. The base is usually the larger bit. Next I found another piece, identical except it was a bit over 1” deep. It threw me off s bit but suggested either this was a three piece combo cooker, or there was a mysterious fourth piece.
Still hoping to find a skillet for sale, I started looking through sold pieces and asking around in groups. Every Krone Kast skillet I could find was the same size. Some said size 8, some said 7, all measured right around 10 1/8” at the widest point. Why would there be only one size? Was this just a four-piece cook set?
I decided to flex my German a bit, and headed over to Google and eBay .de, and also found a couple other sales sites. It took me a bit to sort out the keywords used over there. And I found nothing. NOTHING.
Now, this was very weird to me. Krone is a company in Germany. They’re still around. Bernard Krone Holding, SE & Co. KG. They’re in Spelle, Germany (in fact they seem to be the Pride of Spelle). Not only that, but they’re fourth generation owned. Still the Krone family.
And they are VERY proud of this lineage. Going back to Bernard Krone starting as a blacksmith in 1896, there are photographs of him and his wife, Anna, with whom he founded the company. There are pictures of the original smithy, and even where he worked BEFORE founding Krone. Not a single mention of cast iron. Just blacksmithing. Farm equipment.
And the hole got deeper.
I spent hours on their website. Reading their history and looking through all the pictures on the website for THEIR MUSEUM. That’s right. Krone is such a big deal they have their own museum. Complete with a mock fireplace set up with Bernard’s tools. His smithing tools. They’ve got their own hotel so you can make a weekend of it.
Hundreds of pieces of machinery. Countless pictures. Timelines. They even have books. 100 Years of Krone, published in 2006, and 110 Years of Krone published in 2016.
I found a couple of documentaries on their history. They’re an important family in Spelle. Krone made several innovations in farming equipment. On the wall in one of their houses is the original certification of Bernard Krone having become a master blacksmith. In 1903. Almost 10,000 people attended Bernard’s funeral. He took his son out of school after a couple of years and told him he would learn more in the smithy than he ever would at school. This is a company and family absolutely dripping with pride and history.
Not a single mention of cast iron.
Unexpectedly, it did mention that their early stores also sold glass and porcelain housewares. Here’s a company built on iron. On blacksmithing. On master craftsmanship. And they…mention the porcelain plates manufactured elsewhere and sold in the store where their tools were sold, but they don’t mention their cookware.
I soon found a skillet and gleefully bought it. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I needed that skillet or I would be searching on Google for 9 hours a week for the rest of time. It was at this point I swallowed my nervousness about German, and decided to email them.
A few days later I got an email back from Krone press secretary Martina Schulz.
In Krone’s early years, their store sold iron wares and ovens made by other manufacturers. It’s thought that he repaired iron, but if Bernard himself ever made ovens, etc., it isn’t known.
Ok. Not quite what I was hoping, but I was finally getting somewhere definitive. Answers were coming. I just had to muster up enough elementary school German to ask Frau Schulz another question.
This time I sent along the pictures of the logos on my skillets. I asked her if these were attributed to Krone at any point in their history, as they closely resemble the logos on their old farming equipment.
While waiting for the reply, my skillet arrived. With what I had learned, I wasn’t looking at this skillet like it was an early 20th century piece. I was looking at it wondering what it was. Objectively, the design is beautiful. The handle is fantastic, and the lightly hammered sides just look…awesome. And the crispness of the logo on this one is just fantastic.
But. And there’s a serious amount of “buts” here. The weight, again. It’s so heavy. There are legitimate casting flaws here. Some “flea bite” type marks that look like maybe the sand in the mold wasn’t perfectly smooth. Then there’s a bit of a crease along one side that looks like maybe the sand had shifted and the mold had been repaired. Along the edge, where the piece was gated, the grinding marks are…honestly just sloppy.
No foundry that made high quality cookware at the start of the 20th century would ever let something like this out the door. Their molds were cleaner. Their casting was smoother. Their pieces were lighter. Their grinding was flawless.
And then I got an email back:
I’ve once again heard back from the Krone family. Krone never made pots and pans. So, the photos you sent are definitely not products of the Krone Business out of Spelle.
Sorry that I cannot give you any other information.
That settles it, once and for all. Well, sort of. All I (we) know for sure is what they aren’t. And we’ve heard back from the Krone family at this point. If these aren’t made by Krone, then where could they have come from?
Well, I’m not sure. I have a hunch though. I’m not done searching for it but I have a couple more ideas.
After 1957, with the introduction of DISAMATIC automated casting, true mass production started in the cast iron world. And it was after this point that cast iron started taking on the real weight we associate with it today. If you’ve ever handled any early 20th century versus post-1960s pieces from the same foundry, you know they’re night and day.
Two of my favorite skillets ever are a Lodge number 3 and a Wagner number 3, both from the 1930s-40s. Very light and the surfaces feel almost buttery. They’re beautifully smooth.
I’ve restored several Wagners that my friend’s mother bought new in 1974. They’re still good stuff. All cast iron is good stuff. But they’re easily twice the weight of their vintage counterparts and the surfaces are very, very rough. And the Lodge? From 1965-1992 there is no way to tell unmarked Lodge pieces apart. They’re noticeably thicker and often rougher than their earlier counterparts.
These Krone Kast pieces are not made prior to 1960. I would put money on it.
That being the case, I moved the focus of my search. Thinking these pieces were probably made at around or after 1970, well into the swing of mass production, Krone came back to mind. I took a look at Krone North America. It turns out that they set up shop here in 1973. And they have a TON of branded merchandise. Sweaters, toys, lunch boxes, key chains. Tons of it.
I’ve reached out to them and have yet to hear back. But as of right now, my thoughts are that there was a cookware set. Either sold in their stores or perhaps given to employees at an annual meeting or to celebrate their establishment in North America. But probably between 1973-1990. Maybe the four pieces I’ve seen are the whole kit, I don’t know. But they’re all I’ve seen.
I’m also trying to find foundries that offered branding on bulk cookware. I’ve seen one of these skillets without any branding on it. It’s being sold as “unmarked Krone Kast.” I think it’s just the plain cookware. Maybe there’s some out there with store names. Maybe with other company names. There has to be.
But this logo. Krone Kast. The diamond with Krone in it is the logo on their old, old farming equipment from the first half of the 20th century. Krone Kast is the name of their line of tractor trailers. A company started with iron that is a world wide leader and innovator in farming equipment that has since branched out into trucking and shipping equipment. These skillets combine all the elements. It’s almost serendipitous.
As of 10/03/2021 there have been several new developments.
The first is that a woman got in touch with me to let me know that Krone North America responded to her emails (whereas they hadn’t responded to mine after two attempts) and confirmed that Krone NA did not make or distribute this cookware either.
So it’s quite safe to say that the Krone that is registered as Bernard Krone Holding, GmbH, had absolutely nothing to do with producing this stuff.
I have yet to track down a trademark, patent, logo registration, but that doesn’t mean I never will. However, there is one other potential lead. In a thread one woman said that her husband (or brother in law, a family relation that nevertheless was anecdotal and hearsay), was in the military and station in Germany. They went on to say that this stuff was sold at Purchase Exchanges on American military bases in Germany.
Asking for more information, I never received a reply. But military surplus would definitely account for the sheer utilitarianism, hasty production, and immense weight of these pieces. I haven’t gotten any hits or really even developed a successful technique to search for past purchase exchange stock. But that’s all I’ve got for identification leads.
However, I did touch base with an awesome guy named Joe Zawadowski. He collects cast iron combo cookers and had been looking for the odd skillet with no pour lips. I wound up selling it to him and also connecting him with a guy who had two more pieces. The result is that now we have pieced together almost the entirety of this combo cooker set!
With the addition of the skillet, this is an incredibly versatile albeit close to absurdly heavy cook set. The lid is also almost certainly Wagner. A placeholder for sure, it’s a good marriage at any rate.
Military surplus? Maybe. Krone aus Spelle, Deutschland, 100% not.
I’m not positive about almost anything except the previous sentence, but this is where I am right now. When I get somewhere else, this post will be updated. If you know something I don’t or if you have pieces I don’t know about or any of the other two I’ve mentioned but don’t have, please add comments below or email me.
In any event, please share this post or this information with other cast iron enthusiasts. I don’t think the bell can ever be un-rung, but the more people know the better. If nothing else, this should serve as a cautionary tale of taking unverified information (apparently from Wikipedia and confidently shared to Reddit) and running.
It’s the 21st century. Research is awesome. There’s no excuse for not doing your due diligence.