If you’ve been to this site more than once, you know that cast iron cookware is a repeat offender as far as content is concerned. If you’re a bit more invested in Everyday Anthropology, you know that Joe published, “The Cast Iron Field Guide: Researching 19th Century Cast Iron Hollow Ware and How To Identify it in the Wild,” last June. It’s not entirely unambitious, and in a general sense it’s an attempt to create an introductory-level guide for newcomers to the hobby to learn how to think critically about claims within it, and also how to ask questions of their own pieces and maybe get some answers from them.
Secretly, it’s a basic introduction to anthropological studies as a concept, and more or less the framework that Everyday Anthropology operates under. In a way, the book discusses cast iron cookware, but on some level that isn’t what it’s about.
One of the many topics touched on by the Field Guide is prison labor. It’s a complex one, and one that’s intertwined with a lot about what has led the United States to where it is today. It was a bit of a balancing act within the book to discuss what is and even can be known about prison-made iron while also doing justice to the topic of the very-real human suffering behind it…in a book that wasn’t really about that. And then, there were two specific bits mentioned: One was the case for a certain handle having ties to prison foundries, and the other was the myth that the line of cookware produced by Columbus Hollow Ware that was called The Favorite was made in the Ohio State Penitentiary.
The prison handle was particularly touchy for me, because arguing that *some but not all* were prison made could potentially be enough to make unscrupulous sellers lean into that narrative. After all, some, potentially means the item in question. And I’ve seen varying shades of that in forums and on Facebook since publication. There’s since been an update to the book that includes an image of the handle found in a prison catalog.
If you’ve read the Field Guide, you know what’s said there about The Favorite. For those who don’t know, or who need a refresher, it’s basically this:
I haven’t personally done any research on Columbus Hollow Ware, but a friend of mine, Danny Hoffman, has been researching them for years, and this is what he’s found.
Columbus Hollow Ware was founded in explicit opposition to prison labor.
The flagship product line of Columbus Hollow Ware was called The Favorite.
Several years later, Columbus Hollow Ware shut down.
Several years after that, a company called Columbus Hollow Ware opened, operating out of the Ohio State Penitentiary. Whether this can be considered the same company or simply another company using the same name is somewhat up for debate.
Period articles of this time describe the pieces produced by Columbus Hollow Ware as not being marked in any way to indicate where they were made.
That’s a horrible oversimplification but it leads me to the point of this post. Within the book, articles are cited, but scans or images of them are not shared. This is because the source of the article, Newsbank, occupies an odd niche. As of this year, works published in 1927 or earlier have entered the Public Domain. That means in a general sense, there are no copyright laws that apply to them unless they become part of a larger body of work, in which case the entire body of work is under copyright but that content extracted from it would still be Public Domain. And copyright laws do not apply to simple reproductions like scans. In other words, it isn’t your intellectual property just because you scanned it. There’s more to it than that and it’s good form to request permission regardless, but that’s the gist anyway.
Newsbank works essentially as a for-profit archive, which sells licensing rights to the items in its collection. Similar to how a museum may charge an imaging or access fee. And so despite having read the article stating that Columbus Hollow Ware was operating in opposition to prison labor, and also being able to use the September 5, 1884 edition of the Columbus Evening Bulletin as my source, I wasn’t able to share a direct image of the article OR even the link to access it. It was a bit of a bummer.
Recently, that changed. Danny Hoffman sent me a direct link to the article, which is neither behind a paywall nor any copyright protections! Our mutual friend, Cai Rhys had hunted it down and sent it along.
This is pretty plainly stated. Columbus Hollow Ware was created “for the express purpose of the manufacture and sale of a superior line of stove hollow ware,” as well as “to correct this evil” of poor quality prison made goods.
Here is a link to the paper in its entirety so you can see full context and dates.
But, we also have to contend with the later operations. How do we know they didn’t continue with The Favorite items? Well, more primary sources, that’s how:
This is from the Twenty Fifth Annual Report of the Ohio Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published in 1902, you can see the May 25, 1901 date at the top right. I’ve added the red arrow where the discussion mentions Columbus Hollow Ware.
So as you can see from plain text, without any ambiguity, paywalls, or “just trust me” nonsense: The Favorite was made by free labor in opposition to prison labor.
Columbus Hollow Ware existed as two separate entities separated by a period of some years. One was in strict opposition to prison labor and produced The Favorite. This incarnation was founded March 30, 1882 by Augustus Newton Whiting and it closed in late 1885.
The second incarnation popped up 13 years later in 1898, and was a prison foundry housed in the Ohio State Penitentiary, which was contracted to produce cheap goods of all sorts until 1909. All available documentation suggests they were related in name only.
Here’s Danny Hoffman, with one of his prized possessions–his The Favorite flat bottomed kettle.
A closeup of the bottom. Doesn’t get much clearer than that.