Handsome Hammered Aluminum 

By Clinton J. Holloway


Recently I acquired a dozen or so pieces of hammered aluminum, mostly trays and serving pieces. While I am familiar with hammered aluminum (growing up, my mother used hers often, which were acquired in the ’60s as wedding presents). But I did not know much about its history.


Hammered aluminum was first introduced during the Depression as an alternative to silver and as a way of putting skilled craftsmen back to work on alternative, more inexpensive metals. In those days it was truly “hand hammered,” so early pieces are often one-of-a-kind. These wares were often given as wedding gifts and were sometimes called "poor man's silver." That said, hammered aluminum was not merely designed to appeal to the thrifty. It was fashioned to attract the affluent, as well, with its well-made handles, beautiful floral patterns or dimpled surfaces. 


Production of hammered aluminum ceased during World War II, as aluminum was needed for the war effort. Afterward, nearly all items were machine made. At one time as many as a hundred companies were producing these lightweight metal products, which appealed to the simpler style of entertaining in the ’50s and ’60s Mid-Mod period.


Some notable companies that produced hammered aluminum tableware were the Forman Family, The Beauty Line, Designed Aluminum and Continental (which claims to be hand-wrought and boasts the “silver look” and pieces that are often numbered). Other makers were Thames, a lower end line from Japan, Farberware of Brooklyn (makers of pots and pans) and Rodney Kent.


Rodney Kent was the pinnacle of design for these wares. Rodney Kent pieces are hand-wrought and numbered and are distinguished by often elaborate applied handles and beautiful floral motifs, such as tulips and chrysanthemums. Quality Kent pieces should command higher prices.


According to internet searches these aluminum pieces are just emerging as a collectible genre, partly because of the “Mad Men” sensation creating a buzz for all things 1960s. A decade ago pieces could be acquired for pocket change and are still reasonable today for, in many cases, under $20.


The exception to the reasonable prices may well be the colored pieces. Remember those cool colored aluminum tumblers? Booth B-2012C has a great set of four for $42 paired with a monumental ice bucket priced at $29 (photo, left). Back in the day, these colored tumblers could often be bought filled with cottage cheese as premiums at the grocery store.


In my search of both GasLamp locations I did not find a great deal of vintage hammered aluminum. In the original store, S-544 has a covered casserole for $12, a handled basket for $8.50 and a bread tray for $4 (photo, right).


Booth W-412 has a dozen or so pieces in the $5 to $15 dollar range. At GasLamp Too I found that The Endless Attic II, Booth T-703S, had a pair of snack trays by Kensington with a pineapple motif on the handles for $11 each.  The booth called Find, at T-372, has an Arthur Cort bread tray with bunnies that has been marked down from $24 to $18.95 and is dated 1990 (photo, below left).


There are still a limited number of companies that produce high-quality hammered aluminum; one is Wendell August Forge of Pennsylvania, which has been producing fine metal work since the early 1920s. Today they specialize in custom pieces, such as commemorative ornaments, plates and plaques. At their website, www.wendellaugust.com you can find instructions on how to clean and care for your vintage hammered aluminum.        


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