By Mary Theisen
Did you know that some of these 1-5/8” tall cast iron advertising Pups can bring a price close to $1,000?
I didn’t think so.
Joe Zawadowski of Durham, North Carolina, collects vintage cast iron advertising Pups. The Griswold Manufacturing Company along with many other businesses used the Pups as promotional giveaways in the early to mid-1900s.
Joe Zawadowski’s collection of advertising Pups
Joe’s interest in cast iron advertising Pups began about five years ago when his wife Nancy was given “Big Red,” a red advertising Pup made for Mathews Steel Company. Nancy’s grandfathers had both worked for Mathews Steel. Big Red lived on Nancy’s mother’s bedroom bureau when Nancy was growing up.
Big Red piqued Joe’s interest. Big Red is the size of what some call “papa” Pups – Big Red is all of 2” tall.
Joe began looking for and acquiring the “typically-sized” 1-5/8” tall Pups here and there on his travels. He now has 218 cast iron Pups. He considers Big Red to be their “founding father.”
Joe’s collection (some collectors call their Pups a “kennel of Pups” or “litter of Pups”) continues to grow, but it is by no means the most extensive collection of Pups. I know of one collector who at one time had over 700 cast iron advertising Pups, and there are probably others with equally large collections.
Cast iron advertising Pups
The little Pups were not used only to promote businesses, though that was most common. Technical students made the Pups to learn the craft of casting iron. Churches and schools awarded the Pups for good attendance.
Pups were marked in different ways. Business names were inscribed on the Pups, painted on the Pups, or cast onto the Pups. Many Pups were not marked at all.
Griswold advertising Pups
The Griswold Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania had two production runs of advertising Pups: the first in 1937 and the second in 1951. The 1937 Pups are harder to find and correspondingly command a higher price.
Three thousand Pups were reportedly produced in the 1951 production run. Griswold employees handed out 2,000 Pups during Erie’s August 11, 1951 centennial parade. The rest were given to employees and loyal customers.
Identifying authentic Griswold Pups
Griswold Pups are sought after by collectors, and reproductions abound. As I was writing this article, I did a quick search on eBay for “Griswold Pup.”
Of the eight Pups listed, six were reproductions.
Authentic Griswold Pups were made in both cast iron and aluminum. Joe taught me how to distinguish a genuine from a reproduction Griswold Pup.
Real or repro?
- An authentic Griswold Pup will always have the words GRISWOLD and PUP incised on its back in clear lettering. If the lettering is sloppy, it’s not Griswold.
- An authentic Griswold Pup has the words incised on its back. It does not have raised lettering.
- Almost all Griswold Pups have a ghost mark “HINES” on the rump. Fakes do not.
- Griswold Pups do not have defined toes on the paws.
- The head of an authentic Griswold Pup is more rounded than that of a fake.
- An authentic Griswold Pup will have hollows representing pupils in the eyes.
- The spacing of “GRISWOLD” and “PUP” on the rump is further apart on an authentic Griswold than on a fake.
- The tail on an authentic Griswold is “smoothed” on the underside to render the appearance of a slightly upturned tail.
- Authentic Griswold Pups come in black iron, grey-green finish (called the “grey ghost”), black japanned iron, and aluminum.
"Griswold" silver and gold-plated Pups
There is yet another Griswold-marked Pup that was not made by Griswold. These are known in the cast iron collecting world as the infamous “silver” Pups.
A man in Oregon made a “Griswold fantasy piece” circa the early 1990s. He cast Pups with the Griswold markings and offered them for sale.
The man made it clear that Griswold did not produce the Pups. The Pups were cast in solid silver. He sold them in silver as well as with 24-karat gold plate over the silver.
The problem with fantasy pieces such as this, of course, is that when the piece passes through hands, it may be thought to be (or represented as) an authentic Griswold-made item.
That was the case with two of these silver Pups. A person represented them to be authentic Griswold-made pieces and consigned two of the Pups to an auction in 1994. Each Pup sold for $1,175. It was soon learned that the Pups were not Griswold-made; the auction house refunded the money.
Pricing of Pups
The value of cast iron advertising Pups depends largely upon the condition and the business for which they were cast. The most common found Pups are unmarked. Of the marked pieces, those that carry the name “HINES” and “BUCKI CARBONS” are easier to find than others. Because the Pups are more common, the price they bring is less than those of harder-to-find Pups.
eBay Pup sales
Joe has kept a log of eBay authentic Pup sales since 2013. The highest price he saw a Pup bring was one marked “HERCULES.” It sold for $904.74. Two other HERCULES Pups were sold since 2013; one for over $500 and the other for $260.85. No wonder, then, that Joe was delighted when he found his own HERCULES Pup.
After HERCULES, the next-highest priced Pup sold carried the name “McPup.” It sold for $852.14. Third-highest was a Pup marked ANDERSON INSURANCE COMPANY that sold for $300.26.
Other Pups that are highly sought-after and command a high price include ones marked “Kaiser-Frazer” and “Oval Tube.” Those Pups sell for hundreds of dollars in good condition.
Griswold Pup pricing
Authentic Griswold Pups can also bring a substantial price. Joe has kept track of the prices paid on eBay since 2013 for genuine Griswold Pups.
Black iron Pup and black japanned Pup with the number 30 on the back of the head (second production – 1951)
Number of Sales: 55
Grey Ghost Pup with number 30 on the back of the head
Number of Sales: 10
Black iron Pup and black japanned Pup without the number 30 on the back of the head (first production – 1937)
None sold. These are reputed to be the hardest Griswold Pup to find. Presumably, one in excellent condition would bring a higher price than the others given its scarcity.
Aluminum Pup with a Hines “ghost” mark on its back without the number 30 on the back of the head
Number of Sales: 1
Aluminum Pup without a Hines “ghost” mark on its back and with the number 30 on the back of the head
Number of Sales: 1
Joe’s advice for new Pup collectors
I asked Joe what advice he had for the new Pup collector. Here is Joe’s advice, straight from Joe himself.
Pups turn up in unexpected places. Search everywhere: the internet, antique shops, auctions, estate sales, etc. Most of [Joe’s] Pups have come from eBay, but some of the rarest were personal finds in other venues. The more places one searches, the better the odds of finding Pups. Keep a sharp eye when personally searching. Pups are quickly passed over if one does not have a good eye for spotting them.
Don’t be afraid of fakes. The Griswold Pup is the only faked or copied Pup. Learn how to spot the real ones, and you will be fine. Once in a while, one comes across a ‘backyard caster’ attempt using a Bucki Carbons Ribbons or other common Pup as a pattern. These home projects are generally obvious and inexpensive. I consider them collectible for what they are.
If you can afford it, buy it when you find it. In more than five years of collecting, there have been many Pups for which I have only seen one example. I’m happy now I was able to add them to my collection, even though I felt I paid an awful lot at the time.
Get involved with other collectors. They will help you find the Pups you are searching for and might even part with some of their duplicates. Both the Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association and the Wagner and Griswold Society have knowledgeable Pup collectors in their membership. Both organizations also have valuable information about Pups on their websites that are only available to members.
Be patient and persistent, and you will eventually find the advertising Pups you seek.
1. The Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association is a national group of cast iron enthusiasts. The website forum of that group contains valuable research about collectible cast iron Pups. http://www.gcica.org/forum/
2. W. Griswold, Griswold Point: History from the Mouth of the Connecticut River (2014).
3. A Griswold “fantasy piece” is a product that may look like a Griswold product but is not, and is not offered as so. A “Griswold reproduction piece,” on the other hand, is a product that looks like it may be Griswold but it is not; and is offered as an authentic Griswold-made piece.
4. The maker sold the silver Pups for $250. The gold-plated Pups were offered at $295.
5. I paid $275 to a collector for my beautiful black iron Griswold Pup with the 30 on its head in 2014. By today’s market, it appears I overpaid.
Mary Theisen is a vintage cast iron cookware enthusiast and blogger. Find her stories at vintagecastironllc.com.
AntiqueTrader.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated websites.