What Goes Around, Comes Around: Wood-Burning Cook Stoves Enjoy Resurgence

Wood-burning cook stove collecting is heating up. Rural kitchen classics such as the Majestic cook stove and Monarch cook stove are popular once again.


| March 2012



Majestic Cook Stove

This Majestic cook stove, once owned by my grandmother, is now the heart of my brother’s mountain cabin. 

Many older people who grew up in rural areas lived in homes that had wood-burning cook stoves that were the heart of the kitchen. Since the rural kitchen was the heart of the home, the cook stove had a very special place in the family’s well-being.

It seems quaint today to think that kids of yore, like this author, had the daily chore of bringing in wood for the cook stove. Not only were meals cooked on the stove, but the stove also provided a good share of the home’s heat during cold weather. Since we had our own well, our stove also heated hot water while it was doing its regular job. Drying mittens and providing a comfortable bed for the cat behind it were common extra services.

Then the time arrived when electricity became available almost everywhere, and wood- and coal-burning cook stoves no longer had any value. They were abandoned and replaced by electric ranges and, where natural gas was available, by gas ranges. The old stoves were junk. Those made not long before the transition began were attractive, with smooth porcelain on all surfaces other than the cook top. I remember seeing perfectly good examples discarded in the landfill. It was almost as if they were a symbol of an old-fashioned lifestyle that American society had totally rejected.

Recently, however, those porcelain cook stoves have regained popularity and are sometimes seen in even the most up-to-date kitchens. Usually, they are more decorative than functional, but they are valued, nonetheless. The really valuable cook stoves are the antique black-and-nickel models, some of which date to the 19th century. A recent check of prices for models in nice condition revealed that they sometimes sell for several thousand dollars. Even if one is interested, at least financially, it is late to consider collecting them.

Since our part of the country (Idaho) was always way behind the popular trends, cook stoves retained their value much longer here. As late as the 1970s, old black and nickel stoves could still be found. When they were retired, they were sometimes stored in a shed on the farm. My brother obtained our grandmother’s Majestic stove and uses it in his mountain cabin. I asked about a Monarch cook stove stored by an elderly couple and was told I could have it if I would haul it off. My wife and I installed it in our kitchen and use it often, particularly in the winter. Thus, we brothers both have impressive examples of classic kitchen ranges.

Finding a wood-burning cook stove in the rough

Years ago, back when wood- and coal-burning stoves were basically worthless, while hauling firewood out of the mountains of Idaho I ran across an ancient abandoned cabin that was falling down. It was built by miners in the 1890s. At the time I discovered it, a cattleman owned the land it was on. The only item still in it was the remains of an old black-and-nickel-style cook stove. Probably because it was extremely heavy (the stove was mostly made out of cast iron), it was abandoned by the last occupants more than a half century ago. All the surface lids were missing and the leaking roof meant that it basically looked just rusty. Pack rats (also known as wood rats or trade rats) had filled every nook and cranny with debris of all kinds. The cast iron stove was a visual blight. When I contacted the landowner, he said his plan was to burn the old cabin.