Dear Helaine and Joe:
I have a coffee grinder -- it is an Elgin National and is 25 inches tall. It will not grind coffee -- it just falls through. I have had it for 70 years and my father-in-law had it before that. What is its history and value?
W.S., Sterling Heights, Mich.
Normally, we could not answer this question because the picture is so poor. However, Elgin National coffee grinders are well-known, and we were able to find a picture of a similar machine that we could use as an illustration for today’s purposes.
Let us state clearly before we go on that we cannot answer questions without good, clear, focused photographs. Therefore, do not write us and expect a reply using word descriptions or by sending photographs that are too small or too fuzzy for us to be able to develop a clear idea of what we are trying to evaluate.
Elgin National coffee grinders were manufactured in Elgin, Ill., along with the famous watches, voting machines, malted milk and miniature trains. The coffee grinders were made by the C.H. Woodruff Foundry, which one source suggests started making coffee grinders in 1889.
This source says this foundry’s primary product before the introduction of coffee grinders was school furniture, but another source says it was mainly a maker of bicycles. In either event, over the years, the coffee mills came in a variety of sizes, with the largest being a 68-1/2-inch-tall giant floor model that could grind up to 9 pounds of coffee at a time (the smallest ones were about a foot tall and were for home use).
In 1900, the company became known as Woodruff and Edwards, and this can help collectors date the particular machine they own. The first machines were black or maroon with gilt striping, while later models were painted red or blue and had gold/bronze striping. The top of the hopper was often just a sort of button, but examples can be found with eagle finials, and these are prized by coffee-mill collectors.
We are fairly sure that the machine in today’s question is missing its receiver, but it looks like its paint job is at least in moderately good condition. Having its original finial would be a plus, but we cannot see for sure if it is there.
Countertop Elgin National coffee mills such as this one usually sell at auction in the $175-$275 range, depending on the condition, and have an insurance-replacement value in the neighborhood of $350-$600.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself” (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.