There was a time when aluminum housewares collected dust on antique store shelves. These days, however, anodized aluminum made during the 1950s and '60s is quite popular with mid-century fans. Pieces that sold for a quarter or less 20 years ago at garage sales and flea markets can sell for $5-10 apiece in the right setting now. Colored aluminum pitchers, serving trays, and larger bowls can bring even more when found in excellent condition.
Unfortunately, anodized aluminum tended to dent and scratch very easily though. If you are thinking about picking up a few pieces, remember to look for things in excellent condition and pay accordingly for less than perfect items.
Collectors seeking other types of aluminum wares can still find some great bargains, but not as good as 10-15 years ago when what collectors refer to as "hammered" aluminum could be purchased for a song.
Was It Really Hand Hammered?
Most of the really expensive pieces in this field were indeed hand hammered, but the majority of the items second hand shoppers find now were machine made with a dimpled surface to give them a hand finished look.
Items available in hammered aluminum range from ice buckets to coaster sets and bookends to ashtrays. In fact, most of these aluminum wares made their way into homes as wedding gifts from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Hammered aluminum has not been widely reproduced, but Southern Living at Home (now Willow House) catalogs featured several "Vintage Collection" reproductions in the mid-2000s including a butter dish, creamer and sugar set, and an artificial sweetener packet caddy.
What Is Valuable to Hammered Aluminum Collectors?
At one point there were several hundred companies producing this type of giftware. Names collectors tend to look for in this area are Arthur Armour, the Continental Silver Company, Everlast, Buenilum, Rodney Kent, and Pamer-Smith. Some collectors focus on the wares of just one of these companies, while others prefer a certain pattern.
Some of the most popular pieces feature lifelike chrysanthemums, like those made by the Continental Silver Company, and the tulips decorating the surface of some Rodney Kent wares. The detail is amazing and many collectors recognize this craftsmanship while appreciating the affordable prices.
In fact, you can still pick up oodles of aluminum on eBay for $25 or less per piece, although a nicely crafted ice bucket with stand can top out at more than $200.
To Clean or Not to Clean
A point of contention among collectors comes with deciding whether or not to clean hammered pieces. They often have a rather dull patina, which isn't entirely unattractive. However, they can be cleaned and polished to a silver like shine without too much effort if that's more your speed. Many aluminum aficionados swear by mag wheel polish sold in auto parts stores for achieving this shiny effect.
That decision really falls to the individual, and it's more a matter of whether or not you want to take the time to clean a piece. At this point, these are not highly valued antiques where removing the original patina will greatly affect the value. However, once that nice patina is gone, it will take quite some time for it to build back up so make sure you really want a piece to glisten before cleaning it.
Note: While she had placed it in the dishwasher many times before, an About.com user reported that a new (as of July 1, 2010) version of phosphate-free automatic dishwasher detergent stained her hammered old aluminum tray black. The makers of "Cascade said that the Dawn hand dish-washing detergent, although phosphate-free, doesn't do the same," according the source. Keep this in mind when using and cleaning your hammered aluminum wares.
Books About Collectible Aluminum
To learn more about collecting aluminum, look up Hammered Aluminum, Hand Wrought Collectibles by Dannie Woodard or Collectible Aluminum, An Identification and Value Guide by Everett Grist, both published by Collector Books (now out of print, but found through used book dealers).