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Vintage toasters

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by Benzadmiral, Nov 3, 2016.

  1. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    I did a search, but nothing specifically about this came up.

    This morning my modern toaster died. A search for "toasters made in the U.S.A." comes up with things that are $280 or more. The Famous Auction Site has loads of vintage 1950s Sunbeam, GE, and Toastmaster toasters, and many of them say "works well" or "toasts nicely." For $30 or so I can take a chance. But have any of you used a 1950s 2-slice, pops-up-when-done toaster on an everyday basis? Sure, the slots won't take bagels, but do they toast according to the setting lever (i.e., if I set it to "dark," will it come up dark)?

    The Toastmaster 1B14 is touted in several places as a solid and reliable toaster, made from 1947 to 1961 -- we might have had one when I was a kid. Any experiences?
  2. 1930artdeco

    1930artdeco A-List Customer

    The one I use is from the 30's and is a single slice toaster. I just cleaned it up and she works like a champ. Not charred if you turn it all the way to dark but toasted. Not sure if that is normal or not for mine.

  3. Those are pretty simple units -- they operate by a thermostat opening when the toast compartments reach a certain temperature. That triggers a catch which springs up the toast and shuts off power to the heating elements. The main thing that can go wrong with them is that the thermostat fails -- in which case the toast will not pop up, the heat will not shut off, and eventually the toast will incinerate. The inside can also get clogged up by crumbs, dripped pop-tart jelly, pieces of fish sticks (don't ask), or various other debris, causing the mechanism to operate sluggishly. Or the wiring can get brittle from long exposure to heat.

    If you get one, examine it carefully for evidence of long, hard use. If the power cord is cracked or frayed or worn-looking, the insides are pretty certain to be full of crumbs and guck, and the thermostat may be nearing its end. An NOS in the box model would be a better bet, but there still could be issues with brittle wiring as a result of storage in an attic or garage. Buyer beware!

    If you really need toasted bagels, consider a 1930s-style manual-turnover model. These will hold even the fattest bagel comfortably, and there's no thermostat, switch, or internal spring mechanism to get out of order. The shade of the toast is controlled by you watching the toast and pulling the plug out of the wall when it's to your taste. The disadvantage is that you have to monitor the toaster all the time it's operating, lest you wind up with bagels flambe. (Pop tarts burn even more spectacularly, with a clear, blue flame.)
  4. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab


    Yesterday I received the vintage GE unit I bought on eBay, and it's clean, cord unfrayed and uncracked, and works fine -- except, as you say, the thermostat is probably shot. Even on the lightest setting the toast doesn't pop up unless I do it manually. That's not a real deal killer, since the Cancel function on my recent, modern toaster failed a year ago anyway, and I needed to pull the plug from the wall to end the incineration session. With the GE, I just pop it up.

    For a $60 or $70 unit, I'd return it for a refund. For $27, which included shipping, it's hardly worth sending it back. And aside from the one flaw, I like its simplicity and its clean looks.
  5. 3fingers

    3fingers Practically Family

    I use a Toastmaster 1B12 every morning. I've had the one I use a couple of years I suppose. I paid less than $20.00 for it delivered.
    Gave it a cleaning and it has been trouble free. I ran across another one that looks nearly new for $8.00 one day, so I now have a spare if this one gives up the ghost. I have in mind that the 1B14 will accept thicker slices, but I may be mistaken. I do not plan to ever buy another "modern" toaster because they do not do as good a job as their older brethren nor do not have the style of the classic machines. Besides, how can you not love something that has served so many so well for 60 or 70 years and is still going.
    St. Louis likes this.
  6. Rodney

    Rodney Familiar Face

    We're currently using one from the 20s or 30s that I rewired. When I got it the power cord was cut and it had a dead short inside the base. I managed to get it working. It's like Lizzie said. You plug it in, put your bread in and flip it to do the other side. Once it's warmed up it takes about 30 seconds a side for toast, maybe a little less. I actually enjoy using it.
    I had a 50s chrome one a few years ago that I still regret selling.
    I wouldn't hesitate to buy another old toaster. They're pretty hard to kill.
  7. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    I remember the old 50s streamlined chrome toasters. They were way better than anything you can buy today. Heavy, well built, and toasts the bread a lot faster than today's cheapies. But as others have pointed out they do wear out after 20 or 30 years of daily service. I know how to repair or replace the nichrome heating element wire but can you get replacement thermostats? And maybe springs? I recall they weakened over time.

    Be careful not to touch the chrome part when they are hot, you can burn yourself.
  8. The earliest "automatic" toasters didn't use a thermostat at all -- there was a clockwork timer mechanism that controlled how long the heat was on and which sprung the toast up at the end of the cycle. These toasters, which were popular in the 1920s and early 1930s, are usually still functional when found -- if there's a problem it's something that can usually be cured by taking out the timer and flushing out the old lubricant with naphtha and then re-lubricating with light clock oil. These are a good alternative for someone who doesn't want to mess around with thermostats, but also doesn't want to deal with a manual flip-over toaster.

    These toasters can be instantly identified by the ticking sound they make as the toast cooks. It's loud, like a Big Ben alarm clock, so you're unlikely to forget that the toaster is operating.
  9. ⇧, pretty sure my grandmother had one of those as her toaster sounded like the atomic bomb Bond defused toward the end of "Goldfinger." And it was clearly a timer as it toasted a piece of wonder bread, an english muffin or a heavy biscuit for the exact same amount of time. As a kid, you just intuited by weight how far to push the lever down or if something would need a second round of toasting.

    My guess is it was a late '40s, early '50s one that weighed more than I did until I reached age 5, had a cloth-covered cord and when you pushed the lever down it felt as firm and sturdy as if you were locking a bank vault (not like today's flimsy levers that feel ready to break out of the box). Also, and I'm only guessing from memory, but I think the plug and lever were bakelite.
  10. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    Update: This one served me from last November until this month. I replaced it, a ca. 1960s General Electric toaster with . . . another one of the exact same model. The first one was fine, except that its thermostat never worked, as I said above, and last month the latch stopped being reliable, so I couldn't simply push the lever down and busy myself pouring coffee until my toast was ready. This new one works flawlessly.

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