Collectors Crave Coffee Grinders

This commercial antique coffee grinder is huge, standing three-feet tall and colorful with floral decals and a gold American Eagle proudly perched ontop the lid.

Coffee tins, too, are collectible, like this antique version marked New Martinsville.

Coffee grinders are popular collectibles and can be attractive when displayed in a kitchen or pantry. The tabletop variety is the most common and includes a grinder mounted on a wooden receptacle with a drawer that collects the grinds.

The coffee grinder fascination began in the 1970s as antiques grew in popularity and common items from the past became eclectic valuables. Even items not classified as true “antiques” (100 years or older) became chic to display.

Now retro is so popular that vintage items have overtaken many traditional antiques and trends include mid-century modern furniture, ’50s and ’60s lighting, vintage electronics and more.

Coffee grinders come in several different styles including the standard table mill, the wall mounted variety and huge commercial grinders used on the general store countertops. Amazingly there was even a type of grinder that was part of a soldier’s gun and was included in the stock of the weapon.

The history of coffee is a fun social journey that many think began in the Ethiopian world perhaps around 1,000 A.D. as shepherds noticed their herd’s wakefulness after grazing on wild coffee berries. Arab traders popularized the new beverage, sought after for its ability to decrease the need for sleep.

I’ve also read that Muslim monks were one of the first fans of the coffee bean because of late night prayer requirements.

The Arab world transformed coffee into a drink beneficial for religious ceremonies and it grew so popular that Mecca and Medina were forever linked with it. Then the Turks and the Ottoman Empire rose to power and introduced the coffee habit to Europeans.

Coffee even became known as a Turkish drink and went on to be associated with Vienna because of its close proximity to the Turkish frontiers. Christian Europe enjoyed the exotic drink and coffee became popular across the world when it was imported to the European colonies and began to compete with tea. It got a real boost in 1773 after the Boston Tea Party, becoming a Revolutionary beverage.

A humorous anecdote in coffee history is the story that in 17th century Italy, advisors to Pope Clement VIII recommended that he consider the Ottoman Empire’s black coffee a threat from the infidel. The Pope suggested instead that the church simply baptize the beverage and make it safe for Christians everywhere. (

Today’s coffee enthusiasts purchase a variety of blends, grinds and accessories. Coffee catalogs, coffee shops and coffee clubs exist all over the world and few of us would think of facing morning without a steaming cup o’ joe.

Electric, battery and hand grind mills are in vogue and today have a streamlined modern kitchen look. Antique mills of course are not electric and are usually referred to as box mills, also called lap mills, generally made of wood. The other type is a wall or counter type of mill, made of iron.

Since coffee wasn’t packaged ground until 1900 by Hills Brothers, most of these antique mills date from the end of the Civil War through the early years of the 20th century.

Antique mills have seen lots of action on the internet. But shopping online requires careful shopping since many reproductions of old coffee grinders exist, so collectors are advised to be careful.

Old manufacturer names include Arcade, Bell, Bronson-Walton, Cavanaugh Brothers, Elgin National, Enterprise, Landers, Parker, Simmons, Sun, Universal and Wright.

Toy coffee grinders also exist and are collected by enthusiasts. These miniature grinders are sometimes mistaken for salesman samples, but none of these samples are known to exist.

Old coffee tins and all kinds of coffee accessories also are desirable, including the large burlap bags imprinted with coffee bean growers and processors’ names and logos. These make nice wall hangings in a kitchen or dining room.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at or by writing in care of this newspaper.


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