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He wrote to Jefferson in 1801 about his invention: “Sir, … a coffee mill, that grinds a pound in 4 & 1/2 minutes…” His wall-mounted device ground beans between metal nuts with coarse and fine teeth, a design popularized by companies throughout the 19th and early 20th century.
Many of these wall-mounted grinders were made of brass or cast iron and featured a clear glass hopper at the top to hold beans to be ground – as much as a pound or more.
Once valued for their intended purpose, today they are collected and valued for their design, size, raw materials, maker, craftsmanship, adornment, embossing, paint, patina, and condition.
Design and embellishments have allowed coffee grinders to be viewed as pieces of art, and increasingly valued as such; however, more so at shows and markets than the prices realized at auctions.
These painted attractions put coffee front and center at a time when coffee as a beverage was gaining wider consumer consumption.
Models for the home were not widely available until the end of the century, but the experience of watching the beans get ground in a store has never lost its consumer appeal.
Enterprise made heavy-duty grinders for grocers, retailers, and wholesalers.
While many of these wall or table-mounted machines had side crank handles, its largest grinders had handles that attached to flywheels. The most ornate examples were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with eagle finials atop the urn-shaped hoppers and a pair of flywheels.
Larger-size wheel grinders from particular companies, and those that have been restored, can fetch several thousand.
One of the most popular coffee mills for grinding larger amounts of coffee in the general store was the Enterprise Model No. Manufactured between 18, it stood 42 inches high, had 25-inch diameter wheels and weighed about 140 pounds. Such mills became status symbols for those general store owners who could afford them. Today, wall-mounted, box-shaped, table-mounted, one-wheel, and two-wheel mills and other types of commercial and household grinders from the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, are all highly collectible and run the gamut from rustic to highly ornate and decorative.
Even at their most primitive, collectors value them for their design, history, and quality of craftsmanship.
Because these glass canisters were easily broken and not the nearly indestructible as a cast iron base, inspect the glass and speak with the dealer to learn whether it is original to the piece or a reproduction created to look like the original.
The Enterprise Manufacturing Company, founded in Philadelphia in 1864, was one of the leading makers of both large and small coffee grinders.