When I turned thirteen, my Italian grandmother gave me what she felt was an appropriate gift to help me ease into womanhood: a pizzelle maker. (If you have never eaten pizzelles, they are not-very-sweet, waffle-like cookies that were a staple at my grandparents’ house, unignorable when prepared fresh.) For many years this was the only appliance I possessed. Over ten years ago, however, I tragically lost the cord to this appliance, and, because it is was one of these two-prong types from an earlier era (circa 1980), it was tough to replace. A week or so ago, I re-opened my search for a replacement cord, and came across Michael Sheafe’s Toaster Central, which, while primarily a place from which to buy fixed up vintage appliances, also sells my much needed replacement part!
Michael graciously agreed to be interviewed for this site about his business. I hope this will convince you to buy used appliances and to try to find parts for the ones you may already have that are good quality.
1. How did you get into this business? Did you start selling vintage appliances first, and see the need for replacement cords?
In 1967 I bought a great old Sunbeam toaster, took it home, cleaned it up and used and enjoyed it for decades. In 1998 I’d had a great job downtown for a dozen years, but was burned out and quit my job.
So, after years of hearing people complain about their crappy toasters, I decided to start a little business to supply a decent two-slice pop up toaster. I acquired toasters that were manufactured in the 1930s through the 1960s, cleaned and repaired them, and sold them at the local flea markets. Just to make toast, and guaranteed to please. No lights or buzzers or settings for pop tarts; just toast.
The cord sales is a complementary line of business.
2. Do you design or manufacture the cords yourself, or are you a liaison to the manufacturer?
No, they are made commercially, but few hardware stores carry them. People seem appreciative to find them for sale, but I usually recommend that you check locally at hardware and housewares stores first. Take the appliance with you.
3. Do you find that vintage appliances are generally better quality than contemporary ones, and are a better investment even on a practical level?
Yes. Older appliances are made of steel and brass and chrome and copper and were designed to be repaired. They were made by humans assisted by machines, but still essentially hand built.
New appliances are made by machines assisted by humans. Materials and manufacturing have evolved so that a toaster cannot be repaired, and is made of cheaper materials. (Remember our mass retailer W*lmart is pounding manufacturers to make it cheaper and cheaper.) Expectation of the lifespan of a new toaster has dropped dramatically. I believe a refurbished older toaster is a much better value.
4. Are a lot of appliances, like toasters, significantly different in terms of functionality than they were fifty years ago? What are some pros and cons of buying vintage?
Materials are different, manufacturing methods are different, and nearly all new toasters cannot be repaired.
5. I see you also supply movie props. How big a part of your business is that?
Movies, Broadway and Fifth Avenue (Bergdorf Goodman), and theater and film companies in the US, Canada and Australia. It’s a small part of my business and requires a good deal of work and special handling.
6. Do you often repair or supply a cord to an appliance with deep sentimental value?
Yes, especially owners of the family toaster or waffle iron, Westinghouse Roaster, or Sunbeam deep fryer.
7. Anything else you’d like to add?
Tread lightly on the earth.
Thanks a lot for the interview! I defy you to not be impressed by his incredible selection of beautiful and functional appliances!