An old coffee grinder

Overview of box millIn the 1970’s, my parents were given a number of antiques from my paternal grandfather’s side of the family. These were said to be old objects from the sod house that my adoptive great-great-grandparents, Lewis J. Black (1839–1901) and his wife Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black (1841–1915), built in Jewell County, Kansas. My grandparents made a trip back to that area in the 1970s with their motorhome and came back with these and other items.

I’d like to take a closer look at these items to see what I can learn about their origins and history. The items include a coffee grinder (the subject of the current post), a chopping knife or ulu, a coin purse, a rocking chair, a kerosene lamp, and two pendulum clocks—a schoolhouse regulator style clock, and and a tabletop style clock. They’re all in rather poor condition and would have almost no value as antiques, but to me, they’re priceless.

My understanding was that these items had passed down from Ruth Black to her son, Frank Walter Black (1878–1958), who grew up in that sod house and lived there well into his adult years, and upon his death, they passed to his widow, Catalina Johanna (Edel) Black (1895–1978). Either upon her death or in the years immediately prior to her death, these items passed to my grandfather, Vernon Cornelius Black. Vernon gave these items to my parents, and they in turn have passed them along to my sister and I.

The coffee grinder is simple in design. The body of the grinder is an undecorated wooden box with the four sides joined with finger joints and the bottom nailed to three of the four sides. The fourth side was left unnailed to allow a small drawer that catches the grounds to be removed and emptied. The top of the grinder consists of a decorative multi-piece cast-iron cover which separates the grinding mechanism from the hand crank that powers it.

Overview of box mill

In a quick examination of the grinder and the box, I found no markings that might help identify the maker or the year of manufacture. I did a complete and careful disassembly of the grinder (photos below) to look for any identifying marks, but I found nothing.

In a superficial comparison of this grinder to other box grinders, it is most comparable with grinders made around 1890 in the U.S. In the details of its construction, it’s a close match for box grinders made by the Charles Parker Company of Meriden, Connecticut around 1890 (specifically their model #402 National).

That’s about as far as I can take it with the information I’ve found, but I’ll contact specialist groups such as the Association of Coffee Mill Enthusiasts (A.C.M.E.) and Javaholics to see if they can tell me anything about this particular model.

A view of the front of the box grinder:Detail of box mill—frontThe back side of the box grinder:
Detail of box mill—backThe left side of the box grinder:
Detail of box mill—leftThe right side of the box grinder:
Detail of box mill—rightThe bottom of the box grinder:
Detail of box mill—bottomThe front of the box grinder with the grinds drawer partially pulled out:
Overview of open drawerThe inside of the grinds drawer:
Detail of drawer—insideThe bottom of the grinds drawer:
Detail of drawer—bottomThe left side of the grinds drawer:
Detail of drawer—left sideThe right side of the grinds drawer:
Detail of drawer—right sideThe back side of the grinds drawer:
Detail of drawer—back sideIf there had ever been a manufacturer’s label on this grinder, it would have been here, above the drawer (I can see only faint hints that a label once was attached):
Detail of box mill—front label traceThe top of the box grinder and the grinding arm:
Detail of box mill—topThe top of the box grinder with the articulated doors opened to expose the hopper:
Overview of box mill—top, openA closer view of the top of the hopper and the grinding mechanism:
Detail of box mill—top, openThe top of the box grinder once the mechanism, drawer, and decorative plate are removed:
Detail of box mill—box without topThe top of the decorative top plate:
Detail of box mill—top plate, top sideThe bottom of the decorative top plate (note evidence of the original varnish coating):
Detail of box mill—top plate, bottom sideThe underside of the hopper:
Detail of box mill—funnel, bottomDetail of the milling teeth to highlight the amount of wear they’ve received from use:
Detail of box mill—worn mill teethThe rest of the grinding mechanism, disassembled:
Detail of box mill—parts of grinder

15 thoughts on “An old coffee grinder

    • Hi David,

      Nothing so far. I have high hopes that I’ll eventually learn more about the origin of this grinder, but I won’t be surprised if it takes years to get to that point. If you or your friend learn anything about your friend’s grinder, do please let me know!


      • My son bought one at a yard sale today for $5.00. My reaction on seeing it is that it appears to be 1970 ‘s. Identical to the one you have i.e. no labels, same finger joints, and particularly placed nails.
        Interesting to view your post. Will try to determine if mine is a replica or original.

  1. I recently purchased this exact coffee mill at a local antique shop (down to the exact design on the top metal cover) Have you found any further information? I am going to have a look at the MacMillan index of antique coffee mills at the library this afternoon and see if I can identify the specific no and timeframe in which it was built. However, I thought you’d be interested in knowing that mine still has the front label somewhat intact and does confirm this is indeed a Chas Parker coffee mill. The label does go where you believed it would have. And it says “No.” In the top left hand corner but then it appears to have no number printed. It also says, “Parker’s National Mill.”

  2. Here is some information about the grinder:

    “Parker National No. 402 box milk with a geared lid. This modified style cover dates from just after 1900. $150.”

    Source: Antique Coffee Grinders: American, English, and European
    By: Michael L. White and Judith A. Sivonda
    © 2001

    As I was quoting what the book says I noticed the typo in the book (cover instead of covers).

    Anyway, the prices in the book are generally double what they usually sell for. I bought a model 402 4 days ago and paid $80. I prefer wall mounted grinders over box mills but liked the ornate top and the way the lid to the hopper opens.

    I hope this information helps.

  3. I just looked at your grinder a little more carefully and it’s not a model 402 but a model 401. This model was patented in 1883 and was produced through the 1890’s (Source: same book as previous post).

    The Parker National models 401 and 402 can be found on page 70 of that book.

    • This is tremendous—thank you! So does the comment about the “modified style covers dates from just after 1900” only apply to the model 402? If so, it sounds like I can thank you for a date of 1883–1899 (or earlier) for this grinder. This is great knowing that the date for this grinder is consistent with my adoptive great-great-grandparents (Lewis J. Black and Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black) having purchased it. Many thanks, kind internet stranger!

      • Your welcome.

        Yes. The description covering dates just after 1900 applies only to the model 402 not the 401. As far as the model 401 goes, it wouldn’t date earlier than 1883 though.

  4. Thank you both, random internet strangers! I was searching to find the origins of this exact same grinder owned by my mother in law, originating from around the same time. The photos match hers perfectly and fit her family’s story as well. Neat!

  5. Just bought the exact same grinder from an antique mall for $60.00. Very glad to see your post. Any tips for getting it apart. Mainly interested in getting the top nut off as it looks like the rest will come apart after that

    • You’re very welcome! Thanks for letting me know you found this post. One of these days I’ll get around to writing up the other items I inherited from the same household (originally a sod house, but they moved into a frame house around 1910.

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