If discussing skillets, the two characteristics of a pre WW2 pan that first grab your attention are:
- They are lighter in weight. The walls and bottom are thinner than a modern Lodge skillet.
- They have a much smoother interior surface.
Pictures tell the story better.
~click to enlarge~
On the left is a Lodge 8SK 10.5" skillet. On the right is a Favorite Piqua Ware skillet of the same size. The Lodge is probably 16 years old while the Favorite is at least 74 years old. I don't know the exact date of manufacture for the Favorite but the Favorite factory shut it's doors in late 1934, a casualty of the Great Depression.
Griswolds, Wagners, Wapaks, (and probably others) offered similar quality. Old Lodges were very smooth as well.
Which do I prefer? If I could only have one I like the older pieces best. Fortunately I get to have old and new so I've developed some preferences.
For very high heat applications (like blackening fish) I'll take the newer heavier pans. For normal everyday lower temp cooking like making eggs the old pieces are simply unbeatable.
One common mistake many people make is assuming that the old pieces are more nonstick because they have been cooked in for 50+ years. This is not true. I clean all my old iron down to bare metal so I'm losing the accumulated seasoning. Even after starting from nothing the old pans outperform the newer ones (with 16+ years of seasoning) within just a couple of months.