Okay. I'm not sure japanning was used on cookware, or if it would be safe for cookware. I'm not an expert on japanning though. If it was mine, I think I'd strip it if possible. I wonder if you could remove it using electrolytic rust reduction, which would strip it to the bare iron so you could reseason it, if it's strippable. Here's a few pics of the method and results. I started with this:
This is a frying pan in a washing soda/tap water solution. The gunk looks gross but it's not dangerous. The water started out looking like the water inside the tin can, which I added so the can wouldn't float. All the gunk is the crap the electrolysis pulled off the pan.
This is the grill pan pictured above after it had its spa day in the same gunk as the frying pan.
This is the easiest way to strip cast iron I've found. Usually even the worst rust and crud cleans up with an overnight soak at most, and then everything washes off with a light scrubbing at most. Since the iron is then unprotected, it will start to rust again immediately so would need to be seasoned again right away.
ramcharger, are you talking the actual cooking part of the waffle iron, or the rest of it? You said the bases, which leads me to believe you are talking about the non-cooking part. If that's the case, couldn't you use a high-heat paint?
Did they come from the same source? Maybe the former owner just decided to paint them all.
Have you checked the Griswold and Wagner sites to see if those bases were ever japanned? eBay might be another source of info, although you might have to really search to find out anything of value.
I own a Griswold waffler but it does not have a base, painted or otherwise. I also own a Belgian cookie iron that does have its base. It's seasoned like any other cast iron cookware, but it's not Wagner or Griswold.
It sounds like the paint needs to be stripped regardless, so I don't see any reason you couldn't strip it and season it. If you check eBay you may be able to see if any of the listings show bases with the japanning. The only ones I've ever seen were seasoned, so who would know what the original finish was on yours? Are you likely to replace the original finish with new japanning even if that's what it is? If not, then it doesn't really matter whether the bases are japanned or not.
You could also check with antique dealers and Griswold collectors. Someone will know if they've seen pieces like yours with a japanned finish, and/or if such pieces were ever produced. That might be your best bet, especially if you could take your pieces to them to examine in person.
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