Toy coffee mills from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are fun to collect and look charming in country-furnished kitchens. Because they are small, a collection can be lined up along a window sill or placed on a narrow shelf against the wall.
Such mills were made of tin, cast iron, a combination of wood and cast iron, and sometimes brass and copper. Some were box-shaped; others were grocery-store items with a wheel on either side of the hopper.
Some toy mills could grind a teaspoonful or two of coffee. One, shaped like a wooden box with a cast-iron handle and open cup or hopper at the top, had a tiny drawer that opened below to collect grindings. These mills are made well, measure 2 1/2 inches wide by 3 inches high, and have a paper label that says Little Tot.
A similar type has a varnished, stained wooden box with a gilt metal drawer front, a hopper, handle and a paper label that says Daisy. Another type is a bit larger and has a varnished oak wooden box with a gilt iron hopper and lacquered handle. If you come across any in working order, complete with drawer, don't grind your teeth when you see their $40 to $60 price tags. The value depends on condition and completeness.
One other wooden box type is a nonworking mill. Such models are small (two inches high) and have a lacquered metal hopper and handle. These mills are not as valuable as their working counterparts.
Toy box-shaped coffee mills made of tin are scarce, measure about 1 1/2 inches wide by 2 inches high or smaller, with a funnel-shaped hopper at the top. Some were produced in 1872 by the Stevens . Brown Manufacturing Co. of Cromwell, Conn. They are pictured in the book "Fascinating Tin Toys for Girls -- 1820-1920" by Catherine Cook and Edith F. Morris, available for $8.50 plus 75 cents postage from Edith F. Morris, Box 1454, Oak Bluffs, Mass. 02557.
You may also run into grocer's style, cast-iron toy mills that have an open cup at the top with a wheel on either side for legs and are working miniatures of the two-wheel iron models once used in stores. Some have a bronze finish with red-painted trim, others have red-and-gilt finishes, and some were of black cast-iron.
Such mills measure 2 1/2 inches by 4 inches, date from between 1912 and 1914, and actually grind a bit of coffee.
Another box-shaped toy mill is made of brass and has a round open cup hopper made of copper. Such examples are small and have "Japan" stamped on the bottom. These mills date from the 20th century, are of a much later vintage than the other toy mills, are inexpensive, and have a tiny drawer that opens at the bottom.
Some miniature toy coffee grinders are two wheelers, measure an inch high, and can usually be found for under $10.
Toy coffee mills can be found in antique shops, toy shows and antique toy auctions. If you find a cast-iron model with chipped or worn paint, don't attempt to retouch or repaint. You'll reduce its value.