Monel — rare and wonderful vintage kitchen sink and counter top material


When we looked recently at a 1940 catalog of Whitehead steel kitchen cabinets, we also got a look at Whitehead Monel counter tops and sinks. Whitehead: A very upscale, early steel kitchen — and Monel: A very upscale, metal counter top. And what is this Monel that they speak of? According to the catalog:

  • Monel is an alloy of two-thirds nickel and one third copper with the durability and strength of steel
  • Is rust proof and resistant to all food acids and alkalis using found in a home
  • Is not a coating but a solid metal with nothing to chip, crack or wear off (like the cast iron, porcelain coated sinks that were usually found in kitchens during this era)
  • Can be kept clean with minimal effort
  • Is resilient enough to soften impacts of dishes and reduce breakage
  • Hot pans can be placed on the surface without fear of ruining the counter top

whitehead kitchen monel sinks

Here is what the text says about Whitehead Monel:

At first glance, it might not seem important to you that Monel is an alloy of two-thirds Nickel and one-third Copper. The fact that this metal has extreme durability with the strength and toughness of steel, may have little significance.

But . . . when you realize that Monel is also rust-proof and resistant to all food acids and alkalis usually found in a home, it begins to have interesting possibilities.

And when you also find that Monel is not a coating but a solid metal all the way through — with nothing to chip, crack or wear off, then its advantages in your home become obvious.

All Whitehead Sinks are made of Monel. And when you realize that your sink performs the hardest job in all your kitchen — then it becomes clear why the Whitehead Sink is exactly suited to the modern work-saving kitchen.

Monel is practically immune to wear and tear. That’s why it is widely used in railroad dining car kitchens.

Second, Monel can be kept clean with minimum effort. That’s why such eminent hotels as the Waldorf-Astoria in New York have found it satisfactory for the kitchen.

Third, the lustre of Monel is as beautiful as old silver — a beauty that never departs because Monel is a solid metal all the way through. Watchcases are now being made of Monel, because of its beauty.

These are some of the basic reasons why Whitehead selected Monel for sinks and kitchen working surfaces.

In addition, for your kitchen the Whitehead Monel Sink has further advantages that you’ll find desirable. It is resilient enough to soften the impacts of dishes and to reduce breakage. You can set hot pans on it without fear. And it blend beautifully with any color scheme you may have now — or decide on later.

For the sink and other working surfaces in your work-saving kitchen, can you imagine a more capable substance, a more work-saving material, than Monel?

monel metal

As a tank liner, too.

I found this Wikipedia entry. It says that Monel was trademarked in 1906, and it sounds like the company with the trademark is still in business today. The wiki says that Monel is more difficult to machine than steel… and it much more expensive.

We must keep our eyes peeled to find — and archive photos of — vintage Monel sinks and counter tops in the wild!  I think: Craigslist around New York City might turn some up, if we are eagle-eyed.

Thanks to archive.org and the MBJ Collection for making this vintage catalog available.

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:?

      1. Michael says:

        Hmm…I am going through a remodel at my house and actually have one of these units in my kitchen. Anyone interested?

        1. pam kueber says:

          Michael, no buying/selling on the blog or it would be chaos. Please list on ebay or craigslist or etsy, etc. Note: I will give you time to read this, then delete.

  1. Nathaniel Dames says:

    I brought a house that is over 100 years old and a 12 foot Monel sink was in the basement when we brought the house. My first instinct was to throw it away it was old dusty & dirty and frankly I had no use for it it looked like it was in the house when it was built in 1909. Two years later I was building an out door kitchen and was pricing outdoor cabinets and the cheapest started at $4000 then I thought about the Monel sink one piece 12 foot top and five cabinets underneath I cleaned off the sink got a spray paint gun from home homedepot and repainted it and it looks like new every one who sees it loves it it’s been outside for one year and it has held up to all four seasons great I’m so happy I didn’t throw it away it fits perfectly like if I brought it for the use of my outdoor kitchen couldn’t be happier

  2. Nancy says:

    The name “Monel” rang a bell in my head…I had grown up seeing that word, but not in the kitchen…on the silver curb bit that came with my horse “Red” in 1967 or 68. I was sure of it…and that silver headstall, bit, and Spanish style romal reins were hanging behind a door , four feet from where I was sitting reading your blog on “Monel”. All the properties on the metal you described, made sense for something that spent time in the outside elements, yet soft enough to be in the horses mouth. I remembered cheap bits, seemed so cold, hard, and uncomfortable, but didn’t think about the metal they were made of, at least not when I was that young. That bit was made of a soft metal, but my poor horse! My hands were rough as a beginner, and it took me quite awhile to learn not to “jerk on the reins”. Anyway, I went and looked at the bit…yup, on the inside of one cheek piece it said “MONEL” , and on the inside of the other cheekpiece, it said “Diablo MFG CO”, who happened to have their shop in the same Northern California/ East SF Bay area town I lived in, Castro Valley. I am rambling on, and not about kitchens, but want to thank you for your blog, as coming across “Monel” took me back to “Mid-Century memories” of this girl and her horse. When I was checking the bit to confirm that, yes, there it is, “MONEL”, engraved on the metal, I found it also had dried grass and ? from “Stoney”, the horse I graduated to after “Red”. Stoney and I had one last ride with that bit, 15 years ago… just me and him, on a sunny afternoon, in a pasture, where the veterinarian, was due shortly… just because it was “time”. That horse and I had been together 29 wonderful years–now he was old and tired, and I was moving east…it was time to let him go, time to put him down. Your blog made me look at that bit, and see that dried grass that had been in his mouth…his saliva, his DNA, still there. I have plenty of photos, but this was something physical, tangible. Sorta like how smells and sights and touches of kitchens we knew so well do, it brought a warmth from the past to the right here right now. Retroexperience.
    Thank you!!:)

  3. Tallulah L says:

    Since so many people were mentioning they would like to see one, and try around NY or CT, I thought I would mention this. We just acquired a Monel sink 50″ L x 18″ W, in a wood frame. It has a serpentine divider making two sinks. It’s from the early 1900’s. This is really unique, and can be viewed at our store – Olde Good Things at 124 West 24th St store in NYC. Thank you, Tallulah of Olde Good Things.

  4. Glenn says:

    about 10 years ago I showed a house for sale in Arlington Texas with this kind of countertop. It had been built in the 60’s I think.

  5. Jeff says:

    The Guardian Building in Detroit is the largest architectural installation of Monel metal in America as far as my research has gone…perhaps one of the top three or four Art Deco period buildings in the country as well. I have a Monel metal triple sink once installed in a Sander’s candy store in Detroit, now my garage sink….built in drainboards and about 8 feet long. It would remind you of German silver sinks but not as porous, and retains it’s shine when polished, unlike German silver which dulls and more resembles pewter than silver/nickel.

  6. Chase says:

    The Guardian Building in Detroit has a large decorative screen made out of Monel. My roommate visited last year and told me all about it. I thought it was funny that it was brought up again on a website that I frequent!

    Interestingly, my roommate also mentioned that Monel was used in safe-making because of its non-corrosive nature, which would allow for tighter tolerances and the ability to actually touch moving parts.


  7. Janet in CT says:

    Pam, you have a typo. In the description, the second time you mention Monel, you typed it with a Y – MoneY. Actually, that is probably accurate as I would bet these were indeed expensive cabinets and countertops! I have been keeping an eye out for them on craigslist in NYC but also should include the Connecticut southwest as alot of wealthy people lived there and may well have purchased those cabinets. Even if the cabinets didn’t survive, maybe the Monel countertops did. Interesting comment that they do not smear like stainless steel. I love articles like this; thank you!

    1. Alex Lamb says:

      I have just discovered that we have a Whitehead Monel kitchen with a 12ft double sink with backsplash main counter – the lip on the counter is brilliant – we are refinishing most of the cabinets and they are being re-installled – the stainless steel counters are easy to keep smear free – and we don’t mind the dinks and dents of 60 years – part of the character – for our 1930’s Tudor home in Youngstown Ohio.

  8. Pretty slick – perhaps this was too early for someone to use a lazy susan in the “dead corner” cabinet. This seems like a very high-end kitchen for the time since they suggested your dealer come out and draft up recommendations and such.

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