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The original purpose of Nathaniel Currier’s prints was:

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Currier & Ives' America
by Walton Rawls

In the 1800s-long before the days of photojournalism and cable news-vibrant, contemporary depictions of news events, portraits of prominent political and social figures, and scenic views of the American wilderness were circulated throughout the growing nation. From the beginning of the exciting century that saw a small nation expand into a mighty world power, the famous lithographic firm of Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives produced over 7,000 prints, capturing scenes of American life in vivid detail.

                                   
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Cookie Cutter of a Civil War Horse Soldier

Here you'll find articles about collecting antiques and collectibles. 

LATEST ARTICLE_______________________________________

Nothing Cut and Dried About
Collecting Cookie Cutters

by Bob Brooke

 

Tis the season for baking cookies, not just for Christmas, but for all the other holidays at this time of year. And, let’s face it, they’re comfort food that not only warm a person’s tummy but also warm up the kitchen as they’re baking. At the heart of many cookies, especially those delicious sugar varieties, lies the cookie cutter.

The common perception of cookie cutters, strictly speaking, is that they’re devices used to cut rolled dough into shapes before baking. But that’s only the beginning of the story.

Cookie Cutter History
Carved wooden cookie cutters go back thousands of years. The earliest cutters for pastries and cookies, or "biscuits" as the English call them, were imprinted designs on the surface of dough. English bakers used these “imprint cutters,” first made in Italy, starting in the 15th century to make gingerbread figures in the shape of celebrities like Queen Elizabeth I or Lord Wellington. Outline cutters, made from a flat piece of bent wood like pear, walnut, or beech, with a cutting edge and handle, followed them.

Beginning in the 17th century, Dutch and German settler housewives in Pennsylvania made large batches of cookies in a variety of shapes, including doves, cockerels, human figures such as Belznickel, and the bald eagle for Christmas.

Tin cookie cutters became available toward the end of the 18th century. American tinsmiths began making cookie cutters with a full plate on the back of them while their European counterparts made theirs with just the outline of the shape.

Tins produced early cookie cutters shaped like hearts, praying hands, simple animals, and stars. They cut out the tine, shaped it, then soldered it onto the tin plate backing. Sometimes, they soldered handles on to the plate. Because solder was costly in the 18th and early 19th centuries, they typically used just little dabs of solder to hold the tin together. As solder became less expensive, they used more of it. By 1830, cookie cutters had large welds.

Tinsmiths traveled around the country providing tin goods for households. In the process, they would use scrap tin from other projects to make a cookie cutter. Each one was unique with slightly different shapes. After the Civil War, manufacturers began producing cookie cutters with more standard, more complicated designs. In the 1920s, aluminum became the preferred material, making the cutters lighter in weight and shiny in appearance.

Rural, itinerant tinsmiths offered less expensive handmade tin cutters in common shapes of people, animals, stars, spades, and hearts.

Old tin stands out from modern metals as it’s relatively heavy and thick and usually darkened in color. These cutters make 3/4-inch to 1 1/8-inch deep cuts. The back of these cutters were flat and may or may not have had strap handles. Because tinsmiths tried to conserve every possible inch of metal they could, older backs were more or less cut to the shape of the cutting edge. These also have “air holes” or “push holes,” which helped detach the cookie dough from the cutter.

The first American manufactured cookie cutters appeared after the end of the Civil War as a result of industries looking to adapt to a peacetime economy. Manufacturers begau mass-producing metal cookie cutters, and by the mid-20th century, they had begun to make them of plastic. Vintage cookie cutters from the last century may have handles made of wood, metal, or plastic. Aluminum cutters can date to 1900, but are far more common from the 1930s. Metal cookie cutters with “bullet” handles are especially sought after by collectors.

Makers produced and sold cookie cutters in the shapes of the four suits of playing cards as sandwich cutters—which have deeper edges than regular cookie cutters—designed to add whimsy to a poker or bridge party. Some of the more clever cookie cutters, like the “In-Genia Rotating Cutter” from West Germany, made several different designs with one rotating tool.

In England, Tala first offered its pastry-cutter sets in the early 1930s in painted tins. These tins can be dated by their colors: In the 1930s, they came in pastels, while the ones from the '50s came in vibrant colors. Tala tins contain four cutters of varying sizes that fit within each other, available in plain and ruffled edges. Tala also made a particularly desirable “Big Top” set of six metal cutters featuring a penguin, seal, horse, elephant, hippo, and pelican.

Plastic cutters from the 1940s make deep cuts and come in transparent red and green colors. Opaque plastic cutters didn’t really show up until the 1960s, and they tend to make shallower cuts. Shapes include Santas and bunnies for Christmas and Easter, popular cartoon characters, flags for the Fourth of July, and profiles of the Statue of Liberty. Licensed cookie cutters from more recent decades include Looney Tunes, Mario Brothers, Barbie, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Top American makers of cookie cutters are Ekco, Midwestern Home Products, and Hallmark, whose cutters from the late '70s and early '80s are relatively collectible.

Cookie cutters are generally made of four materials: stainless steel, copper, tinplate, aluminum and plastic. For collectors, its usually the tin examples made by hand that are the most desirable. Classic tin cutters were hand soldered, while newer, mass-produced cutters are spot welded together.

Aluminum virtually replaced tin as the favored material for cutters in the 1920s. Plastic cutters were mass marketed after World War II.

Starting in the late 1930s, plastic cutters that could be machine-molded came on the scene, paving the way for mass production. 100-piece plastic sets for $7.95 or so, plastic can also be valuable at times. Domar's Alice in Wonderland sets from the 1940s are worth several hundred dollars.

Collecting Cookie Cutters
When it comes to collectibles, however, there's nothing cut and dried about cookie cutters. There's a huge variety of shapes ranging from the common ginger-bread boy to antique cars. There are adult-themed Seagram 7 cookie cutters, along with kid-oriented cookie cutters resembling Mr. Peanut, Snoopy, and cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry.

Many people collect cookie cutters for their folk art and decorative value, not to mention that for some of us they evoke wonderful memories of baking and holidays. One collector has over 15,000 cookie cutters in his collection.

While many cookie cutters can be purchased for far less than S10, some have sold for several thousand. An Uncle Sam cookie cutter brought $3,000 at an auction in 1989. A 19th century Statue of Liberty cutter sold for $2,475. One of the highest prices achieved was the $7,400 bid for Running Slave cutter, a nearly foot-tall running slave figure dated to the Civil War.

In general, figurals like chickens and elephants tend to be more valuable than geometric shapes. The more unusual the shape, the more collectible the cookie cutter, like those in the form of reindeer, mounted figures, and clowns.

Antique tin cookie cutters derive their value from availability and condition in much the same way as other antiques. Look for good condition in the tin with no holes, rust, or breaks. More solder isn’t necessarily bad unless it looks like it was a repair. Rare designs include heart in hand, hand, stags, trees, stylized people, peafowl, boots or shoes. Any design on larger cookie cutters are worth more—people, horses, bears, people riding horses are some examples of these larger ones. More common ones include farm animals, such as chickens, roosters, pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, ducks, and simple birds.

Value depends on a cutter’s shape and uniqueness of the shape, the amount of detail, and its age—the older the better. Those in their original packing or with cards attached add value because collectors are interested in the history. Soldering repair marks decrease cutter value.

A cutter bearing a name is more valuable than one without. Scarcity also plays a role in determining value.

Oddly shaped cutters such as the one of Abraham Lincoln or one of a moose with extra large antlers tend to have higher values. Small, painted wooden handles can also add to the price,

The most valuable cutters date to before the start of the 20th century. Older cutters may feature a back of odd-shaped scrap, with sharp, straight edges, minimal soldering, and a rough-hewn hole. Newer models tend to have backs in the shape of a cookie, seamless soldering , and hand-safe rolled edges.


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