As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, January, 2005

Gentleman Galvanized sheet metal, Photo Credit: Skinner Auctions, Boston, MA

The tinsmith who fashioned cookie cutters for the lady of the house in the 19th century would probably shake his head in disbelief at their current prices.  Made of humble materials such as tinned sheet iron and galvanized sheet metal , they depicted a variety of subjects from people and animals to hearts and domestic implements.

There is nothing humble about a cookie cutter when it has an auction estimate of from $100 to $500. Double that when it wears a shop price tag. Such was the case when ten lots of 19th and early 20th century cookie cutters came to a November Skinner auction.

Historically cookie cutters were made by family members and itinerant tinsmiths who traveled the country in the early 19th century.  Often the tinsmith would spend several days making cake tins, pans and pails. The cookie cutters for the most part were made from left-over tin scraps. Some interesting examples have turned up showing they were made from flattened baking powder tins and canisters.

Most 19th century cookie cutters had one-of-a-kind patterns. Often crudely made ,that is part of their charm.

CLUES: There are several ways to judge the age of a cookie cutters. One is the subject. Early 19th century hearts and birds resemble the Pennsylvania Dutch motifs found on bride’s dowry chests. The birds are reminders of the show towels and samplers of the time. Other popular subjects were stars, the “preacher” and a lady in contemporary costume. Domestic, everyday objects such as a shoe, gun , pitcher and even a clothespin were depicted.

Early cutters, made of strong, thin steel plate are quite heavy, coated with tin. These days the plating may have worn away and touches of rust will show. They also were heavily soldered. A cutter made in the mid 20th century will have a tell-tale cutting edge with an applied, thin line. 20th century cutters will be light in weight.

Signs of wear don’t always determine age. Consider the designs made for Christmas cookies. They were only used once a year and will be in better condition. Subjects included Santa, reindeer, sheep and stars.

Ever wonder why there are holes in old cookie cutters ? They let the air escape when the cutter was put on the dough. There were from one to six holes.

Horse Cookie Cutter 20th century, galvanized sheet metal.  Photo Credit: Skinner Auctions, Boston, MA

The more elaborate patterns such as horses are often in good condition since it was more difficult to make the dough for the delicate legs and tail come out perfectly.

Cutting edges measure from less than a quarter of an inch to as much as an inch and three quarters. Most common is a 3/4” depth. Really old cutters have deep cutting edges. In 20th century cutters the depth can be 3/8”.

There were even miniature cookie cutters made as small as a quarter. However, gingerbread men have been made as much as fifteen inches tall. While 19th century cookie cutters have been found in many parts of the country some of the choicest examples have been discovered in the Pennsylvania-German area. Highly prized are those with the peacock motif. Most common are the variations of the heart, tulip, thistle and birds. Other types of flowers are rarities.  These were made from the late 18th century till around the 1840s.

Cookie cutters aren’t signed.  However if they were made from flattened food containers partial lettering can show up. This adds to the value. Pay attention to all the clues. Not everybody is a cookie cutter expert.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at antshoppe@aol.com

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