Whether you enjoy shopping for vintage soda fountain items or antique kitchenware, ice cream scoops make wonderful additions to any collection. These scoops come in many different styles, from classic lever-action models to distinctive and valuable shape-molding scoops. No matter which style you collect, it's important to understand a bit about the history and value of these kitchen collectibles.
Early Ice Cream Scoops
Ice cream has been an iconic part of the American summer experience for centuries, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, soda fountains began to serve ice cream sundaes, which required some type of utensil to scoop the frosty delicacy into dishes.
Inventors came up with a wide variety of unique ideas for serving ice cream. According to The Morning Call newspaper, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued 241 patents for ice cream dippers or scoops between 1878 and 1940. These early ice cream scoops generally fit into a few broad categories.
Conical Key Scoops
Prior to the invention of the ice cream scoop, soda fountain employees had to use two spoons or ladles to scoop the ice cream and then transfer it from the spoon to the dish. This was a messy process that wasted product.
In 1878, George William Clewell invented the first device that would dispense ice cream using a single utensil. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, this scoop was cone-shaped, and it had a key at the point of the cone. To dish the ice cream, you turned the key, which then moved a scraper around the interior of the cone. A Philadelphia tinsmith, Valentine Clad, manufactured this dipper until about 1900, when Thomas Mils, another Philadelphia manufacturer, took over production.
These key scoops are a popular collector's item, particularly with soda fountain enthusiasts. You can find them on eBay, at auctions and estate sales, and at antique stores. Manufacturers include Gilchrist, Williamson, Erie Specialty Company, Clad Metal, and many others, and prices start around $30. Unique key shapes, condition, age, and origin can affect the scoop's value.
Lever-Action Ice Cream Dishers
While the cone shape was very effective for dishing ice cream, it had a couple of significant limitations. One was that the person scooping the ice cream had to use both hands to operate the utensil, making it impossible to hold the ice cream cone or dish at the same time. The other major limitation came with improvements in refrigeration technology; this scoop design simply wasn't ideal for the harder ice cream that came from the newer freezers.
In 1897, an African American inventor named Alfred L. Cralle solved these problems by patenting the lever-action ice cream scoop. According to the Carnegie Library, Cralle's original patent was for a cone-shaped scoop with a mechanical lever that removed the ice cream. He also invented the familiar hemi-spherical scoop.
Many manufacturers produced this style of scoop, including Gilchrist, Dover Manufacturing, New Gem, Peerless, and dozens of others. Most early lever-action scoops have a wooden handle, which may or may not be painted. An early scoop in good condition can start at about $25, but the value depends a great deal on condition, age, and manufacturer.
Shape Molding Scoops
While a conical or hemi-spherical scoop of ice cream was ideal for a cone or dish, some scoops created special shapes for specific situations. These shaped dishers are among the most valuable, and according to The Morning Call, they are a very hot item with collectors. If you look in antique shops, online auctions, and other sources, you may see some of the following examples.
- Square and rectangular scoops were designed to create the frozen portion of an ice cream sandwich. In good condition, they retail for about $175 on eBay. Common brand names include Icypi, Lauber, and Jiffy.
- Triangular scoops created a perfect shape for topping a slice of pie to be served a la mode. One notable brand name was Gardner and Olafson. These scoops, which are extremely rare, sell for about $1,250 to $2,500 at auction, according to Martin J. Donnelly Auctions.
- Heart-shaped scoops are among the most popular with collectors. The Manos disher created a small heart-shaped scoop of ice cream, which could be served in a matching heart-shaped dish. According to Collectors Weekly, this scoop sells for about $7,000.
Spotting a Treasure
If you're considering purchasing an antique ice cream scoop for your collection, it's important to make sure the piece is authentic before you finalize the sale. Keep the following tips in mind.
- Look for a patent number stamped on the scoop. Many scoops had patent numbers embossed on the handles, levers, or the backs of the bowls. If the scoop you're looking does have a patent, look up the number at the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure it matches with the design.
- Check the construction of the scoop. The earliest conical examples are usually made of tin, and their handles may be soldered or riveted to the cones or bowls. The construction will be good, although it should also show signs of age.
- Always get a professional appraisal for rare shape-molding scoops, since you will be investing in one of these items. Due to their value, these scoops can be a target for modern fakes.
More Information About Antique Dippers
Since antique ice cream dishers are an uncommon collecting focus, there aren't a lot of resources to use for authenticating, identifying, and valuing your finds. However, the following resources can help.
- Ice Cream Dippers: An Illustrated History and Collector's Guide to Early Ice Cream Dippers by Wayne Smith is the definitive guide for these pieces. This book is out of print, but you can still find used copies. Amazon.com sometimes has copies for about $40 each.
- The Ice Screamers is a club of ice cream memorabilia collectors. Many of their members specialize in ice cream dippers and scoops, and they may be able to help you learn more about a specific piece.
- AntiqBuyer.com is the website of antique dealers Larry and Carol Meeker, and it features several different styles of ice cream scoops with photos to help your identify them.
Scoops for Every Collector
From the early conical key scoops to the coveted shape-molding designs, antique ice cream dishers come in dozens of different styles and configurations. No matter what your budget or taste, there are scoops out there for every collector. Take your time looking at the finer points of your finds to learn as much as you can about these fascinating pieces of culinary history.