History of Antique Pie Safes and How to Use Them Now

Updated November 4, 2021
Rustic kitchen with Antique Pie Safe

An antique pie safe is a cozy addition to any home, whether it's country-inspired or industrial chic. Used for centuries to store cakes, pies, and other sweets away from flies and pests, the pie safe can transform into a versatile piece of furniture for your modern home.

A Pie Safe by Any Other Name

Pie safes are known by many different names, depending on what part of the country you're from. The name can even differ from county to county in some areas. Some of the common ways that pie safes are referred to include:

  • Pie cabinet
  • Pie cupboard
  • Pie safe
  • Kitchen safe
  • Screened safe

What Is a Pie Safe?

The pie cabinet was most likely introduced to the United States by the German people who immigrated to the Pennsylvania region and later became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Despite the name, pie safes were used for more than pies. Everything from bread to cake was kept in a pie cupboard, and it was an important piece of furniture. They were generally composed of a tall and narrow cabinet made of pine, although other woods might be used, and were freestanding so that they could be moved easily if necessary. The pie safe was generally kept as far from the wood stove as possible to keep the food safe from too much heat. On the farm, it might even have been kept on the back porch, next to the dry sink, to catch as much cool air as possible.

Antique Pie Safe

The Mechanics of Pie Safes

Generally, pie safes were made from local wood. Often, pine and other soft woods were used for shelves, drawers, and interior pieces, while a nicer, more expensive wood was used for the exterior areas. Pine was especially popular in the southern states.

Inside the cabinet were shelves to hold pies and other foods. There would be screening or punched tin designs in the top, sides, doors, or a combination of these. The screen allowed the baked goods to have ventilation while keeping rodents, flies, and hungry children at bay. The ventilation helped the food to stay cooler and to keep it from molding easily.

Some kitchen safes had tops that opened upward, while others had a combination of doors and drawers. There were even pie safes that were a combination safe and jelly cupboard. The pieces would be made to either the whim of the cabinet maker or the specifications of the lady of the house.

Closeup of an old fashioned pie safe

Antique Pie Safe Styles

Antique pie safes, although having been manufactured since the 18th century, didn't change styles very much over the many years since their introduction. Many of their key features can be found in examples from the early 19th century and late 20th century.

Sizes

Generally, antique pie safes come in two typical sizes: bureau size and chest-of-drawers size. These two styles could accommodate families in separate ways, but each severed to maintain baked goods and ingredient's freshness for many days.

  • Traditional three-shelf safe - Traditionally, these pie safes were about the size of a bureau and came with at least three shelves that could hold food items. These upper shelves were covered by a set of double doors which were perforated to let in air but keep out bugs and other vermin.
  • Half-sized safe - The other types of safes, which were better suited to households with less room, were those that were about the size of a chest-of-drawers. These safes didn't have the accompanying drawer storage that the bottom of traditional pie safes had and only amounted to a small place to hold pies and other goods.

Materials and Designs

Various materials and designs were used for pie safes.

  • Door materials - The doors closing the precious pies in on these pie safes were made out of several different materials. Sometimes wood was cut with decorative perforations. Other times, things like cane, glass, and tin were used to create a barrier between the food and the outside elements.
  • Rainbow of colors - Early pie safes were their natural wood colors, but as the 19th century turned into the 20th century, these safes began to be painted in a variety of unique colors. Things like light blues, purples, greens, and yellows could be found in homes across Depression Era America.
  • Hutch vs. cabinet - Some traditional pie safes were designed in a hutch-like fashion where the upper safe part was set further in to the furniture itself, whereas others were built entirely rectangular, with no inset elements.

What Determines the Value of an Antique Pie Safe?

As with any antique item, the value of an antique kitchen safe will be determined by a number of things, including:

An antique pie safe
  • Originality - Unique characteristics always add value to a piece. Unusual height, width, materials, or decoration can increase or decrease a piece's worth.
  • Unrestored - Original paint and hardware are valued by most collectors. For instance, one seller chose to keep their 19th century chest-of-drawers sized pie safe in its primitive condition, and it still sold for $875.
  • Provenance - Provenance comes into play if the piece has been owned by an important historical figure or has a unique story attached to it.
  • Condition - Condition will always be important in determining the value of a piece. Take these two pie safe sides, for example. They were in a relatively significant state of disrepair, and they still sold for just over $200. This proves that pie safes are, like with almost all furniture, worth a substantial amount of money.
  • Market demand - Demand depends a lot on where you live and whether collectors are looking for what you have.

Ultimately, as is the case with most hand-crafted furniture, you can expect to pay several thousand dollars for a late 19th century pie safe, and several hundred for a 20th century safe.

Resources to Consider

Whether you want to buy an antique pie cabinet, find a reproduction, build one, or find just the right hardware to restore the one you already own, the internet is your friend. There're thousands of websites that specialize in antiques of all sorts, and some of the ones you should head to first are:

Beautiful dining room with antique pie cupboard
  • eBay - eBay is always a great source for antiques and hardware. Use caution and make sure you understand what you are buying and what the various policies are.
  • Van Dyke's Restorers - This website has a huge selection of all sorts of hardware and items to help you restore or build your own piece.
  • Woodworkers Workshop - Woodworkers Workshop offers free plans to help you build your own pie safe.
  • Antique Country Furniture Store - This Y2K website offers reproductions of pie safes so you can have the look without the expense.

Add a Pie Safe to Your Home Decor

Adding an antique pie safe to your kitchen, or even using it in the bathroom to hold towels, is a great way to add a touch of old fashioned charm to your décor, and they can make for a great conversation piece in almost any room,

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