Collecting Antique Cookie Cutters
Think of a country kitchen and odds are you will picture painted handled rolling pins, Hoosier cabinets and antique cookie cutters. Although cookie cutters of various types have been in use since Egyptian times, the metal type that cooks are most familiar with came into existence in the 1400s. By Colonial times, tinsmiths looking for a use for their scraps of tin, shaped bits and pieces into stars, circles, and other simple shapes to the delight of homemakers everywhere. Tin remained the primary material for cookie cutters until 1920 when aluminum became popular. Plastic replaced aluminum after World War II.
Animal shaped cookies have delighted children for centuries. The earliest animal cookie cutters were simple farm animals like rabbits or chickens. During Victorian times, animal cutters became more exotic and began to include lions, tigers, and other wild animals. This was due in part to the increasing popularity of Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
Christmas Cookie Cutters
The Moravians brought exquisitely carved wooden molds with them when they settled in the Colonies. With these molds, they created beautifully stamped designs. As the idea of Christmas cookies spread throughout the Colonies, tinsmiths created Christmas-themed cutters that created cookies meant to be hung on Christmas trees. It wasn't until the 1930s that the tradition of leaving cookies for Santa was established.
Colorful Wooden Handles Made Cutting Easier
By the 1920s, manufacturers were adding wooden handles to make cookie making even easier. The handles were often crimson red or Jadeite green and shaped to fit in the hand easily. These cutters generally have developed a beautiful patina where time and use have worn away some of the paint.
Gingerbread men became popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. She ordered that the royal bakers create cookies that looked like her guests. The idea caught on and soon bakers everywhere were asking for gingerbread man shaped cutters to make the job easier. Gingerbread men come in different shapes, from simple round heads, arms and legs, to more detailed cowboys and clowns like this cutter from the 1940s.
Vintage Round Cutter
This wooden handled cookie cutter was designed to make round cookies quickly and easily. The baker had only to push the cutter along a length of rolled out dough and it created round cookies as it went.
After World War II, the United States settled down into a prosperous, relaxed lifestyle. Middle class, suburban women might get together to play bridge in the afternoon to pass the time. Serving small cookies shaped like the suits on the cards was considered "smart" and whimsical.
Vintage Cookie Cutters Are Affordable
Antique and vintage cookie cutters range in price from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on their age and rarity. Most cutters are less than ten dollars and are an affordable collectible for almost anyone. You can find cookie cutters at antique stores, eBay and other Internet venues, and even garage sales and thrift shops. The majority of the cookie cutters you will find will be aluminum or plastic. If you do happen to buy a tin cookie cutter, use it for display only. Most of the old tin cookie cutters were soldered with a lead-based solder and shouldn't be used.
Displaying Old Cookie Cutters
You can store and display your cookie cutter collection in a variety of ways. If you use them often, keep them in a large apothecary jar on the counter. You can also hang them from cabinet doorknobs or from a dowel over a window as a unique valance. Cookie cutters can be used, washed in gentle dish soap, and dried carefully with no damage. They are meant to be used and will last for decades if treated gently. Just remember not to use any cookie cutter that you suspect might be tin due to the possibility of lead.