Think of a country kitchen, and odds are, you will picture painted-handled rolling pins, Hoosier cabinets, and antique cookie cutters. These little treasures are easy to find in antique stores, and they're affordable to collect. They often sell for only a few dollars, although rare antique cookie cutters can be worth much more.
Cookie Cutter History
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 Shapes and Other Rare Cookie Cutters
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.
Some of these unusual animal shapes are rare antique cookie cutters, which are highly valued by collectors. The can sell for $100+ under the right circumstances.
Antique 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.
Antique Christmas cookie cutters vary in value from a few dollars to over $100. In addition to the condition and age of the cookie cutter, size can also play a role in the value.
Colorful Wooden Handles for Easier Cutting
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.
You can find vintage cookie cutters with wooden handles in antique shops and online auctions, often for around $10 each.
Vintage Cookie Cutters for Gingerbread Men
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. This style of cookie cutter is a little more difficult to find than the standard press-in type, but it's not especially valuable.
Vintage Bridge Set Cookie Cutters
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. You can still find these bridge sets in antique shops and online, often for less than $50.
Value of Vintage Cookie Cutters
Antique and vintage cookie cutters range in price from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on their age, condition, and rarity. Most cutters are less than ten dollars and are an affordable collectible for almost anyone.
If you're searching for a treasure, look for a cookie cutter that is old but in excellent condition. If it has solder lines, they should be strong. It should not show bends are areas that are misshapen. Also look for cookie cutters that are unusual in shape, since they tend to be rare.
Using Vintage Cookie Cutters
Antique cookie cutters are meant to be used and will last for decades if treated gently. The key is knowing about the materials of your cookie cutter and making sure it's safe for food use. The majority of the cookie cutters you will find will be aluminum or plastic. If you have a tin cookie cutter, use it for display only. Some of the old tin cookie cutters were soldered with a lead-based solder and shouldn't be used.
You can clean vintage cookie cutters with mild soap and water, making sure you dry them thoroughly. Do not put them in the dishwasher, since the rough action and harsh detergent can damage them.
Where to Buy Antique Cookie Cutters
You can find cookie cutters at antique stores, eBay, and even garage sales and thrift shops. Look through bins of old kitchen collectibles or small housewares. Sometimes, you'll find a few cookie cutters in a general lot of items at an estate sale or auction. Unless you're looking for a specific design, buying at local shops can be more affordable and enjoyable than using online auctions.
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. They're a great way to add some vintage farmhouse style to your modern home.