Years ago, my mother, Daria, of Daria of Woodbury Antiques, bought a huge sack filled with old cookie cutters. Grinning like one who had just struck gold, she looked like Mrs. Santa Claus as she hauled that clinking bag into the house and poured it out on the large kitchen harvest table. Mom had finally lost her marbles, I thought. Why would anyone pay hundreds of dollars for tin cookie cutters? They weren't eighteenth century furniture, or rare blown glass, or striking folk art like the kind you can see at Sherlburne Museum, in Shelburne, Vermont. Little, did I know. I was going through a learning stage many antique dealers encounter in their career paths-the horse blinder stage. That's when you begin to amass some knowledge regarding traditional antiques and forget that many common-place old objects have class as well, like cookie cutters.
Most experts believe that tinned steel cutters originated in Europe several hundred years ago when wood carvers introduced metal inserts to their sophisticated sweet dough molds. Old European cutters tend to be outline forms with small cross bracing bars for support. America cutters often have a full tin plate in the back and occasionally, a handle. Many early cookie cutters found in the States have one or two circular holes cut into their tin back. The holes are normally sized to fit a lady's finger, so that she might be able to push stuck cookie dough out of the cutter, or using them to better hold her tool. Occasionally, a cutter is found with tiny holes in the punched into the back as a decoration. A star is common.
The first American manufactured cookie cutters were made shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War when great industries were looking to adapt to a peace-time economy. Some of these and later examples were marked by companies like Dover, Mason, Kreamer, Fries, and Hillson-all out of business today. In general, a cutter bearing a name is more valuable than an equal example bearing no inscription. Aluminum, all but supplanted tin as the favored material for cutters in the 1920's. Plastic cutters were introduced in great number following W.W.II. An old original box, or a legitimate "provenance"(a story telling about a piece's history and/or origin), or cookie cutter documents, signs, etc., might be of great interest to the hundreds of international members in the "Cookie Cutters Collector's Club" home stationed in Cannon Falls, MN. Most sought-after, however, are the large grey-patined solder- splashed, tinsmith-made cookie cutters from years ago. A large rabbit can fetch hundreds of dollars if its shape is rabbit-like. Even more if he's comical. A good bear cutter would be valuable because few bears were made compared with hens or trees. An "Uncle Sam" cookie cutter brought $3,000 at auction way back in 1989. At the same sale, a beautifully formed "Running Slave" cutter brought a world record price of $7,400! The buyer stated after the sale, he was prepared to pay as much as $15,000, to get such an excellent piece for his collection.
Keep in mind that most old cookie cutters sell for less than twenty bucks. Mom sold enough out of her sack to recover her investment in the first day she showed them. Those cookie cutters have traveled with us to many shows since. Selling as Christmas tree ornaments for $4, and wall decorations for $20, and sometimes for much more as staples for a collection. And you know what - that big old bag is still half-full!