Cookie Cutter Collecting and Cookies Too

Getting ready for my annual cookie baking frenzy I got my basket of cookie cutters out and added this year’s little Scottie dog to the group. I love old cookie cutters and I’m always looking for them when I thrift shop. 

Cookie cutters come in all sizes, the big rabbit is about 8 inches tall
and the little one barely squeaks out at an inch.

Cookie cutters are still a collectible that most of us can afford to indulge in and I just discovered there are actually cookie cutter collector clubs, who knew?  Yes, there are a few that have sold for thousands of dollars, but those are really, really old and incredibly rare and I seriously doubt that I will be running across one in my local Goodwill.

Really old cookie cutters have flat backs and don't always have handles

That being said, what is the history behind these common and fun household items? Who thought of making a piece of tin into something you could mass produce cookies with? Can you imagine hand cutting all your cookies? Nope.  I started down the research rabbit hole because that is inevitably where my curiosity leads me.

Here are my oldies but goodies, notice how the piece of tin has the shape fastened to it?

I discovered the first ‘cookie shapers’ were ceramic molds you could press sweet dough into and then try to get it back out,the first ones go all the way back to the Egyptians no less. I would imagine the hassle of getting sticky dough out of pottery intact caused some brilliant baker to commission a form with just an outline, or maybe…metal!  Cookie cutters in the 1600s were actually wood, but bendable and sturdy tin quickly made an entry into the cutter market and by the 1800s metal cookie cutters were available across Europe and into the USA.

On eBay, this Native American antique cookie cutter is listed at $325!

Early metal cutters have a flat back and the shape is soldered on. There are usually ‘air holes’ or ‘push holes’ to help get the dough out. They may or may not have a strap style handle. You can still find these from about $10 depending on size, rarity and condition.  The most common early ones were circles, stars, and animals. Really big and really old cutters, animals like giant rabbit cutters or bears or dogs, go for a premium price. Watch for the cookie cutters with a manufacturer's name on them like my Forman rabbit, very sweet and collectible too.

The rabbit is a Swiss impress mold, the bunny is a Forman cookie cutter

Traveling tinkers or tin smiths hated to let scraps go to waste and one way to use them up was making cookie cutters to sell.  Best of all, there are lots of really nice affordable ones in the marketplace in every shape you can imagine. Birds seem to be very common and sheep and bunnies are fairly common too.

Next on the scene and very reasonably priced and my favorites are the cutters from the 1930s with their cute red and green and tan handles. 

Teeny tiny set, how cute

The most common of these is the ubiquitous card suit set which the ladies who lunch used for their bridge party sandwiches too. These can be found in lots of shapes like dogs and stars and trees and geometric shapes. You can even find tiny sets, designed for canapes too.

1930s cookie cutters are still very easy to find and affordable too

These were followed by mass produced cutters of aluminum and stainless steel which are outlines and which are the most common ones produced today. Every shape you can imagine, stars, angels, dinosaurs, cars, trains, you name it, someone has designed it. Some people love the high end copper cutters on the market; they are expensive but sturdy and beautiful too.

Modern cutters, the Gingerbread man is a reproduction

We can’t forget the red plastic cookie cutters from the 1950s, the pieces from my own childhood, which I loved and my mom hated because dough inevitably sticks in them. Tip: dip them in sugar first for easier release. These are becoming very collectible, especially the ones marked USA. Later ones were made in Hong Kong in the 70s on, and now they are coming out of China.

Copper cutters
No blog post on food tools would be complete without a recipe. so here’s a really fantastic one for making and decorating cookies that keep really well. These are especially great for baking with your kids and hanging on a cookie tree. Get some small dollar store paint brushes to decorate with and have fun!

More from the 1930s and 1940s

Best of all: Undecorate it by eating the ornaments! I have had this recipe since it ran in the Olympian Newspaper when my oldest was about eight.  His oldest is now eighteen, so this recipe has been around the block a few times and still gets made every year for the smaller set to decorate.

Family Cookie Party Cookies

Cookies: Cream 1 cup of butter or margarine and 1 cup of sugar. Add 3 beaten eggs. Sift together 4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Combine mixtures and flavor with anise, good quality vanilla or almond extract. (I always went for almond flavoring).  Roll out on a lightly floured surface, cut and bake at 375 degrees for seven or eight minutes.  Poke a hole in the top of your cookie before baking with a straw or tooth pick for hanging if you are decorating a tree. Cool on wire racks.

(Thanks to the cream of tartar, they keep really well and don’t get flabby or stale quickly.)

Cookie Icing Process:
Beat 2 egg whites until foamy, not stiff. Add slowly, about 1 box of sifted powdered sugar and a few drops of whatever you flavored the cookies with. You are looking for something the consistency of cake batter.

You can divvy up your frosting into a few flat containers and add food coloring for a base color for cookies if you like colored more than white cookies. Pie cans or cake pans make great frosting holders.

Take a cookie, drop it face down in the frosting. Lift it straight up and try not to get frosting all over the back of your cookie. Put the unfrosted side of your cookie down on a cookie sheet. Repeat with as many cookies as you can fit on the cookie sheet. Put into a barely warm oven, about 250 degrees. Dry the cookies in the oven for about ten minutes. Put on a rack to cool.

Now the fun begins! Each cookie is a cookie canvas, unleash your artists. I would recommend paste colors if you can find them (local craft stores carry the Wilton line) because the colors are more intense. Don’t thin the food coloring with lots of water as the colors will run. Set them aside to dry, put a string in them and enjoy. This recipe doubles very easily too.

My favorites, 1950s red plastic, thats Reddy Kilowatt from the power company


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