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Tips on Collecting Pie Funnels
A pie funnel, also known as a pie fan or pie bird as Americans like to call it, is a late Victorian tableware. They were designed to prevent juices from spilling onto the pastry or the bottom of the oven, as well as to support the pie crust and prevent it from sagging.
The first recorded pie funnel was made in 1880 by Dean and Morris and was made in three sizes. Since then, 44 different patents and registered designs have been recorded in Britain, and many can still be bought today. One of the first recorded characters was the blackbird, registered in 1933 in Australia by Grace Seccombe as a pie crust lifter. AJ Wilkinson (Clarice Cliff) registered the scythe funnel design in 1936 and many were made, including an all-white wartime version – some were struck by Wilkinson, Newport Pottery or later Midwinter.
Before the cake funnel, people would use an egg cup or even a macaroni stick. As pies come in different sizes and depths, so do funnels and were often made in sets. These kits include Adcock Crust Support, Ventilator and Fountain. These early funnels often had wide chimneys to vent steam from under the crust, but also to add extra stock to the pie during the long, slow cooking process.
If you like to collect pie funnels, you’re in luck because at one time every household in Britain had one or more. As eating and cooking styles have changed over the last twenty years, the pie funnel is no longer an everyday item and is probably stuck somewhere in the back of a cupboard or drawer.
Some pie funnels have fetched quite high prices, but you should be able to start a collection for a small amount of money. Check out your local auctions and boot sales and you should be able to get some of the plain pie funnels fairly cheap. You can also check out online auction sites as they are useful for price research.
Some of the famous Chinese manufacturers such as Spode, Royal Worcester, Denby, Shelley and Grimwade produced cake funnels on a commercial basis, but it was Grimwade who produced the widest range of designs, five of which are patented or registered. These include the “figure funnel/elephant pie holder”, which was produced in white and gray, to the ultimate “Bleriot Pie Divider”, produced in three different sizes, which split the pie in two, so that two different meats or fruit could be baked in the same cake. Each of these dividers came with its own specific patented pie dish.
‘The Improved Pie Funnel’ was produced by Grimwade and is quite rare and sold so well that an updated version of it was produced called ‘The Improved Popular Pie Funnel’. They came in a variety of sizes, advertising early grocers and china shops as well as department stores around the world, from TW Robinson Co Ltd of Moose Jaw, Canada to Ritchies of Dunedin, New Zealand, as well as across the UK.
While most cake funnels are made from ceramic, there are also a large selection made from Pyrex glass, aluminum and plastic. Most early examples were produced commercially by larger potteries who produced a wide range of whiteware, but later smaller potteries produced limited editions of true works of art. At the forefront was Stuart Bass, who produced over 300 different designs since the mid-1970s.
The book, called British Pie Funnels, was created to try to fill some of the gaps regarding the traditional British pie funnel, as little has been written on the subject. This provides a useful background for any new or experienced collector and some of the illustrations should prove helpful in identifying the various pieces.
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