Museum Talk

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Antique Pie Safe on display at the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette.

In the kitchen area of the Buffalo Island Museum is an antique pie safe. It has two doors at the top with four panels of tin that have holes punched out with a design of a large diamond in the center and four circles in each corner of the panels. A drawer is in the center and two doors at the bottom.

The pie safe was a normal piece of kitchen furniture starting in the 1700s continuing through the 1800s. They were first built in the Virginia and Pennsylvania areas of the United States when the Germans began to settle in those parts of our country.

The pie safe became a part of kitchens throughout most of America in the days before refrigeration was common. They were used to store not only pies, but also meat, bread, cakes, and other perishables.

The tin panels that contain small punched holes were for ventilation. Some of the punched holes had a simple shape, yet some had more intricate designs like a church scene, birds, stars, or flowers. Pie safes from the Wythe County, Vir., area are noted for the tulip pattern. The idea of using punched tin with designs was an American idea to the original pie safe. This idea of punched holes was also used especially in the South on other furniture such as cupboards and sideboards.

Almost all pie safes have a drawer and legs to keep it away from the floor. Yet in the Pennsylvania Dutch region during the 18th century, hanging pie safes were popular. Pies were treasured things in earlier times and since there was no refrigeration, the cook needed a place to keep a pie and allow it to cool without any bugs, rodents, or kids getting to it.

Pie safes are still factory made today, but it is the antique pie safes that are very collectible. It is possible to identify the region where the pie safe was made by the type of wood used. Yellow pine was used in the Carolinas and Virginia region. Soft pine was used in Pennsylvania and New England, and Spanish cedar was used in Texas.

In 1830 pie safes sold for between $8.00 and $12.00, but now an antique pie safe in top condition may sell for over $2,000. They are no longer used for pies, but used to store linens, clothes, or for displaying dishes and other collectibles.

Buffalo Island Museum in Monette is closed during the winter months. Visit the museum when we open in the Spring. Admission is always free.

The museum's Facebook page has updated information and pictures.

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