Sources consistently list the Egyptians as the original cookie cutter trendsetters, with wooden and ceramic molds dating back to before 2000 B.C. But it was in the 1500s that they came into wider use in England, with the humble little gingerbread man leading the way after his debut in Queen Elizabeth I’s dining room. Soon, of course, everyone wanted gingerbread men and once tinplate (steel or iron coated with tin to prevent rust) entered the scene, there was no stopping the cookie cutting.
The production of tinplate spread from its origins in Germany to England in the early 18th century. With tinplate came tinsmiths, and one of the first tasks that apprentices in the field learned was to fashion little trinkets, such as cookie cutters and small boxes, which could be made from scraps and given away as promotional gifts as they peddled their wares.
Today, the variety of materials and designs has expanded, cookie cutters are everywhere, and used for every occasion imaginable. There are cookie molds, embossers, and stamps, and we use them not only for perfectly formed cookies, but also for fun sandwich shapes for our children, pancakes, biscuits, and even to dress up our watermelon slices. Or, in the case of an artist friend, Samantha, and much to the chagrin of her stellar-at-everything mother, play dough instead of cookie dough. Samantha continued to use the cookie cutters that she believes came from at least as far back as her mother’s mother for art projects with her son.
Families have favorites that they use for each holiday and special occasion (a maple leaf for a daughter’s last high school hockey game, the gingerbread man that was such a favorite among nieces and nephews), and they become part of our family lore. Even in my home, where my baking skills are regularly ridiculed, everyone knows where to find our few star-shaped cookie cutters as Christmas approaches.
For collectors or those otherwise very interested, there is even a museum located in Joplin, Missouri—the National Cookie Cutter Historical Museum. Fans can also look into joining the Ohio chapter of the Cookie Cutter Collectors Club, which runs the museum.