Antique Pie Safe: Identification, Usage, and Valuation Guide

Antique pie Safes are a great investment and remain invaluable to those who cherish homemade meals on a dining table. These centuries-old relics have served families as preservatives for pastries, including pie, cake, and croissants.

An average pie safe sells for a couple of thousand dollars, making it an affordable collectible. Live Auctioneers reported that a pie safe sold for $102,500 in 2015.

Today, Pie Safe owners extend its use to other storage purposes such as sweets, jewelry, cash, and accessories. Some even use it as décor without placing anything inside. We’ll guide you whatever your interest may be in antique pie safes as a collector.

Brief History of Antique Pie Safes

The Pie Safe originated from Germany (1700s) through immigrant settlers in Pennsylvania, USA, as it wasn’t an American kitchen staple. Instead, it earned its name from its primary purpose, which was to secure pies from rodents and ants despite serving other needs.

The German safe was shaped as a tall freestanding cabinet made of sturdy wood and positioned strategically to avoid the heat, indoors or outdoors. When in the kitchen, the stove (cooker) was placed far from the pie safe, and outside it was away from the barbeque stove.

As time passed, the pie safe took on a more expansive style and became a food cupboard with more space. It was no longer freestanding and now had a full-length double door like a cloth or bookshelf.

By 1880, companies like Coca-Cola introduced the Ice Box rendering the pie Safe unnecessary and relegating it to the background. By the 20th century, only a handful of pie safes remained in America.

Identifying an Authentic Antique Pie Safe

Antique pie safes are back in demand, and manufacturers noticed that, so they’d learned ways to make 21st-century-made items look rustic. Also, there’s an uncanny similarity to kitchen shelves and drawers that will confuse an inexperienced eye.

As an inexperienced collector, it’s easy to mistake these new items for old ones, but with the right tools, you can figure it out.

Look out for the signs by answering the following questions.

What Material Is the Pie Safe Made out of?

Pie Safes from Germany and Pennsylvania were made of Pine Wood because that was the common tree available in the region. Later, the manufacturers differentiated the woods based on parts and the commissioner’s price.

Wood Type

The highest quality pie safes mixed their woods by restricting the expensive sturdy woods to the outer frame while the inner layers used softwood.

Fun Fact: Wood Type signifies manufacturing region.

Yellow Pine was common in Virginia, North & South Carolina, Soft Pine is to New England & Pennsylvania, and Spanish Cedar is to Texas. Although Cherry & Curly Maple was used, they weren’t associated with any region.

Accessories

Apart from the wood, you also have to pay attention to other details, such as the nails and parts used for the joints. Certain materials didn’t exist until recent years, so that’s a good identifier.

A pie safe made before 1830 would have a wooden square head nail. On the other hand, a machine-cut headless pin indicates a pie safe made from 1890 to the early 20th century.

By the 1900s, producers started using metal nails, screws, bolts, and nuts.  

How’s the Design?

The pie safe got the name Screen Safe because of the design used in making it in the early days. It included a perforated screen on the enclosing frame to keep it aerated while keeping unwanted elements out.

Manufacturers employed this model because a full enclosure without air would introduce heat, reacting poorly with baked goodies.

Pie Safes had no exact design as it could include an open-up door, side hinge, slides, drawer, or a combination. These styles are a giveaway of important factors when collecting an antique pie safe from brand to model and age.

Types of Pie Safe

  • Pennsylvania Dutch Hanging
  • Louisiana Creole Tin Panel
  • Upscale Glass Door
  • Pie Safe with Hutch

Pennsylvania Dutch Hanging Pie safe

Pennsylvania Dutch Hanging Pie safe
Green Painted Pennsylvania Hanging Pie Safe, ca 1850-1880 (Source: 1stDibs)

In the 18th century, a few pie safes were made to hang on the wall. They had protruding wood pieces with holes to allow the owner to switch their position to the ground. This era also birthed the small jelly cupboard enclosed inside the pie safe.

Unlike pie safes, jelly cupboards came with double doors per Amish Outlet Store.

Louisiana Creole Tin Panel

Antique 1800s Walnut Pie Safe Cupboard wPunched Tin Star Panels
Antique 1800s Walnut Pie Safe Cupboard wPunched Tin Star Panels (Source Ebay)

The Louisiana pie safes used close-spaced tin panels instead of perforated screens for ventilation. It also had a unique red color on the outer body. Apart from keeping the vermin away, the Punched Tin Panels on the door serve as beautiful country décor.

So, if you see a punched tin door on a wooden frame, you should know it’s a Louisiana pie safe.

Upscale Glass Door

When the elite became interested in owning pie safes, manufacturers added glass doors instead of the all-wooden design to give it an upscale look. The same logic birthed the use of copper accents to beautify the rather rustic pie safe.

In the 20th century, the Great Depression introduced the Depression Glasses, which manufacturers used for the pie safes’ doors. After that, other colors like Pink, Yellow, light blue, and green became popular.

Pie Safe with Hutch

Pie Safe with Hutch

German pie safes had a design that included a hutch inside the topmost drawer. The hutch sat at the back of the drawer and could take on any shape from oval to circle. Unfortunately, the bottom shelf protruded with this pie safe, giving the structure an uneven shape.

Owners of the Hutch pie safe typically used the bottom part to store kitchenware and other utensils while the small top drawer secured the pastry.

Is the Pie Safe Narrow or Wide?

According to Love to Know, antique pie safes had two standard sizes;

  • Bureau
  • Chest of Drawers

Bureau Size Pie Safe

Bureau Size Pie Safe
(Source: 1st Dibs)

Pie Safes shaped like a writing desk or low bedroom chest are bureau-sized. They’re the first styles with freestanding legs and three compact shelves on the top. A bureau pie safe typically has perforated double doors for cross ventilation.

The doors didn’t have a specific material as they could’ve been made of punched tin panels or perforated glass during the depression era. These compact-sized pie safes were made for small spaces since you could easily fit them in a corner and not bump into them.

Chest of Drawers Pie Safes

Chest of Drawers Pie Safes
2T H6P2D Pie Safe (Source: Dutch Craft Furniture)

By the 19th century, Pie Safes’ popularity spread across America, leading to a wider interest and higher demand. As a result, the manufacturers no longer handmade them and resorted to mass production to meet the growing demand.

With mass production, the pie safes now came in wider sizes with multiple drawers. As a result, it could hold more than one pie and other pastries at once.

Homeowners with big houses and ample spaces preferred this style of pie safe because it was big enough not to get lost in the vastness.

There’s a third type of pie safe not categorized by size but by design, and you can read more about it above.

The Pie Safe’s Finishing

The wood finish wasn’t a thing for furniture makers before the mid-1800s, so if you see a paint job on your pie safe, that means it’s most likely from the 1900s. Even when you know the painting, it shouldn’t shine like freshly coated wood; instead, it should have aging signs.

Look for slight scratches and creases to determine it’s truly an antique. Anything other than that is an indicator of restoration by the seller. In that case, a certificate of authentication is the surest way to confirm the pie safe’s identity.

Valuing a Pie Safe

With the many designs of Pie Safes available worldwide, you should know that there’s no uniform price or value. Instead, multiple factors contributing to its uniqueness affect the market response – demand and supply.

If you’re still clueless about what we mean, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Here are a few tips for valuing a pie safe.

Is it Original?

Antique items are all the rave with interior decorators as many people return to the rustic appeal of past centuries’ decors. Today, companies apply aging techniques to make new pie safes appear old and rugged. While it’s an innovative idea, it’s not the best for collectors.

There are tell-tales that signify the authenticity of a “supposed” antique pie safe based on the identifiers listed above. Make a checklist with the points given and crosscheck with your intended item.

You must be thorough, as the slightest discrepancy should set off alarm bells in your head. Everything matters, from dimensions to colorways, designs, and materials. Even when the pie safe is damaged, it can still serve hardware scavengers.

Avoid refurbishing the antique pie safe if you can as a seller because a facelift will depreciate the value. That musty scent on the wood, dull colorways, slight chip, and other wear/tear signs are part of the appeal.

How Old is it?

The saying “Age is nothing but a number” doesn’t apply with antique pie safes because the older the model, the less likely its availability. The primary appeal of antique or vintage items is their uniqueness and rarity, so the general rule ascribes value to seniority. It’s not absolute, though.

By hierarchy, 18th-century pie safes are the most valuable because they’re the oldest and least accessible today. However, with recent models from the 19th to 20th centuries, it’s easier to get your hands on them.

Also, note that the handmade pie safes were from the earlier eras and that the 19th century birthed mass productions. Age also plays a big role in other details such as shape, sizes, and colorways.

Is the Pie Safe Popular?

Who owned the pie safe all those centuries ago? Was the manufacturer notable? Did it appear in a great movie scene or on Broadway?

Those are some of the questions that can help you determine if your pie safe is worth the rave or not. Of course, finding antique pie cabinets is nice but owning one with a nostalgic story pointing at historical significance is the best.

Inspired by Life and Fiction noted that the tin panels on some pie safes had the likeness of famous people etched into them. The owners specially commissioned those designs, so they’re not very many.

Are all the Parts Intact?

We’ve highlighted how antique pie safes can still be useful as damaged furniture when talking about originality. However, nothing beats having a pie safe with all parts intact and in excellent condition.

Not only won’t you stress over refurbishing it with the right parts, but also, it’s the peak of rustic appeal – scent and all. Yes, pie safes serve multiple purposes today, but their original use will never go out of style.

Ensure the drawers have intact knobs for easy movement and closed doors. Creaks on the hinges are a matter of preference as some buyers wouldn’t mind while others would consider it a turn-off.

What’s the Market Saying?

Put everything explained together so you’d see how it affects the market. However, there’s also the independent factor of fair market value based on demand and supply.

For instance, since antique pie safes differ based on region, it’s safe to assume each state would have a natural bias towards its popular models. Study the market to know what the people want, or better yet, find the market interested in your product.

Economics is important because demand alone doesn’t translate to expensive monetary value. Instead, it has to mix with less supply because if there’s a surplus available to meet the order, the price will remain at equilibrium.

Is it Rare?

Following the market’s natural quote, rarity (a lack of equal supply) is what translates to top dollar. At that point, the antique pie safe can go on auction with potential buyers engaged in a bidding war. That way, the price keeps increasing, unlike when there’s enough to go around.

On the one hand, antique pie safes are typically limited in stock because many of them didn’t survive through the centuries. On the other hand, however, some old pie cupboards are rarer than others due to other special factors such as materials, limited release, extinction, and recollection.

Most Valuable Antique Pie Safes (Sold and On Sale)

Name
Year
Price
Tin Cross American
19th Century
$34,000
Tennessee Painted
1840
$23,000
Chinese Red Lacquer
1870
$14,500

3. 19th Century Chinese Red Lacquer

19th Century Chinese Red Lacquer
(Source: Live Auctioneers)

Price: $14,500

Year: c. 1870

Chinese culture has a positive connotation of the color red which makes items painted in that hue valuable to its descendants. For a Chinese collector, red brings good luck, happiness, fertility, joy, and celebration.

Live Auctioneers estimated a value between $15,840 – $17,600 for this pie cupboard. Its worth comes from several factors, including its size, excellent condition, and sentimental value to the Asian demographic.

The sale of this pie safe is still open for bidding as of August 7, 2022, with a timer set to close by midnight on the 8th.

 

2. Tennessee Painted Pie Safe

Tennessee Painted Pie Safe
(Source: Live Auctioneers)

Price: $23,000

Year: c. 1840

The original estimate for this pie safe was $15,000 to $25,000, which sold within that figure in 2011. Live Auctioneers suggests it belonged to a popular school in the area during that time. It has a painting of chess pieces on the tin panels and a wooden frame.

Per the publication, it was repainted in the 20th century but retained its original rustic appeal.

 

1. 19th Century Tin Cross American Flags Pie Safe

19th Century Tin Cross American Flags Pie Safe
(Source: Live Auctioneers)

Price: $34,000

Year: 19th C

This pie safe from the 1800s has a punched tin panel on its double doors with a single drawer above. It was valued at $6,000 – $9,000 but sold over four times the price in 2020 because of its unique features.

The pie safe was a midwestern-style cupboard with red paint on walnut wood. Its punched tin panels had the word LINCOLN (for Abraham Lincoln) spelled on a crossed flag with floating stars.

While the pie safe had a standard double door, there was a narrow drawer beneath for storing bakeware.

 

Where to Trade Antique Pie Safes

You’ve seen the benefits; now it’s time to see how to use it to your advantage. Whatever your trade – buying or selling antique pie safes – it’s a niche collectible, so you have to know the right places to trade.

For the widest reach, it’s best to use secondary online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy, 1stDibs, and other private websites. If you can afford to buy an original antique pie safe, you can patronize the Antique Country Furniture Store for quality reproductions.

Note that antique pie safes are big items, and moving them can be a hassle. So, it’s best to find a buyer close to you. It reduces the struggle of moving the item long distance and risking damage due to its “fragile” state since a pie safe may have a glass door.

How to Use a Pie Safe

Since it was made for preservation, you can store any perishable food in the pie safe. First, wipe the cabinet floor with a clean, dry cloth, then place your item inside (preferably on a plate). It’s great for cooling warm pastry before consumption and storing leftovers.

Since classic pie safes were made of three drawers, you can put different items inside each. For easy access, it doesn’t have to be pies or baked goods, as you can include flatware, plates, and other bakeware.

If you get a pie safe with a jelly cupboard combination, it’s a great opportunity to store your jam separately from your pie or donuts.

How to Maintain a Pie Safe

While refurbishing isn’t good for resale value, once you’ve gotten your antique pie safe, there’s no harm in maintaining its quality until the next owner. Clean it with gentle agents such as lemon oil, and keep away from heat.

Apart from the fact that the antique pie safe wasn’t made to withstand heat, it’s best to protect the wood from reacting to humidity and heat as they make it expand and then contract. Also, heat can crack the glass doors on 18th- 19th-century pie safes.

Worst case scenario, the wood will splinter, peel, and crack, attracting rodents and vermin.

How do you Restore a Pie Safe?

The Exterior

Open the pie safe and remove the drawers, perforated tin panels, screens, and other detachable parts. Use a clean, soft cloth to wipe it down. You can use a duster alternatively to get into the corners and crevices of the pie safe.

If you own the pie safe and don’t plan on reselling it, you can use sandpaper to smoothen the rough surface and remove old paint. Next, coat the pie safe with a paint stripper and leave to sit for an hour or more (follow the instructions given by the manufacturer.)

Scrape the softened paint with a putty knife and dust off the excess.

The Body

Check the pie safe for breaks, cracks, and any other physical damage, then fix it. You can buy antique parts online or at any designated antique store and repair the damage. Homesteady says wood putty is adequate for filling cracks and gouges. You can also replace the screens, doors, and punctured tin panels.

Final Words

Pie safes are great for interiors with a rustic theme, and they can fit in the backyard too. Always do a checklist before placing your item on the market or buying from a vendor. Remember, those kitchen drawers also look like pie safes, but they’re not the same thing.

Also, consider the above mentioned factors for identifying and valuing an antique pie safe. Finally, never forget that age plays a role in different ways as older doesn’t always mean more expensive.

FAQs

Q: When Did Pie Safe Manufacturers Stop the Production of Pie Safes?

The invention of ice boxes in 1880 introduced a product more suited to food preservation than the wooden pie safe.

Within 50 years of the Ice Box’s innovation, companies stopped making pie safes, and it phased out. However, some people still retained an interest in it, creating a new second-hand sales market.

Q: How Old are Pie Cabinets?

Pie Cabinets are the same as Pie Safes, only that they’re bigger with more drawers. The 19th century ushered in the creation of pie safes with wider spaces and more drawers when the elite picked an interest in the furniture.

Q: What Does a Pie Safe Look Like

A classic pie safe is narrow with four freestanding legs and a small box. Later models took on the likeness of bedroom cupboards and cloth chests. Scroll up to see the full description of identifying an antique pie safe.

Q: Is Pie Safe the same as Pie Cabinet, Pie Cupboard, and Kitchen Safe

Cultural differences and language translation has given Pie Safe many other names, which confuses new collectors. Some names include Pie Cabinet, Pie Cupboard, Kitchen Safe, and Screen Safe.

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