Pie Safes: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

pie-safes

The pie safe, sometimes referred to as a pie cabinet, pie safe cupboard, or a pie chest, is a piece of furniture typically used to store pies. In the past, some people also stored meat, perishables, and other items inside of their pie safes.

Today, pie safes are more often used to store linens or even kids’ toys. This piece of furniture first appeared in the U.S. through German immigrants who had arrived in Pennsylvania. These immigrants, eventually referred to as the Pennsylvania Dutch, created a stylish piece of furniture designed to hold baked goods. It wasn’t until iceboxes were introduced and later grew in popularity during the 1800s that the pie safe’s popularity started to wane.

History of the Pie Safe

Pie safe origin can be traced back to the 1700s. Its popularity quickly boomed, and the pie safe was soon considered a crucial part of many American households. Not only were these safes used to store pies and other perishable goods, but they also prevented food from becoming spoiled or consumed by insects or vermin.

Traditional pie safes are about the same size as a large bureau, with storage shelves that are often perforated. Most pie safes have doors on the front and sides that are ventilated using screens or tin plates with small holes. In many instances, the holes punched in the tin plates feature a design or shape, such as stars or eagles.

A pie safe with a punched tin front promotes air circulation throughout the cabin while preventing dirt, insects and even hungry children from getting to the baked goods inside. For this reason, a pie safe with tin doors is the most common type of safe.

Another benefit of this type of design is that it helps to keep the baked goods at a cooler temperature – there was a lack of proper refrigeration during the time when pie safes were most popular.

While proper circulation kept insects out and helped to keep dust and dirt to a minimum, it also prevented mold from developing on the baked goods. Until ice boxes came along, most pie safes acted as a form of modern refrigeration and helped to keep food from spoiling.

Pie safes remained popular until the later part of the 19th century. By this time, the furniture was largely produced in factories and no longer had that unique quality that had once made it so coveted.

Once ice boxes were invented, consumers began to take interest in this early refrigeration opportunity. As ice boxes became more popular and widespread, public interest in the pie safe began to diminish because there was no longer any need to store food inside of the safes.

Pie Safe Styles

The most common American pie safe today is a freestanding unit that stands on four legs. Hanging models were particularly popular during the 18th century, especially in the Pennsylvania Dutch region. Some of the hanging models include extended pieces of wood with holes in the event that the owner preferred to have the unit on the floor. There are numerous different pie safe styles, although many rely on the punched tin door panels for obvious reasons.

Pie safes from Creole Louisiana were typically crafted with punched tin panels for added ventilation and cooling. These units were closely spaced and helped keep food fresh for as long as possible. While some pie safes were thought of more as decorative units than actual storage spaces, pie safes from this area were largely made and used for the specific purpose of storing baked goods. In addition, many pie safes from this area were colored red.

Other styles include the pie safe with glass doors. Some consumers believe that the glass doors give the entire unit a more upscale and elegant appearance. In terms of practicality, glass doors also acted as a barrier from insects and vermin. Much like the often used tin panels that provided ventilation and protection, the glass doors helped deter bugs and dust.

Another style is the pie safe with copper accents. These safes tend to have a beautiful, warm appearance and an eye-catching style.

Sometimes you can find a pie safe with a jelly cupboard, a style originating in the early 18th century. As jelly became more popular among American households, this different type of cupboard was also growing in demand. This smaller cupboard had closing doors and mainly acted as a storage space for jam and jelly. The standard jelly cupboard features double doors that open out toward the center. There are typically two drawers above these.

While the design is generally standard, there’s a lot of variation and different styles among jelly cupboards. The shelves inside most jelly cupboards are not particularly tall. The primary goal of having these shorter shelves was to allow the shelves to be placed in more stable and fixed positions inside the cupboard. For added security, some cupboard doors were outfitted with a wood catch, while others featured metal hardware.

Variation Among Pie Safes

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All pie safes are made out of wood, but there’s a significant amount of variation between pie safes in terms of the type of wood that’s used to construct the furniture.

Determining the type of wood used to make the pie safe is a great way to get an idea of which region it is from:

  • Yellow pine. This was the most common type of wood used by cabinet makers from Virginia and the Carolinas.
  • Soft pine. In New England and Pennsylvania, soft pine was the most frequently used type of wood.
  • Spanish cedar wood. Most pie safes in Texas were crafted from this type of wood.
  • Cherry and curly maple. While less commonly used, cherry and curly maple were also used to make pie safes. It’s rare to find a pie safe made from either type of wood in any region.

Many pie safes were crafted from available local wood. If the furniture was intended for use in a common area in the home, it might receive a quick coat of paint to freshen up its appearance.

Soft wood, such as pine, was commonly used to construct the safe’s shelves and drawers. In some cases, this wood was used to build the entire safe.

Among more upscale households, it was not uncommon for certain types of local hardwood, including hickory, chestnut, and maple, to be used for exterior surfaces.

Determining the Value of a Pie Safe

As with most pieces of furniture, there are a number of factors that can help determine the value of a piece. Since the introduction of the ice box, the pie safe has historically been purchased and used more as a design piece than an actual storage solution for pies and other goods.

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If you have your eye on a pie safe or are considering listing your pie safe for sale, it’s a good idea to know which factors are typically considered the most influential when determining its value.

Some of the most crucial components when it comes to figuring out the value of a pie safe include the following:

  • Age and region of the country where the pie safe was made. Since pie safes were used over a number of centuries, you’ll likely find units of various ages. A pie safe from the 1700s may be much more valuable than an otherwise similar pie safe from the early 1900s. Safes that have retained their original paint and hardware are generally more valuable than ones that have been repaired or repainted.
  • Material used, and whether the safe has any specific details. For example, pie safes made with poplar wood, a more common type of wood, may have a lower value than those crafted with rarer types of wood such as chestnut, pine or oak. Units with more details, such as tin punch doors with a detailed pattern, tend to be more valuable than ones with solid doors.
  • Type of finish used for the pie safe. Any unique or desirable details can increase a pie safe’s value. For example, the value can change whether the safe is painted or unpainted. If it is painted, colors such as green, red and goldenrod tend to be more valuable than other hues. The price will also likely rise if the unit was constructed by a certain cabinetmaker or was once owned by someone of historical significance.

Professional appraiser, Helaine Fendelman, examined a pie safe cupboard from before 1900 and suggested that collectors typically prefer units from the 19th century with hand punching, rather than machine-punched panels. The value is negatively impacted if the cupboard’s finish has been altered from its original state.

Decorating with a Pie Safe

There are a number of potential ways in which you can decorate a pie safe. Even though it’s no longer used to store baked goods in most households, many owners still prefer to keep their pie safes in the kitchen. By doing this, you gain a handy place to store essential cookware and other items, including:

  • Baking supplies
  • Measuring cups
  • Mixing bowls

There are numerous other ways you can decorate a pie safe. Because this piece of furniture is durable enough to handle normal use, you can count on it to hold everything from office supplies to linen, craft supplies, and even baby diapers.

While some pie safe owners already know exactly where they wish to place the furniture, others may need a few helpful hints. If you’re struggling to determine how to decorate your pie safe, you may want to try placing it in a room, then deciding what to pair it with.

For example, you can quickly and easily give it a more rustic appearance by placing a plant or a hand-woven basket on top. Even a simple decoration will help the pie safe better blend in with its surroundings.

If you really want to showcase your pie safe, make it the center of attention. A bright coat of paint, such as orange or red, will make the unit stand out. Adding a splash of color is a great way to accentuate the safe in a rustic or vintage-themed kitchen.

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If you choose to repaint your pie safe, remember that it can negatively impact its overall value. Whether you decide to paint it or keep it in its original condition, another common decorating option is to add a bit of personality by placing decorative objects on top, inside, or both. Some examples include:

  • A plate rack
  • A small lamp
  • A large bowl or vase
  • A mason jar with your desired filling, such as rocks and a small green plant
  • A handful of books

 Expected Lifespan of a Pie Safe

The pie safe is quite durable and sturdy, and it’s no surprise that many units built hundreds of years ago are still standing. To keep your pie safe in good shape for as long as possible, you’ll need to take certain precautions:

  • Keep the unit away from direct sunlight and areas that may be prone to sudden changes in temperature. If it’s placed too close to a heat source, such as an oven, the pie safe is at risk for splintering, peeling, and having the wood dry out and possibly crack.
  • Apply a bit of lemon oil. When done routinely, this is a great way to keep your safe in good condition.

Amishoutletstore.com offers a number of different types and styles of pie safes. You can find a jelly cabinet or cupboard with one or two doors, or a charming arts and crafts pie safe with copper accents or glass doors.

We have many different safes crafted from high-quality wood, such as oak, maple and cherry. We offer larger safes with ample storage space, as well as smaller ones that fit nicely into tinier places.

Sign up for our email newsletter or view our solid wood chests and similar pieces of furniture to learn more about our varied selection.