I had no idea that rolling pins had such a long and complicated history.
They have been porcelain, stoneware, glass, marble and tin in addition to wood; they can be carved or painted; they can be used as advertising vehicles; and they can change hands for hundreds of dollars.
The rolling pin has been around for centuries, at first being a simple handmade object with tapered ends and then, from the mid-19th century on, factory produced. Dense woods — because they tend to absorb less fat and oil — have always been the dominant material of manufacture, be it maple, cherry, walnut, pine, sycamore, beech or applewood. The best and most popular woods for rolling pins were maple and lignum vitae, thanks to their weight and density, which helped these pins resist moisture and cracking. They were also less likely to absorb ingredients and become stinky and unsanitary. Lignum vitae is unusually hard and as dense as iron, so those rolling pins were designed to last a lifetime.
The size and shape of a rolling pin, as well as its handles, often gives a good indication of its purpose.
Springerle molds, which are similar to cookie cutters, were used to impress designs of fruit, animals, or flowers on German gingerbread and fancy Christmas cakes, as well as flat British cookies called biscuits. These patterns were sometimes carved into wooden rolling pins to save time and trouble, as the patterns could be quickly rolled into the dough.
Long, convex wooden rolling pins with tapered ends instead of handles, similar to the pins prefered by French bakers, are often used for pie crusts. In France, pastry chefs still prefer wooden pins without handles, which they say gives them a better feel of the dough. Other French pins are corrugated ones with grooved barrels for baking textured cookies
Rolling pins with length-wise ridges were used for crushing oats, salt, or bread crumbs. The ridges can give a clue as to the age of the rolling pin. Before the 1930s, oats were generally less refined, so the ridges on the pins were very sharp and close set. After that time, the ridges got flatter and farther apart
Early rolling pins were made of turned wood. Sometimes the ends were tapered like a sailor’s belaying pin (used to secure rigging on ships), while others had one or both ends turned to form handles. Perhaps because of their similarity to sailors’ belaying pins, rolling pins became associated with seafarers and romance. It is said that sailors bored at sea would carve unique rolling pins out of lignum vitae and attach whale bone handles to make a gift for their lover back home. Rolling pins, along with potato mashers, were popular wedding gifts.
China and pottery rolling pins followed the fashion for glass ones, reaching a peak of popularity in the late 1800s, displaying such motifs as the Meissen “onion” pattern and the Dutch or German “blue Delft” designs.
In addition to the wooden ones, stoneware and yellowware examples made during the 19th century are among the most sought after by contemporary collectors. Yellowware pins were produced by a number of manufacturers in various U.S. states, the central source of American yellowware being in Ohio.
Despite the sanitary appeal of ceramics, wooden rolling pins were mass-produced during the 19th century. In the United States, in 1902, the Sears Roebuck catalog offered the first manufactured handled rolling pin with a revolving barrel. These were not the first rolling pins with such revolving barrels, though. Previously, the Pennsylvania Dutch hand-made their own wood handled rolling pin known as “draalhus,” whose revolving barrel was attached to two handles connected by two wooden dowels, intended to give the baker a good grip.
Turn-of-the-century inventors, of course, patented all sorts of clever takes on rolling pins, including Harlowe’s 1903 “Do Not Stick” rolling pin, which had a separate mesh cylinder for dusting flour. Taylor’s 1867 Combination Rolling Pin had two rollers, which was asserted to do twice the work in the half the time.
Another category consists of decorative porcelain and glass — sometimes blown and painted, sometimes marbleized — rolling pins that could be filled with cold water or shaved ice to chill the dough and prevent it from sticking to the roller. Some of these were used as advertising opportunities, sold filled with a name brand of baking powder or cocoa, for example, or unrelated products such as vinegar or bath salts.
Stoneware and crockery pins also were used for advertising purposes, bearing slogans such as “Save Your Dough.” Milk glass and clear glass rolling pins with wooden handles were also made and, later, there were Depression-era colored glass rolling pins, which, in such brilliant hues as turquoise, can be quite scarce and valuable.
One prolific 20th-century producer of decorative ceramic rolling pins was the Harker Pottery, which was active in their manufacture between 1930 and 1960. Made to complement the firm’s dinnerware (they came with a ceramic hook so that they could be hung on the wall as kitchen decor), they displayed elements seen on the dinnerware and ovenware made by both Harker and other potteries. These included floral patterns such as Poppy, Petit Point, Pastel Tulips, Amy, Mallow, Crayon Apple, Two for Two and Pansy. Others featured charming British houses and landscapes and nostalgic Colonial silhouettes, while still others had Deco-style abstract themes.
When collecting rolling pins, look for rare or special features like abnormal lengths, or handle knobs of turned maple or unusual woods. These pins were likely hand-made as gifts. Damage can diminish a pin’s value. Examples include the crazing and discoloration of porcelain; warped or split wood; chipping on painted handles; or rust on the metal rod running through the pin.
Here is some of my collection.
This is my great-grandmother’s…