Everybody loves ice cream and we all seem to think that ice cream has always been around as a cheap treat for the children. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ices were first made for the upper classes who lived in fine houses and were able to have an ice house where large blocks of ice would be stored. If you are thinking of collecting ice cream molds you will find many cheap and cheerful examples but if you want to become a serious collector you will find items made from silver or silver gilt which would cost a pretty penny. A pair of George III silver gilt ice cream serving spade and forks were sold at Bonhams a couple of years ago for £4,800.
The first ices were water ices and appeared in France and Spain in the early 1660s. The first record we have of ices being served in England was at Windsor Castle in 1671. As more ice houses were built on the English Country Estates ices became popular and were often served at upper-class dinners. Early ice creams would have been made with cream, sugar and fruit and possibly flavourings, from the middle of the 18th century egg yokes were added which would have given a richer, smoother flavour.
The ice creams were made in a pewter pot which was placed in a wooden bucket containing the ice to aid the freezing process. The ice cream was then placed into hinged pewter or lead molds which were often fruit shaped, as pineapples or lemons. Ice cream really become popular in Victorian England and large quantities of ice was imported from Norway and north America for ice houses in people’s gardens or basements. Victorian cooks would have known how to make ice creams for the dinner parties and ice creams were shaped in molds as fruits or vegetables – asparagus was particularly popular. Brick-shaped molds were used for Neopolitan ices in different colours and pillars and bombs were very popular. There were many novelty shapes such as swans, elephants and anarchist bombs as well as the Statue of Liberty and Cleopatra’s Needle.
If you want to start collecting ice cream molds there is a huge selection and you will not find it difficult to find the more common shapes, especially fruit moulds. It is harder to find the rare fruit shapes like quince and the novelty shapes are not easy to find. When you find your ice cream mold make sure it is in good condition. The inside should be shiny, not pitted or flaking and the mold should close tightly. Prices start at around £5 for a tin mold, £10 for a copper mold and £20 for a pewter mold, but you could pay a lot more for special examples. Many collectors buy ice cream molds for display rather than use and you should be especially careful about using lead ice cream molds.
During the second half of the 19th century ice cream finally became available to the masses and they were sold by street vendors. The ‘penny lick’ was served in a small glass and these glasses are now highly collectable – you can usually get one for around £50. These glasses were wiped clean and re-used and were finally outlawed in 1926 as they were thought to spread diseases. Around the end of the 19th century edible cones were invented and the ice cream as we know it was born.. The first mobile ice cream vans appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. The Walls ice cream tricycle was first seen in 1923 using the famous slogan ‘Stop Me and Buy One’. These were seen all over the country until after World War II when we began to see freezers in the shops. The 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of the ice cream van and the ice cream parlour. There are a wealth of collectables to be had from this era such as model ice cream vans – most of us couldn’t find the money to buy a real ice cream van. The coloured glass dishes and long spoons used in the ice cream parlours of the day are the ice cream molds of the mid 20th century and they are not difficult to find and affordable. As the current trend in kitchens is retro you could be right in the fashion.