Tips on Collecting Pie Funnels

When it comes to collecting I’ve often noticed that what once were utilitarian objects and present in just about every house have now become highly desirable and are often used for display. Pie funnels were once an everyday object and while they are still being used today they are also very collectable.

The pie funnel, also known as pie ventilator, pie crust support, pie preserver or pie bird, as the Americans like to call it, is a late Victorian utensil.  They were designed to prevent the juices spilling onto the pastry or the floor of the oven and also to support the pie crust and stop it from sagging.

The first recorded pie funnel was manufactured in 1880 by Dean and Morris and it was made in three sizes.  Since then 44 different patents and registered designs have been recorded in Britain and many of these can still be bought today.  One of the earliest recorded figures was a blackbird, registered in 1933 in Australia by Grace Seccombe as a Pie Crust Lifter.  A J Wilkinson (Clarice Cliff) registered a blackbird pie funnel design in 1936 and many of these were produced, including the all white wartime version – some were stamped Wilkinson, Newport Pottery or, later, Midwinter.

Before the appearance of the pie funnel people would have used an egg cup or even a stick of macaroni.  As pies come in different sizes and depths so do funnels and they were often produced in sets.  Among these sets are the Adcock Crust Support, Ventilator and Fountain.  These early pie funnels often had wide chimneys for venting the steam from beneath the crust, but also for adding additional stock to the pie during the long, slow cooking process.

If you want to collect pie funnels you are in luck as once upon a time every household in Britain would have had one or several of these.  As diet and cooking styles have changed over the last twenty years the pie funnel is no longer an everyday object and is probably stuck somewhere at the back of a cupboard or drawer.

Some pie funnels have fetched quite high prices but you should be able to start a collection for a small amount of money.  Check out your local auctions and car boot sales and you should be able to get some of the plain pie funnels quite cheaply.  You might also want to check out the internet auction sites as these are useful for researching prices.

Some of the famous china manufacturers such as Spode, Royal Worcester, Denby, Shelley and Grimwade have all produced pie funnels on a commercial basis but it was Grimwade that produced the widest variety of designs, five of which are patented or design registered.  Among them are the ‘figural elephant pie funnel/ring holder’, which was produced in white and grey, to the ultimate ‘Bleriot Pie Divider’ produced in three different sizes, which separated the pie dish into two parts so that two different meats or fruits could be baked in the same pie.  Each of these dividers came with their own specific patented pie dish.

‘The Improved Pie Funnel’ was produced by Grimwade and it is quite rare and it sold so well that an updated version was produced and named ‘The Improved Popular Pie Funnel’.  These came in various sizes, advertising early grocery and china shops as well as department stores around the world, from T W Robinson Co Ltd of Moose Jaw in Canada to Ritchies of Dunedin in New Zealand as well as from all over the UK.

While the majority of pie funnels are made from pottery there is also quite a selection made from Pyrex glass, aluminium and plastic.  The majority of the early examples were produced commercially by larger potteries that manufactured a wide range of white ware, but later the smaller potteries produced limited editions of real works of art.  In the forefront was Stuart Bass, who has produced over 300 different designs since the mid-1970s.

A book called British Pie Funnels has been produced to try and fill in some of the gaps concerning the tradtional British pie funnel as there has been little written on the subject.  This provides a handy background for any new or experienced collector and some of the illustrations should prove useful when identifying the various pieces.

Flower Fairies

Many people remember the flower fairies as enchanting mythical figures from their childhood, while nowadays we see them on greeting cards and giftware. The Flower Fairies were created by Cicely Mary Barker in 1923, when she had her first series of drawings published in a book. Since then her works have become children’s classics and are sold around the world.

Cicely Mary Barker was born in Croydon, South London in 1895 and being a sickly child she was educated at home. Cicely excelled at pastel drawing and taught herself to paint in oils and watercolours. Her father encouraged her to draw and together they joined the Croydon Art Society in 1908.

It was later discovered that Cicely suffered from epilepsy, which was not well understood in Edwardian England.  The Art Society was a lifeline for Cicely, where she was able to exhibit her work and meet with people and in 1911, at the age of only 16, she was elected a life member of the Croydon Art Society.

Fairies were very popular during the early 20th century, especially after the publication of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan.  Cicely was hugely influenced by the fairy fashion and sketched numerous drawings of the fairy folk.  By the age of 16 Cicely was already selling her fairy work to magazines and to printers of greeting cards, postcards and stationery.

Cicely’s father died unexpectedly in 1922 leaving her, her mother and sister with very little money.  Cicely already had a large portfolio of drawings of fairies, which were of outstanding quality, coupled with her accuracy of botanical details that made the background of her illustrations.  A publisher picked up her work and her first book Flowers in Spring was published in 1923 by Blackie, for which Cicely received the sum of £25, and this made a considerable difference to the family finances.

Over the years Cicely published more books, including Flower Fairies of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  She also produced books on Flower Fairies of the Garden, of the Trees and of the Wayside.  Each book contained a series of drawings along with a little poem to go with each illustration.  Cicely called her poems ‘songs’ so each fairy had a little song to sing.

Cicely used real life models for her paintings and always obtained the flowers or foliage for close inspection.  Cicely was a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites and followed many of their philosophies in painting.  Her pieces were always true to nature and this led to the use of minute detail which echoed the beliefs of the movement.

Today Cicely’s works are collected worldwide by flower fairy enthusiasts.  Early editions of her books are sought after.  Her drawings are all under copywright and anyone wishing to reproduce them in print form or onto merchandise has to obtain a licence.  Royal Worcester have done this and have produced all kinds of flower fairy related giftware, such as trinket boxes, wall plates, figurines and miniature plates.  Ranges such as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter were beautifully crafted into fine bone china and they tend to retail between £19.95 – £24.95.

Cicely was able to see her books published during her lifetime, but only in recent years has the merchandise taken on a whole new level.  The Flower Fairy ‘brand’ is now a multi-million pound business that is recognised around the world.  Cicely Mary Barker died in 1973 at the age of 78.  Her books are relatively affordable, old editions can be bought for as little as £5.  Books published during the 1920s and 1930s generally fetch larger sums of money, although a 1939 book, The Book of Flower Fairies recently sold on eBay for £152.

If you have a larger budget, Cicely Mary Barker’s watercolours are beautiful things to own.  They don’t come onto the market very often, so keep your eyes open.  Ewbank Auctioneers sold a watercolour of a fairy music orchestra for £2,400 in 2002.