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Dairy farmers leave legacy molded in butter

November 10, 2014

Filed under Collections, Community and Domestic Life

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Made of maple wood, this butter mold bears the hand-carved image of a cow. This print is a wonderful example of an everyday object that played an integral role in dairy farming of the past.

Made of maple wood, this butter mold bears the hand-carved image of a cow. This print is a wonderful example of an everyday object that played an integral role in dairy farming of the past.

Not every Pennsylvania Treasure comes in the form of an inaugural ball gown or a desk set from Tiffany Studios.

Sometimes, it’s all about the butter.

Gardiner C. Criswell donated this butter mold, along with a host of similar prints from her husband’s large collection, to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Made of maple wood, this mold bears the hand-carved image of a cow. This print is a wonderful example of an everyday object that played an integral role in dairy farming of the past, said CAP curator Rachel Lovelace-Portal .

During the 18th and 19th centuries, dairy farmers used prints and molds to decorate their butter. Each farmer used a different print that was specific to individual farms. Often, shoppers linked quality to a particular butter print. In addition, printed butter sold for more money than the unmarked alternative.

Aside from brand identification, butter molds and prints afforded a creative outlet for farmers and craftsmen in the Pennsylvania farming community, Lovelace-Portal said.

Initially, prints were crafted by farmers and wood carvers on the farm. They carved the prints by hand from boards or blocks of wood. Beginning in the early 1800s, craftsmen began producing a wide variety of prints. During this period, prints were often made using a lathe . Later, the craftsman would hand carve the design.

Pennsylvania German butter print patterns usually bear motifs inspired by nature, the most popular being the tulip. However, birds and farm animals often appear as well.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.