Whalebone Pie Crimper, ca. 1850

Value (2004) | $6,000 Auction$9,000 Auction

20, 30, 40 years ago, my dad would go out east. They liked to go to the Baltimore gun show, and then on the way back home they would stop at different antique stores and shops and just look for things that they thought were interesting. And I don't really know a lot about it other than, I think, what it is.

So what do you think it is?

I think it's called a "jag wheel" or a "jagging wheel," and I believe that it's made from either whalebone or whale teeth. And I think that sailors and whalers used to carve these things for their sweethearts when they were gone on their long voyages at sea and then give them as presents when they returned.

Absolutely. When you brought it over to the table, I guess you could tell that I was taken with it. This is a pie crimper, and you're right that it's made out of the parts of a whale. A lot of people call it "whale ivory," but there's really no such thing as whale ivory. You know, it'd be teeth, other parts of it. These little pins right here are baleen-- which was part of the filter that was in the back of their throat-- and this is abalone. The whalers ran out of New England into the Azores and places like that and the piece of abalone could have come from anywhere. And this is a pricker.

To vent the steam or something?

Yeah, yeah-- I had to check with my wife on this. When you want to bake the crust first, you prick a hole in the bottom of that so that the dough doesn't rise up out of the bottom of the pan, and so they call it a pie crimper and a pricker. But the thing that's so great about this is the wonderful sculptural quality of the carving. Of course, it's in the form of a mermaid, and the thing that I thought-- besides the quality of the carving on her face-- was the wonderful way that her hair's done in the back here and the way her hands are done, that just makes it a great piece of sculpture as well as a nice survivor from our nautical heritage. Whoever made it took what was going to be just a utilitarian object and they made it into something beautiful. To me, that's the very definition of folk art.

And it's, like, mid-1800s?

Oh, yeah, yeah. I think... I think 1850s or even before. When I was looking online, I found tons of pie crimpers, none in the shape of a mermaid, but others in the shapes of seahorses and things like that. And I talked to my colleagues and quite frankly in my opinion-- and this is conservative-- a pre-auction estimate for this would be $6,000 to $9,000. And it could go up from there.

Okay... that's great.

Pretty good results for your dad doing some horse trading, huh?

I would say so.

Appraisal Details

Ken Farmer LLC
Charlottesville, VA
Appraised value (2004)
$6,000 Auction$9,000 Auction
Omaha, NE (July 10, 2004)
Folk Art

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