The early 19th century cake safe was a wooden kitchen cabinet with several narrow shelves enclosed by tight fitting doors. The doors were made of various materials, such as perforated tin, bars, screens or fabric. Although the cake safe was made to protect the sweets from rodents and insects, the construction allowed for air circulation. The air circulation was actually an incidental positive feature, as it helped reduce mold growth on stored food. With the lack of modern refrigeration and food preservatives, cooks had no other way to ensure the freshness and safety of their cakes.
The standard American pie safe was on the floor supported by 4 legs. However, in the Pennsylvania Dutch region, during the 18th century, pendant models were popular. Some cake safes from this region have been found to have wooden extensions with holes in them, allowing for flexibility of the piece resting on the floor or being hung. Doors in the Pennsylvania Dutch region were typically made from tinplate that featured unique and interesting patterns. By the 1830s, tinsmiths were producing quality doors, while cabinetmakers had perfected the craft of making more durable cabinets. The production center for these cabinets was Connecticut.
It is possible to identify the region of the country where a pie safe was crafted by the type of wood used in the construction.
Cabinetmakers in the Carolinas and Virginia used yellow pine.
In the Pennsylvania and New England region, soft pine was the wood of choice. In Texas, pie safes were made from Spanish cedar. Those made of cherry and curly maple are rare in all regions.
Determination of value
With many antiques, the following list provides the factors that help determine the value and cost of a piece. However, value is often in the eye of the beholder and cost follows value. However, here are the main determinants of value.
- Region of the country where it is made
- Construction: eg chestnut wood is rarer than pine, oak was rare, poplar was common
- Door construction and complexity: tin punch with detailed patterns will cost more than solid doors
- Unique finishes: painted or unpainted, preferred colors are red, green, goldenrod
- Provenance: Can the piece be attributed to a particular cabinetmaker or tinsmith, or to a historically significant figure who once owned the piece?
Merchant records in the 1830s show that pie safes advertised for between $8.00 and $12.00.
2013, a 19th century American chestnut wood with eight pinwheel cans and old red paint sold for $2300.00 at auction.
2013 an American, first half of the 19th century made of pine with poplar doors and sides, sides and bottom drawer of perforated tin with wooden handle made at auction for $645.00.
At the end of the 19th century, cake safes were produced in factories. They were no longer unique creations of individual cabinetmakers. As the century progressed, oak became the popular wood for producing ice chests in which a block of ice was used to store food. This marked the beginning of early refrigeration and the end of food storage in a pie safe.