You have seen this collectible at antique, consignment and thrift shops, at yard sales and flea markets, online, and even at auctions. Like most, you pick it up, look at it briefly, and set it back with no interest.

This collectible is a good-looking copper mold, with complex designs and priced less than $5, or one of those small, aluminum molds, priced at 50 cents to $1.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, no kitchen was without a wide variety of molds to use for birthday parties, great presentations and those savory dishes at the table. They also made — and still do to this day — a decorative addition to the kitchen walls.

The early 18th century, molds were made of thin, white stoneware, but most today date back to a period ranging from the early 19th century to the 1950s.

Early molds made by British Staffordshire potteries were deep and made in various shapes — motifs that included fruit, animals, wheat sheaves and classical motifs. Major manufacturers were Minton, Copeland Spode, Davenport and even Doulton. They produced cream and white wares, with Minton pieces often being more recognizable by their glaze, which has a bluish tinge.

Marked molds

Keep in mind that marked molds are more desirable. Around the 1840s, more decorated heavy brown salt-glazed stoneware were increasingly being used and are now found for prices up to $90. But the more decorative of these molds by major makers can exceed $200. In particular, those include the chicken, animal and flower molds.

Copper came on the scene around the 1920s. It was light, durable, cheaper and easy to mold. The designs became less intricate, but still attractive. If you do find a 20th century mold made by Shelley — whose molds are most sought-after, especially if they are in excellent condition and well-shaped — it can be valued up to $200, though a 1870s copper mold in excellent condition can fetch up to $250.

The most inexpensive mold is the aluminum art deco mold, with clean lines and simple forms from the 1920s and 1930s. Those can be found for $10 or less.

Built on Jell-O

As a gelatin dessert that would later be named Jell-O came out in 1845, women started using those decorative molds more frequently.

Joyce Moorhouse, of Cannon Falls, is one. "I always loved Jell-O and remember grandma making molded Jell-O," she said. "While tramping through antique shops and flea markets, they (molds) would catch my eye, and if they were unusual, I picked them up, as they were cheap collectibles. These were the individual molds used for individual salads or desserts. I also had a set of the larger molds in copper tone I used to decorate the farmhouse kitchen wall when I was first married."

Sarah Kieffer, owner of Sarah's Sarah's Uniques and Jim's "man"tiques, St. Charles, said, "I don't know how many copper molds that I have, since they come and go, but right now I do have several regular tin Jell-O molds and they run about $2 apiece since they are becoming unique."

Trista O'Connor, of Generations of Harmony, says the store in Harmony has molds, too.

"We have right now only two small copper molds at $12 each," she said. "We sometimes have molds of roosters, fish, etc., and we have some of the other metal molds at the present."

Various uses

Michelle Peterson, dealer at The Cottage, in Rochester, has a nice supply. "We have the copper along with large aluminum down to the small molds with the word Jell-O on the bottom," she said. "Today, gals don't just use them for dessert dishes but use the aluminum and the small copper as a base for pincushions and even for making soaps. We also find some folks are still putting them on the wall, especially those that are cream color with a floral design, since it's a memory thing, the same as the making of the Jell-O salads for family picnics, graduations and reunions."

Moorhouse recalls some of the first molds in her collection.

"My first ones said Jell-O imprinted on the bottom and were individual molds," she said. "As a homemaker, I used the larger molds for Jell-O salads and ice rings for punch. I often found some by offers by Jell-O in magazines where they were mostly 50 cents to a dollar each for the individual and with some in sets and can be found in that same price range today. Larger molds are more expensive in antique shops."

When looking for various molds, look for registered design marks to help date the earthenware molds, but remember that marks relate to the date of a design, not manufacture. When it comes to most molds, Peterson said, "Collectors love the unusual and are often on the lookout for antique molds along with copper cookie cutters."

Fun foods

It's satisfying to use these molds — they're interesting, inexpensive and idiot-proof. And who wants to bring a flat, simple, dull Jell-O to a picnic or party?

There are some cookbooks for using Jell-O product, including "The Joy of Jell-O Molds," which contains 56 festive recipes, from the classic to the contemporary, by Kraft Foods.

"I have many recipe books," Moorhouse said, "and for collecting I have found a book published by Paul and Arlene Greaser called "Cookie Cutters and Molds" that can be found on eBay with great photos of copper molds.

"When the copper tone molds came out, she said, "I had a collection of fish molds in the kitchen on the wall (between the cupboards). It was fun to see how many fish molds I could find. These were also used for Jell-O and baking cakes."

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