|by Larry LeMasters
As bread became harder to find in some grocery stores during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, people turned to baking. The lowly rolling pin is finding its way back into the kitchen.
Rolling pins have been made of almost every material known to man, including copper, glass, plastic, porcelain, ceramic, brass, and marble. Historically, the favored material for rolling pin production is hardwood. A heavy, hardwood pin possesses a solid weight and balance, enabling a cook to produce smoother dough with less effort. Wooden rolling pins have been around for thousands of years as well, meaning putting together a collection isnrsquo;t that difficult.
Many styles of pins have been produced over the years. For cooking, the most popular styles are the American or bakersrsquo; rolling pins. These pins are characterized by sturdy handles anchored with a steel rod running through the center of the pin. Other popular pins include the straight French rolling pin (a solid piece of hardwood without handles—probably a throwback to one of the earliest rolling pins), the tapered rolling pin that is larger in the center and tapers at both ends — this is especially useful for rolling circles, and the so-called “cool” rolling pins that are made of ceramic, glass, or marble and are hollow.
Prior to the mid-1800s, all rolling pins were handmade. The Industrial Revolution changed that. Two of the earliest companies that mass-produced rolling pins were Smith, Mason & Co. of Vermont and Crystal Rolling Pin Co. of Massachusetts.
When looking for old, wooden rolling pins, keep in mind that many handmade pins were not merely hunks of smooth wood. Some were ornately decorated, or inlaid, with ivory or bone. And many of them possessed deeply carved designs that imprinted the design on the dough. Another pin had a dusting bin on top of the roller that allowed flour to sprinkle out during the rolling process.
Many old rolling pins were made of glass because it allowed them to be chilled, which made rolling out pie dough easier. These glass pins have either a plug at the end or, if it is a later version made into the 1930s, a screw lid, which enabled the cook to fill the pin with cold water or ice.
While not as abundant as some of the other materials, there are even rolling pins made of metal. Early traveling tinsmiths would occasionally produce a tin one, which they sometimes bartered for food and lodging or sold.
Some of the most popular rolling pins to collect are the pottery rolling pins, made out of stoneware, yellowware, or other ceramic material. These were all hollow cylinders. Some of the older ones have two turned wooden handles. One handle could be inserted through the body of the rolling pin and screwed into the handle on the opposite side. This allowed the pin to turn freely when rolling dough. During the early 20th century, many of the ceramic rolling pins had molded ceramic handles, which actually made rolling dough more difficult since they could not freely spin.
All pottery rolling pins were fired with glaze to make them non-absorbent. And, during the late 19th century and early 20th century, many of the ceramic rolling pins were used as premiums for advertising, with the advertising message fired directly under the glaze. Flourmills were usually the advertisers; however, for some bizarre reason, advertising rolling pins were also popular with undertakers. If you want a somewhat macabre rolling pin collection, try collecting only those pins that advertised funeral homes. These pins often cost $650 or more on secondary markets.
As humble as the rolling pin is, it has always been a staple in the kitchen. Today, it has also become a staple among collectors, especially those specializing in Americana or kitchen collectibles. Still, some collections have grown from a familyrsquo;s continued usage of grandmarsquo;s old rolling pin. Whatever the reason for your collection, it is easy to see that the humble rolling pin is as American as Mom and apple pie, for, without the rolling pin, Mom couldnrsquo;t make the pie!